Australia, once a world leader in solar energies, has shown a renewed commitment to solar power in the form of AUS $1.6bn in funding for solar technologies.

This, however, has not stopped critics accusing the Australian Government of neglecting renewable energies in favour of coal-based power options in its 2009-10 budget.

The government committed $4.5bn to clean energy projects in its budget, handed down this week. Of this, $2.4bn went to low-emission coal technologies with $2bn allocated to two industrial-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects.

The Australian Greens Party and Greenpeace head of campaigns Steve Cambell have both criticised the move, dubbing CCS a “bridge to nowhere”, saying the technology was not developed enough to bring real benefits fast.

“It is a technology that it is clear will not be ready for many decades to come,” Campbell said.

“Carbon capture and storage is a bridge to nowhere.

“It is a technology that is now removing money from renewable energy in this country that could be invested more wisely.”

They did, however, praise the government’s commitment to solar power.

In the early 1990s Australia was a leader in solar technologies.

Regulation and a lack of government support has reduced interest from overseas investors in Australian solar power in recent years, allowing other nations such as Germany, Japan, the US and Spain surge ahead with solar ambitions.

The funding committed in the current budget includes $1.365bn for a Solar Flagship programme, which will have the goal of adding an extra 1000MW of solar generation capacity through four plants that will sit on the national grid.

The government has not said if these will be solar photovoltaic or solar thermal but did say this amount of energy would be enough to power 3,000,000 homes.

On top of this, funding was allocated towards residential solar collection projects, including the Solar Homes and Communities Program which offers rebates for residents wanting to feed solar back into the national grid.

An extra $465m was also allocation for Renewables Australia – a new organisation that will support the development of renewable technologies and implementation and help encourage skills in the area.

By Penny Jones.