Battle lines drawn for energy COAG

The Council of Australian Government Energy Council meets in Hobart this Friday (24 November) to try to bring some order to Australia’s fractious energy policy. It will be the first meeting held since the announcement of the Federal Government’s National Electricity Guarantee (NEG).

The Government is promoting the NEG as an alternative to the Chief Scientist’s recommended Clean Energy Target. It includes a scrapping of the existing Renewable Energy Target after 2020.

Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg says the NEG will ensure 28 percent renewable energy by 2030, and has rubbished the ALP’s policy of 50 percent renewables by that date, calling it irresponsible.

Unfortunately for the Government and Mr Frydenberg, two major independent reports, one of them commissioned by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, have supported Labor’s target.

The most important of these reports is from the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA), about as august a body as we have in this country (it brings together the Australian Academy of the Humanities, the Australian Academy of Science, the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering).

The ACOLA report was done in partnership with the Chief Scientist. It represents the best thinking on the matter, by the most eminent scientists.

“At an aggregated national level, Australia can reach penetrations of 50 percent renewable energy without a significant requirement for storage to support energy reliability,” says the report.

“Installing the levels of storage power capacity (GW) required for the purpose of security creates the opportunity to expand energy stored (GWh) capacity for reliability at a lower marginal cost than would otherwise be the case.”

The report says Australia could be a world leader in renewables, but it was being held back by poor planning. It also says that the Government has a role to play in educating the public about the technology.

This is so at odds with what is actually happening that it can only be seen as a rebuke to current Government policy. It is already providing ammunition to the Federal Opposition and the Labor states ahead of Friday’s COAG meeting.

The ACOLA report can be found here.

Another report, from the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures and commissioned by the Australian Conservation Foundation, says the much the same thing. The report focuses on the ageing Liddell coal-fired power station in the Hunter Valley, slated for closure by owner AGL and something of a cause celebre by adherents of coal, who want its life extended.

It is called ‘Beyond Coal: Alternatives to Extending the Life of Liddell Power Station’ and contains more bad news for the Government:

“Replacing the Liddell coal power station with clean energy and other smart solutions would slash climate pollution and be more than $1.3 billion cheaper than the Turnbull Government’s proposal to keep the ageing plant open past its use by date,” says the report.

ACF Chief Executive Officer, Kelly O’Shanassy, said the results showed Australia’s elected representatives were holding the country back by stalling a comprehensive plan for the swift transition to clean energy.

“Australia desperately needs a comprehensive climate change policy that will facilitate the rapid transition to a clean energy future,” Ms O’Shanassy said.

“Any climate change and energy policy, be it the National Energy Guarantee or another proposal, must be designed to encourage as much clean energy and smart technology as possible, and not prop-up polluting coal plants that are damaging our planet.”

The ACF report can be found here.

The Government consistently accuses the opponents of its energy policy as being driven by ideology. But on the weight of evidence, it would seem that the opposite is the case.

COAG meetings are intended to bring about a consensus between Australia’s top two tiers of government. A consensus on energy policy appears unlikely, which will add to the very uncertainty that these two reports and many observers say is one of the major causes of the lack of investment and planning which is driving energy prices up in Australia.

The COAG Energy Council issues Communiques after its meetings, which have become much more frequent in recent times. The one from next Friday’s meeting should make interesting reading.

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