Cloudy future for solar innovators

"We will be a global company and are planning a number of large solar plants overseas. Some of the largest investors and power companies in the USA have realised that solar thermal power is a probable replacement for coal, nuclear and oil. They believe this will be very big business and power companies are willing to provide the large amount of initial equity to get the industry moving."

His departure is the latest variation on a depressing local theme. "No one here is listening to him," Michael Mobbs told me. Mobbs is an environmental lawyer best known for building the most sustainable, energy-efficient urban home in Australia, his famous "Chippendale house".

Given Australia is the No. 1 nation in the world in terms of available land and available hours of sunlight to develop solar energy, given Australia once led the world in solar energy research, given our appalling level of greenhouse emissions, and given one of the most advanced companies in the field of solar thermal energy is Australian, you might think this would be the place to build an industrial-scale solar power plant. But no.

"Australian business does not offer the risk equity we need, especially under the current climate in which the Government clearly favours existing coal and nuclear options based around mineral resources," Mills told me.

"The Australian Federal Government refuses to put in place strict emissions targets, strict legislation to enforce those targets, and reliable long-term market valuations for carbon emissions avoided. We can find all of those things overseas."

Don’t be lulled by last week’s announcement by the Prime Minister, John Howard, of the Federal Government’s $10 billion, 10-year plan to attack Australia’s water and soil degradation. Howard has been in office for 11 years and his response to the greatest environmental threat in Australia’s history has been, and remains, incremental, piecemeal, reactive and belated.

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