operahouseAustralia has gone from a world leader in solar technology to one of its most unapologetic foes in just a handful of decades. 

According to Vice’s Julian Morgans, this energy flip-flop is common all over the world; it’s simply more pronounced down under.

Two-thirds of the island continent is an uninhabited desert, which posed logistical problems for building its national telephone network in the 1970s. But, because necessity is the mother of invention, national provider Telecom innovated itself a solution. By 1978, the company had created reliable solar cells that could power its remote relay stations with minimal upkeep.

By the 1980s, Australia was a respected solar pioneer. It makes sense; the country receives more solar radiation per square foot than anywhere else on Earth. But since that time the country’s number one resource has been a point of contention. Australia’s power is at the mercy of its politics.

In the 1990s, a new government favored coal over solar development. That atavistic instinct was overturned in 2012 when Prime Minister Julia Gillard needed Green Party votes. She compromised by agreeing to a carbon tax, which was levied against 350 of the country’s biggest carbon polluters. It was working, too. But last year Tony Abbot became the new Prime Minister, and this year he effectively shut the carbon tax down.

Now Australia is gradually diminishing incentives for companies and residents to invest in solar power, and that’s causing many of them to call it quits. What would have been one of the country’s largest solar farms has abandoned development near Mildura. The farm, a Silex Systems project, would have produced enough electricity to power 30,000 homes. But nobody knows if Australia will maintain its Renewable Energy Target, and such uncertainty is bad for business.

‘”There’s not as much pressure on the market to have renewable energy in their portfolio now simply because the [target] is at least going to be wound back and possibly abolished,” Silex chief executive Michael Goldsworthy told the ABC.

Australia has four large solar farms currently under construction and 13 in development, but investors are getting spooked. Giles Parkinson, the editor of Renew Economy, says they’re up against a coal-powered government that is putting its interests against the health and progress of its citizens.

“In Australia, we have this unique situation where regulators are run by state governments, and they see their role as protecting the incumbents, which are often the state power companies,” he told Vice. “It’s a hopeless conflict of interest. Just a classic example of aging white men who don’t understand the future.”

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