ARENA launches $43 million program for industrial abatement studies as concern around mandate change grows


The Commonwealth-backed Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) on Tuesday launched its Industrial Energy Transformation Studies Program, funded by the 2021 federal budget.

With a specific focus on emissions abatement in industry, the program’s funding will be made available to companies and organisations in the agriculture, mining, manufacturing, gas supply, water supply, waste services and data centre sectors. Under the program, applicants can seek $100,000 to $500,000 for feasibility studies or $250,000 to $5 million for engineering studies looking into industrial solutions to improve energy efficiency or greenhouse gas emissions.

The first round of the program will see up to $25 million of grant funding being made available to support these studies and establish the business case for replicable projects that demonstrate energy efficiency and decarbonisation technology solutions for industry, ARENA said in its statement.

The program is part of the federal government’s Low Emissions Technology Statement which drew criticism when it was released last year because of its support for controversial technologies. In the Low Emissions Technology Statement, Commonwealth Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, named CCS as one of five priorities that would receive taxpayer support as part of the government’s “technology, not taxes” approach. Also included in the strategy was “clean” hydrogen. Not to be confused with green hydrogen, also called renewable hydrogen, the federal government’s conception of “clean” hydrogen includes hydrogen made with fossil fuels which claim to “capture” its emissions.

Off the back of today’s announcement, industry peak body the Clean Energy Council issued a statement again voicing its objections to the government’s proposed mandate changes which would allow the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to fund ‘low-emission technologies’ like CCS and gas projects.

“There is no such thing as clean coal, and gas is not a low-emissions technology,” the Council’s Chief Executive, Kane Thornton, said.

“Any watering down of the ARENA or CEFC’s investment mandate, allowing them to support higher emissions generation, exposes Australia’s taxpayers to unacceptable risk at a time when an unequivocal message is being sent around the world to back away from publicly-funded fossil fuel projects,” he added.

On Friday, Monash University published new analysis in conjunction with the University of Oxford and the London School of Economics and Political Science showing Australia to be a “green laggard.”

The analysis found Australia’s green competitiveness has fallen significantly over the past 20 years. It is now rated 96th of the 231 countries the universities analysed.

“Of the countries considered, Australia appears to be in the least favourable starting position to competitively export products with environmental benefits. Australia is cited to have just 12 ‘green strengths’ compared to 59 in Canada and 153 in China,” the report ‘Navigating the green transition: insights for the G7’ said.

Australia’s straggler status is becoming increasingly glaring as climate action has recently risen to the top of international agendas following net-zero commitments from superpowers the United States and China.

Which is why the proposed changes to funding rules for both ARENA and CEFC have stirred such panic, diluting the goals of the few institutions the country has specifically for green energy.

Applications for the initial round of ARENA’s Industrial Energy Transformation Studies Program will open on July 6, 2021.

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