The Australian government has again attempted to expand the functions of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Arena) to support non-renewable projects.

The federal government confirmed new regulations had come into effect on Friday that will allow the agency to provide support for five priority new and emerging technologies.

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This includes “clean hydrogen”, carbon capture and storage (CCS), long-duration energy storage, measurement technologies for healthier soils and low-carbon materials — including aluminium and steel.

Expanding Arena’s remit to cover low-emission technologies was a recommendation of the King review, which was led by former Origin Energy managing director Grant King and examined ways to unlock low-cost carbon abatement across the Australian economy, particularly in the industry, transport and agriculture sectors.

Australia’s Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, claimed the added investment in technology research and development was central to the government’s “technology not taxes” policy to reduce emissions.

“Getting new, low-emissions technologies to economic parity as soon as possible is the only way to reduce emissions without imposing new costs on households, businesses or the economy,” he claimed.

“This change allows Arena to support technologies that can reduce emissions across all sectors of the economy.”

Opposition to changes

The government had introduced similar regulations earlier this year, but they were shot down last month in the Australian Senate.

The Labor, Greens and cross-bench voters were able to get the regulations disallowed in the Senate. However, the move was largely helped by One Nation leader Pauline Hanson’s absence from the vote, which proved decisive.

The Greens had argued the new regulations redirected funds from renewables to the fossil-fuel sector by allowing funding for technologies such as CCS.

It is not clear if there will be another campaign to try to overturn these regulations when parliamentary sitting resumes again next week.

“By disallowing the previous regulations Labor delayed the creation of 1400 jobs and roll-out of these programmes,” Taylor stated on Friday.

In addition to the new jobs, Talyor claimed targeted programmes under the regulations would deliver 16.5 million tonnes of emissions reductions.

The government has pledged an additional A$192.5 million (US$142.4 million) to fund the programmes, which include A$71.9 million to support new electric-vehicle charging and hydrogen-refuelling infrastructure; A$24.5 million to support higher productivity and lower emissions in Australia’s heavy-vehicle fleets; A$47 million to support large energy-using businesses to identify opportunities to adopt new technologies and increase productivity; and A$52.6 million for microgrids in regional Australia.

Taylor noted that this was on top of the A$1.4 billion of new, guaranteed baseline funding the government had previously provided to Arena to support new and emerging technologies.

Industry support

He added that the regulations introduced on Friday had received support from business as well as industry bodies and climate change groups including the Business Council of Australia, the AiGroup, the National Farmers Federation, ClimateWorks Australia and the Investor Group for Climate Change.

Oil and gas industry body the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) also welcomed the regulations and called on politicians from all sides to back them.

“Climate change should not be used as a political weapon and politicians shouldn’t ‘pick winners’ when it comes to protecting the environment. Supporting these measures demonstrates support for practical steps to reduce emissions and help the environment,” APPEA chief executive Andrew McConville said.

“All technology, including hydrogen and carbon capture and storage, should be on the table to help reduce emissions. Just as government investment in renewables has fast-tracked projects, this would do the same and create thousands of jobs in the process.”