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Australian government firm defies PM directive, seeks wind finance

An Australian state-owned electricity firm will defy Prime Minister Tony Abbott and seek funding for a new wind farm hub from the government’s Clean Energy Finance Corp (CEFC), adding to uncertainty in the country’s No. 2 clean energy sector.

Abbott has come under fire from investors after ordering the A$10 billion ($7.45 billion) CEFC to stop investing in wind and solar power, saying wind farms are “visually awful” and CEFC could better invest in less established clean technology.

Australia is one of the world’s biggest carbon emitters on a per capita basis and its renewables sector has been rattled in the past year by the scrapping of a carbon tax and an emissions trading plan and the cutting of its renewable energy target.

TransGrid, part of a A$17 billion electricity network currently being sold by the New South Wales state government, wants to build a wind farm electricity hub near the Queensland state border and plans to seek CEFC funding, the firm’s strategy chief said.

“There are sensible things that companies like TransGrid can do to support the development of this industry,” TransGrid executive general manager of people, strategy and stakeholders Greg Garvin told Reuters, referring to renewable energy sector.

“If we had our head in the sand and were just thinking about following specific regulatory requirements, we wouldn’t be doing it (but) we know that consumers are looking for a low-carbon future.”

TransGrid will discuss financing options with “all funding sources” including the CEFC and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), said Garvin, referring to the agency which gives grants rather than commercial financing as the CEFC does.

The CEFC, which has said it is seeking legal advice on the anti-wind farm ruling, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

TransGrid, which runs 12,500 kilometres (7,800 miles) of transmission lines from one end of NSW state to the other, wants the planned hub to connect about three wind farms to the grid.

An ARENA spokesman said the agency has spoken with TransGrid but declined to give details of the discussions. The spokesman noted that the agency does not usually give grants for wind projects because its focus is on undeveloped renewable power.

A NSW government spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

($1 = 1.3570 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Michael Perry)