CANBERRA, Australia – The Australian government pledged $95 million in funding Wednesday for two projects as part of its new strategy to combat global warming, including the construction of the world's largest solar power plant.
The projects are the first to be funded under a $379 million package announced earlier this week to prevent global warming. Australia has been criticized over its refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The government will contribute $57 million to the $319 million project to build a 154-megawatt solar power plant in Victoria state, which will use mirrored panels to concentrate the sun's rays, Treasurer Peter Costello said.
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The plant, which is to be built by Melbourne-based Solar Systems Pty Ltd., would begin operations in 2008 and reach full capacity by 2013.
"The project aims to build the biggest photovoltaic project in the world," Costello told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
The government also announced $38 million in funding toward a $274 million project to reduce carbon emissions from an existing coal-fired power house in Victoria. The project aims to reduce pollution in part by capturing and storing emissions from the burning coal.
"This will make a major contribution to emission reduction in Australia and it just shows practical, considered, financially viable, workable technologies which will help us on our way to reduce global warming," Costello said.
Environmental groups and opposition lawmakers have urged the government to do more to address Australia's reputation as the world's worst greenhouse-gas polluter per capita.
Greenpeace spokesman Danny Kennedy suspected the announcements could be a strategy to neutralize concerns about climate change ahead of elections next year.
"If the federal government's strategy is to lay out a series of ... announcements from now to the election, it is a thinly disguised attempt to avoid the real action that is needed — moving Australia away from polluting coal," he said.
The Australian Conservation Foundation said the solar power plant would be a small step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
"If we really want to get serious about cutting our greenhouse emissions in Australia, the most effective way is to ensure that we're setting national targets that require greenhouse pollution to be cut and that we put a price on that greenhouse pollution, that is, make the polluters pay," the group's executive director, Don Henry, told The Sydney Morning Herald.
Australia and the United States are the only major industrialized nations to refuse to sign the Kyoto Protocol, which legally binds countries to targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2012.
Australia argues it would unfairly hamper its economy, which is heavily dependent on exporting coal, a major source of carbon emissions.
Instead, both countries have pledged money to an Asia-Pacific plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by promoting renewable energy sources and cleaner ways to use coal.
Environmentalists have said the pledges are far too little and the plan focuses on untried technologies to prop up the fossil fuel industry.