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A green energy boom (ABC Unleashed)

Where to from here, now that the 20% renewable energy target legislation has passed into law?

Kevin Rudd's 2007 election platform included a pledge to set a target to ensure Australia generates 20 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2020.

Last week, nearly two years after that election, the Parliament finally passed the 20 per cent renewable energy target legislation into law.

This is the first major piece of climate legislation to pass Australia's Federal Parliament.

It's a big, positive step that will drive serious investment in renewable energy.

Independent energy consultants McLennan Magasanik Associates estimate that the renewable energy target will unleash up to $31 billion in investment and 26,000 new jobs for Australians.

Economics aside, this is an important step towards a cleaner future for our kids. It means 20 per cent of Australia's electricity will be produced with virtually no greenhouse emissions by 2020.

The renewable energy law passed by the Parliament is not perfect - the Australian Conservation Foundation is disappointed more compensation has been granted to big polluters, the costs of which will be unfairly borne by households and small business - but it is an essential start.

So, where to from here?

The passing of this significant legislation opens up a lot of possibilities. Imagine if our politicians grasped them…

Imagine if, in the months leading up to the crucial UN climate negotiations at Copenhagen in December, Australia's parliamentarians were to strengthen and pass the emissions trading legislation to show our country is prepared to walk the talk on climate change action.

Imagine if both major parties went to next year's federal election with strong solar feed-in tariff policies, allowing households with solar panels on their roofs to earn a premium price for excess electricity they feed back into the grid and guaranteeing the future of the domestic solar industry.

Imagine if Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull, a long-time supporter of solar energy, was to champion a Global Solar Institute for Australia, making us global leaders in this rapidly growing clean energy of the future.

Imagine if the number of Australian greenpower customers had hit 1.5 million by this time next year - a direct result of the Federal Government making sure the emission reductions that come about from greenpower purchases are counted over and above the national greenhouse reduction target.

Imagine if there was such public and political outcry over BHP Billiton's plan to blow out South Australia's carbon emissions by 12 per cent by powering the expansion of its Olympic Dam mine with coal-fired electricity, that the Government made approval of the expansion conditional on the company using 100 per cent renewable energy.

Imagine if the Government saw how much the renewable energy target had sparked investment in clean energy and decided to increase the target, so Australia aimed to get 25 or 30 per cent of our electricity from renewables by 2020.

We don't have to merely imagine these things as distant possibilities. The vast majority of Australians want strong action on climate change and want to see clean energy boom.

These issues will become election issues as we head towards the 2010 federal poll and will decide who will lead Australia on climate change into the next decade.

Don Henry is ACF's Executive Director