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Australian Parliament sets renewable energy target

Australia's Parliament passed a law Thursday requiring that 20 percent of the country's electricity come from renewable sources such as the sun and wind by 2020, matching European standards and up from about 8 percent now.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Australia's Parliament passed a law Thursday requiring that 20 percent of the country's electricity come from renewable sources such as the sun and wind by 2020, matching European standards and up from about 8 percent now.

The law would quadruple the renewable energy target set by the previous government in 2001 and provide enough clean electricity to power the households of all 21 million Australians.

But some officials said more aggressive cuts in carbon gas emissions are needed as well.

The bill was passed by the Senate and House of Representatives on Thursday after the government reached a deal with the main opposition party to increase government assistance to industries that are heavy users of electricity and create safeguards for existing investment in the coal mining industry.

The new target matches one set in 2007 by the European Union, which leads the world in green power technology.

But Sen. Bob Brown, leader of the Australian Greens minor opposition party, said the target should be 30 percent and that big polluters were offered too much government assistance.

Leading environmental group the Australian Conservation Foundation welcomed the law, calling it the first major piece of climate legislation to pass Parliament. It said research showed the target will encourage 31 billion Australian dollars ($26 billion) in new clean energy investment and create 26,000 jobs.

But its executive director, Don Henry, said it was disappointed that more compensation had been granted to big polluters and that the costs would be "unfairly borne by households and small business."

Currently, 8 percent of Australia's electricity comes from renewable sources, including hydroelectric generators built late last century, according to the private Clean Energy Council.

Critics argue the target will make electricity more expensive in coal-rich Australia without curbing the amount of climate-warming carbon gases that the nation emits, as overall electricity consumption rises.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong told the Senate on Wednesday that even with one-fifth of Australia's electricity coming from renewable sources by 2020, the nation's carbon gas emissions are projected to be 20 percent higher than 2000 levels.

"The only way we're going to be able to turn around the growth in our carbon pollution ... is to put a firm legislated limit on the amount of carbon that we produce and make those who create the pollution pay for it," Wong said.

Last week the Senate rejected a government-proposed bill that would have taxed industries' carbon emissions starting in 2011 and slashed the country's emissions by up to 25 percent below 2000 levels by 2020.