The Australian Renewable Energy Agency can invest “beyond pure renewables” under new regulations made on the eve of the federal election.
Equivalent regulations have been disallowed multiple times by parliament’s upper house, stopping the Morrison government’s previous attempts to direct the agency to bankroll new uses for fossil fuels.
“The regulations are law,” ARENA CEO Darren Miller told a Senate estimates hearing on Monday.
Labor climate change and energy spokesman Chris Bowen told AAP Energy Minister Angus Taylor is trying to “ram through non-renewables projects that might be unlawful while parliament is out”.
Under the new regulations that took effect on Friday, there is no specific ban on nuclear technology, hydrogen derived from gas, or carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS).
Mr Miller said the agency will now rely on a definition of “low-emissions technology” to be set by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, but has not yet engaged with CEFC on that.
“The government has been fairly consistent, dating all the way back to the 2021 budget, that ARENA would be investing in additional areas of decarbonisation beyond renewable energy, pure renewable energy,” Mr Miller said.
Post-election the Senate will have an opportunity to disallow these new regulations, creating some commercial risk for the agency.
ARENA would not be in a position to invest or launch programs under the new technologies before polling day in May, but would continue to do “background work”, Mr Miller said.
The board and minister have already been briefed on opportunities in soil carbon and CCUS.
Australia’s energy agency will also support offshore wind projects but said it’s “not a core priority”.
“We think that’s an interesting technology to have a look at and we have engaged with a number of market participants in their prospective projects,” Mr Miller said.
“We’re interested in supporting some early works in some of those projects.”
Mr Miller said ARENA was informed a week before the new regulations became law and sought clarification as some of the mechanisms “were quite different to the previous regulations”.
He refuted a suggestion ARENA’s funding was cut in the 2022 budget.