Talking solar with Tony

There are a lot of ways that the Coalition's core agenda can sync with solar policy, if only I can land a chat with the 'Real Tony'.

Many of you have been in touch we me asking 'What does the new government mean for the solar industry ?'. 

I’ve been thinking about it. A lot.

So I called Prime Minister Abbott (while I was in a deep, deep sleep) and had a yarn with him. He said I could call him Tony.

'Tony: What’s the plan, man ?' I said

'Cripes mate, gimme a chance will ya,' he said.

The short answer is it remains to be seen, but there are several things we do know.

First, it’s that we will have some research, reading and writing to do. Tony did let on that 'We have to go over the numbers, all of them'. So in the coming months as an industry we need to participate and ensure our voice is heard and the most up to date facts are included. He said: 'Ian (Macfarlane) and Greg (Hunt) are busting to catch up with you and get the latest data. They saw your tweets and they know they don’t have the latest data. Get on to them will ya?'

So, we will need to engage with our new government on the following issues:

– An energy white pper

– A review of the Renewable Energy Target

– A white paper consultation on the Direct Action Plan

– A commission of audit with seemingly 'everything on the table', and

– The (proposed) repeal of the carbon price and potential replacement schemes.

Secondly, we have a hell of a lot to offer this new government – 'Nothing says Direct Action like swathes of solar panels, Tony!' I said. 'Too right, stand out like the proverbial – now that's action!' he replied.

Taking a look through the official party website, Tony listed 10 key pillars in his plan. I had a think about where solar fits and how we can help him deliver on his plan. This is a short summary of how our chat went (man, can he spin a yarn, we were on the phone for hours):

  1. BUILD A STRONGER ECONOMY: Reducing household costs through the use of solar is a great way to reduce cost of living pressures from electricity and diversifies our electricity supply, enhancing energy security. As one of the fastest growing industries in the world, its helps keep Australia at the cutting edge of an emerging uber-industry.

  2. GET THE BUDGET UNDER CONTROL: Agreed, we need fiscal expediency. Our industry requires a fraction of the support of other industries and yet is growing like few others – it could be the growth machine of Australia’s future. We don’t need massive handouts, we need balanced and reasonable support for a growth industry.

  3. SCRAP THE CARBON TAX: PV had become an effective measure to offset the impact of the Carbon Price for millions of Australians and was providing a valuable signal to help consumers reduce demand, driving investment.  (I promised Tony we’d think up a flash new name for it so we can keep it and just tweak it around the edges a bit, think he was on board).

  4. HELP SMALL BUSINESS GROW: Right there with you – the majority of the 4500 odd solar companies in Australia are small and medium businesses and many are in rural and regional areas. 'How about we get your Green Army out there so they can compete against the corporate mines who are sucking labour away from them? In between solar installs, they can plant trees and fix creeks up. Create jobs, build small business, fix the environment and reduce emissions. Beeauuuttiful!' I said.

  5. BUILD A DIVERSE 5-PILLAR ECONOMY: This plan calls for Manufacturing Innovation (we can reduce their costs with PV), Advanced Services (we are high tech and lead the world), Agricultural Exports ( farms who rely diesel can be more competitive with PV), Education and Research (continue solar on schools, and support our universities to keep training worlds best PV engineers and entrepreneurs), Mining Exports (we can massively reduce their  diesel energy costs, do cathodic protection and power the dongas for staff leaving a community legacy when they are gone) . 'No sweat, gothcha covered.' I said.

  6. GENERATE TWO MILLION JOBS: PV is a fantastic job creator and in fact already employs an estimated 15,000 Australians and makes us one of the larger employment sectors in the country. We can do more.

  7. BUILD MORE MODERN INFRASTRUCTURE: 'Doesn’t get much more modern than PV, Tony' I said. We are a huge part of the future energy mix of this country, incredibly economic and could be doing much much more.

  8. DELIVER BETTER HEALTH: Emissions from coal dust and CO2 are a big big problem around the world and increasingly so in Australia.  This need not be the case and by using more PV we can reduce the impacts and reduce the health care costs for government.

  9. DELIVER BETTER EDUCATION: 'I’ll defer to Mum on this one – as an ex teacher with 35 years experience, she’ll have loads of ideas for you. Can I give her your number?'

  10. REDUCE CARBON EMISSIONS: 'Goes without saying – the more you support us the more we help you do this with one of the most affordable and rapidly deployed technologies in the world. Oh, and the community loves solar, so it will be easy, in fact you can whack it on their roofs if you like. Oh, and I assume you have read the latest IPCC report? Probably going to have to lift the 5 per cent RET target, no sweat, we can do that. Shall we say 20 per cent?' I said.

So that’s pretty much it, PV has all the bases covered to one degree or another and being a rational man, Tony could see it. 'Struth mate: you could be on to something here – these bloody solar panels are kicking goals left right and centre! Have you called Greg? He loves solar! You’re gunna have to work on old Ian though, he’s a bit out of touch with where solar is at. He’s all 'coal this and gas that'. You want his number? Call him, he’s a stand up bloke'.

But I saved the best to last. 'Tony' I said. 'Are you ready for the show stopper, to be propelled into a brave new world where Australia is a South Asian exporter of the future, and its all about you?!' 'You’ve got more? Bloody hell, you solar guys are unstoppable!' he said.

'Mate, you need to call Andrew Campbell, Andrew Blakers and Stuart Blanch, geniuses they are. They have a corker of a plan that is so logical, so practical and so imminently logical you’re going to wonder why Kev left it to you. You’ll be a hero, the architect of the next Snowy Hydro scheme Tony, just think of the glory! We are going to export electrons Tony, electrons. These guys have a plan to combine solar and pumped storage to generate electricity and vitalise the North West. Just need a few bucks and to chuck some wires across the channel. Too easy. Forget dredging the reef. Forget thousands of ships running up on beaches. Forget digging up the bush. The sun, some solar panels and a bit of wire mate and we’re away! '

'That my odd little friend is sheer bloody genius' he said. 'Get ‘em to give me a call would ya?'

It was at this point that I woke up from my dream with the dog staring at me intently (sometimes he stands by the bed and stares at me during the night, for hours). I wondered if his dog breath or abnormal flatulence had caused my strange dreams.

I felt a bit weird.

The (serious) reality of this very peculiar dream is that PV can solve a myriad of the problems listed as targets by Prime Minister Abbott’s Government. And personally, I am a massive, massive fan of the idea of being the first country in the world to start internationally trading solar electrons at a vast scale. We have the stuff, but do we have a leadership bold enough to make it happen?

Time will tell.

Nigel Morris is the director of SolarBusinessServices.

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