The fox in the hot house

16 Aug 2009Archived News Energetics in the News

PUBLISHED - The Sydney Morning Herald by Paddy Manning, Jonathan Jutsen, Executive Director and Founder Energetics Pty Ltd, is mentioned for his work on Alliance to Save Energy.

You would think, from its name, the Clean Energy Council would be mainly about promoting an alternative energy future for Australia. Wrong. As a lobby group, the council has been missing in action over the Federal Government's carbon pollution reduction scheme, which failed in the Senate on Thursday as expected. Part of the problem was the absence of a business constituency vigorously for the scheme.

The council's hopes are riding on the passage of the renewable energy target legislation next week, but breakaway organisations are already forming to focus purely on energy efficiency and renewable energy - two areas in which the council's advocacy is perceived to have fallen short.

After two short years in existence - three chief executives, two chairmen and one bruising court case - it may be time to recognise that the brave step of forming a single peak body to represent the diverse interests of the alternative energy sector has failed.

The council was formed in August 2007 from a merger of the Business Council of Sustainable Energy and the Australian Wind Energy Association. As with any merger, there were hiccups. It was also lopsided; most of the staff from the old business council left. Its original chief executive, Dominique La Fontaine, left within a year to be replaced by Rosemary Warnock, of BP Solar.

By mid-2008 the council was being dragged into the Federal Court by the Business Council of Sustainable Energy's co-founder and Clean Energy Council deputy chairman Peter Szental, who found himself isolated on the board.

He felt the terms of the merger had been betrayed and the organisation had been taken over by the energy suppliers, rather than those businesses that promoted energy efficiency. He alleged oppressive conduct by the council and breaches of the agreement signed when the organisation was formed. He sought a court-ordered independent review of the organisation, or a wind-up.

The wind-up action was later abandoned, and by the time the Federal Court delivered its finding, in February this year, the council had got itself into shape and the case failed. The judge found Szental's concerns "understandable" but said there were no grounds for oppression and decided a review would only perpetuate the divisions.

The then Clean Energy Council chairman Richard McIndoe, himself the chief executive of TRUenergy, which owns a brown coal-fired power station in Victoria, had appointed a new chief executive last September. Matthew Warren had been the environment writer for The Australian and had previously worked for the NSW Minerals Council.

Warren put a new broom through the place. Some, such as the former national policy manger Vikki McLeod, found themselves on the outer. McLeod, an engineer by training, had 25 years experience in sustainable energy policy and had worked for the former Democrats leader Lyn Allison.

GBIZ has obtained a copy of a letter to the council board, written after McLeod was dismissed in December. The February letter touches on the tensions between the "supply" and "demand" sides of the organisation and claimed governance practices agreed at the formation of the council - to ensure that policy was developed "bottom-up", by directorates representing the different membership interests - were not being honoured.

Contacted by GBIZ, McLeod said her employment at the council became untenable. "I had been trying for six months to gain board approval for a number of policy documents, which included the energy efficiency policy. Without this approval I was unable to do my job. The content of these policies was developed by the membership and in the case of energy efficiency was more conservative than [the] currently committed government policy.

"In my opinion, the council membership and policy direction represents the conventional energy industry, which has both fossil fuel and renewable energy assets, rather than the sustainable energy industry."

The council's membership fees have risen greatly. Simon Troman, of energy consultants IT Power, says his company recently quit because the joining fees were no longer value for money. "Membership from one year to the next tripled and then doubled."

The effect is to tilt membership increasingly toward the big corporate energy "gentailers" who may be diversifying from fossil fuels into renewable energy and/or so-called clean coal

The council now gets about 10 per cent of its annual revenues (its accounts are not made public) from companies with investment in coal-fired power. Members include AGL, Origin Energy, TRUenergy, International Power (owner of Hazelwood), Delta Generation, Macquarie Generation and so on.

Troman says the council takes a "softly, softly" line in its dealings with the Government and was slow, for example, to complain about the sudden abolition of the remote power program and solar energy rebates this year.

The executive director of Energetics, Jonathan Jutsen, who recently nominated for the board of the council but was struck out on a technicality, says reducing energy demand is not a focus for the council. He is now working to set up a new body, the Alliance to Save Energy, modelled on a body in the US, to act as an advocate for energy efficiency.

The Australia and New Zealand Solar Energy Society, the Australian Geothermal Energy Association, the wave body Oceanlinx and the WWF are expected next week to launch their own renewable energy alliance to represent emerging technologies capable of providing baseload power. The director of the society, John Grimes, says the groups gave joint evidence at the recent Senate inquiry into the renewable energy target legislation, and "we wouldn't have done that if we were being well served".

Rob Grant, the head of the wind energy company Pacific Hydro, who took over from McIndoe as chairman this year, may set a new direction.

Grant says there may have been a perception that the council was too close to the coal lobby during McIndoe's term but the board has "never, in all my time, ever pursued an agenda other than what's good for the renewable energy sector".

Grant says Warren, as chief executive, takes a pragmatic rather than dogmatic approach. But this month the council overhauled its board, and one of the new faces was the former the Babcock & Brown Power chief executive Paul Simshauser, an advocate for increased compensation for coal-fired power generators.
The Greens senator Christine Milne says the council is "completely ineffective" as an advocate for renewable energy.

"They haven't even advocated for a higher [emissions reduction] target."
The council was flawed from the start, she said. "Clean energy was code for clean coal and other low-emissions technology. It's not the code for renewables and a futuristic zero-carbon economy."

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