Ivor Frischknecht, the CEO of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, is to leave the institution after the completion of his second term, and after overseeing 320 projects which have led to more than $3.5 billion dollars of investment over the last six years.
The departure – in August – was announced on Tuesday by federal environment and energy minister Josh Frydenberg, who says Frischknecht’s decision not to seek a third term would give the government plenty of time to find a replacement.
Frischknecht said he had the support of the board and the government to continue, but decided to step down for personal reasons, and to spend time with his Melbourne-based family.
“I think ARENA is well positioned, it has a great team, it’s got strong government support, and it is good time to leave it on a high,” he told RenewEconomy.
Frischknecht had been an investor before the ARENA job, and says he may return to the sector, at least in an advisory role.
Frischknecht was the founding CEO of ARENA, which was created in 2012 by the then Gillard Labor government under its Clean Energy Future package negotiated with The Greens, along with the Clean Energy Finance Corp, and other institutions.
It had an initial budget of $3.2 billion, including funds from incomplete schemes such as the much delayed and reframed Solar Flagships program, but part of this this was deferred, and effectively cut, in Labor’s 2013 budget.
ARENA survived the Abbott government’s war on Labor’s climate and energy policy legacy, although only just when the move was blocked by Labor and the Greens in the Senate.
A later attempt by the Turnbull government, and minister Frydenberg, to strip ts remaining $1.3 billion budget was defeated, but only after Labor controversially agreed to a $500 million cut as part of a compromise deal, leaving ARENA with just $800 million over the next five years.
In a statement, Frydenberg said Frischknecht has helped to make ARENA a success by utilising his expertise in energy, innovation and early stage investment.
“Under his guidance, ARENA has developed a clear set of priority investment areas consistent with the Turnbull Government’s emphasis on affordable and reliable energy,” he said.
“I thank Mr Frischknecht for the contribution he has made in helping the Government to deliver a more affordable and reliable energy system as we transition to a lower emissions future.”
ARENAs funding achievements include the large scale solar funding round that funded 12 solar farms – either complete or under construction – and helped precipitate cost reductions and a boom in investment in large scale solar.
It has also contributed to numerous storage projects, including the feasibility study for Snowy 2.0, funding support for battery projects such as Wattle Point and the newly opened Lakeland solar and storage projects, and a large number of off-grid renewable and storage projects.
More recently it has focused on other storage projects, such as pumped hydro and hydrogen, numerous energy efficiency and demand response initiatives, and it has played a major and ongoing role in funding Australia’s leading R&D in both solar and associated technologies.
Frischknecht said the large scale solar was very important, and probably accelerated the cost reductions in large scale solar in Australia by 5 years.
“That process cut the cost of solar by 25 per cent in the space of a year, and now it is competitive with wind,” he said. “That program over-delivered even our expectations.”
He also pointed to continued reductions in solar PV, developments in off-grid where he said renewables now routinely part of the offering, for both mines and communities.
“And surviving during those tough times and continuing to do some good work,” he said.
Frydenberg also noted Frischknecht had strengthened key relationships between ARENA, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) and the CEFC.
“Frischknecht has provided the Government with sufficient notice of his intentions to allow a thorough search to be undertaken to find a suitable replacement and ensure a smooth handover,” the minister said.
Giles Parkinson is a journalist of 30 years experience, a former Business Editor and Deputy Editor of the Financial Review, a columnist for The Bulletin magazine and The Australian, and the former editor of Climate Spectator.