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ABS report finds renewable energy sector sheds 15% of jobs over target uncertainty

The Lake George wind farm. Photo Ian Waldie/Getty Images

Just like the mining industry, employment in the renewable energy sector is heading south as uncertainty continues to plague the federal government’s Renewable Energy Target (RET), a new report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has found.

The ABS’s first analysis of the sector’s employment patterns, taken over five years, found that jobs fell by 15% between 2013 and 2014 to 12,590 — a loss of 2,300 jobs since the industry peaked in 2012.

Western Australia was among the hardest hit, shedding more than half its jobs, falling from 1,740 in 2011/12 to 820 in 2013/14. Queensland shed 34% of its workforce over the same period, with 1,300 full time jobs going.

The ABS report, which spans 2009-10 to 2013-14, found the sector grew 41% between 2009 and the 2012 peak to 14,890 FTE workers.

“Since 2011-12 all mainland Australian states have experienced a decline in annual direct [FTE] employment in renewable energy activities,” it notes, saying employment “is influenced by policies put in place by federal, state/territory and local governments”.

The data comes as Coalition government and ALP opposition continue to fight over a revised mandatory RET, which currently sits at 41,000 gigawatt hours to reach 20% renewables by 2020.

But environment minister Greg Hunt has been pushing for a lower figure in the wake of falling domestic energy demands, and as the horse-trading has continued, the government has compromised, raising its target from 26,000 gigawatt hours to 32,000, and refuses to budge any further as Labor and the Clean Energy Council push for 33,500.

The uncertainty continues despite a March 31 deadline that forces emissions-intensive companies to pay fines under the RET.

“Uncertainty over the future of the RET, or over the size of the renewable power percentage, is likely to have a flow on effect on future investment in renewable energy infrastructure,” the report said.

New South Wales leads on the jobs front, with nearly 3000 workers making up 22% of total employment, just in front of Victoria on with 140 fewer workers. Queensland’s 2520 jobs is 20%, followed by hydro-focused Tasmania (12%), South Australia (11%) and Western Australia (7%). Two years ago, Queensland had a quarter of the total workforce before its dramatic fall.

Businesses involved in solar power now deliver around half the workforce, having peaked two years ago at 74%. The industry is strongest in Queensland and WA.

Hydro power employment was relatively stable, but continued to grow, adding nearly 300 jobs to 1,810 in 2013-14.

Jobs in wind power are mainly based around the installation period and the ABS says employment is relatively volatile, growing from 7% of total jobs to 21% or 2690 jobs over the review period.

Nearly 10% of the sector are involved in administration and lobbying with employees in government entities and non-profit institutions more than doubling over five years from 480 to 1,170.

The ABS also notes that feed-in tariffs (FiT) are an key influence on employment in roof-top solar power and vary wildly from state-by-state.

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