Turnbull Abandons Clean Energy Target For 'Technology Neutral' Plan

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Malcolm Turnbull has again pushed the idea of a "technology neutral" approach to energy policy, after scrapping the Clean Energy Target recommended by Australia's Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel, which Tony Abbott had previously referred to as a "tax on coal". The CET will now be replaced with a National Energy Guarantee, with a focus on reducing power bills and guaranteeing reliability through focusing on so-called "dispatchable" generation.

Last night a Coalition party room meeting signaled the end for Finkel's proposed Clean Energy Target, one of the key recommendations of this year's Finkel Report. Tony Abbott labelled the decision as "progress", while Greens leader Richard Di Natale has slammed the decision as a "complete capitulation from Malcolm Turnbull".

The decision was supported by Liberal climate denier Craig Kelly, who downplayed the magnitude of rejecting the Clean Energy Target, saying "The Finkel Report contained 50 recommendations, now if we've recommended 49, that's a 98 per cent strike rate.

"I think there's very few reports made to Government or to COAG that have actually had 98 per cent of their recommendations adopted, so I think he can be pretty happy if he gets 49 out of 50."

Unfortunately by reducing it to just one of many, the argument ignores the fact that the CET was a major part of the Finkel Report. Kelly also suggested taking action on climate targets might be better left until even later, due to the technology "becoming cheaper every year".

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You may have heard about Australian Chief Scientist Alan Finkel's review into Australia's electricity network. You may also have read about its implications on the industry or the environment, but you're probably still wondering -- what will it mean for you and your electricity bill? Read on to find out everything you need to know about the Finkel review's blueprint for Australian electricity.

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While many had hoped the Finkel Report would signal an end to the partisan politics affecting energy reform, the announcement of the still-vague National Energy Guarantee seems set to drag it on. While Turnbull has heralded the new plan as an "opportunity to break free of the climate wars of the past", this announcement seems like just another continuation of it.

"Australia needs a bipartisan approach to develop a stable energy policy, as we saw at the introduction of the renewable energy target, to give the industry the confidence to plan for the future," said ANU's Dr Matthew Stocks.

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The details on the Coalition's new plan to replace the CET are still thin on the ground, but at present the focus seems to be on reliability and lowering energy prices. Here are the details from a video posted to Malcolm Turnbull's Facebook page:

  • The Guarantee is made up of two parts:
  • ✔A reliability guarantee to ensure that energy is always available
  • ✔An emissions guarantee to contribute to Australia’s international commitments
  • The Guarantee builds on our existing energy policy including:
  • ✔ ensuring energy retailers offer consumers a better deal
  • ✔ delivering more gas for Australians before it's shipped offshore
  • ✔ building Snowy 2.0 to stabilise the system
  • ✔ stopping network companies gaming the system

The video also promised 'no subsidies' -- this despite the latest Newspoll revealing that 63 per cent of Australians believed that subsidies for renewables should be continued, despite the costs of renewable technologies continuing to fall. Only 23 per cent of respondents believed that subsidies should be removed.

"[Renewables] are now competitive with new builds of thermal power," Turnbull said at a press conference today. "There is no need for a subsidy. They can compete on a level playing field." Turnbull's seemingly idealistic ideal of equality between technology types ignores the potential of renewable energy, however -- and the diminishing returns of fossil fuels.

"Nations with stable incentives for investment in the renewable energy sector will see growth in their economies and in employment rates," said Professor Tom Faunce of the ANU College of Law & Medical School. "Coal-fired power stations and fracking pollute the environment and create fewer new jobs than a booming renewable energy sector. If Australia doesn’t create a stable platform for renewable investment it will be left behind in the race for next generation clean energy technologies."

The NEG was described by Turnbull as a way to "ensure there is a place for all power sources in the nation's future energy mix: solar, wind, coal, gas, batteries and pumped hydro." However lumping energy storage technologies in with energy generation ignores the potential of storage to increase the reliability of renewable generation -- a role the Coalition seems to believe only gas and coal can fill.

"As the Prime Minister points out, pumped hydro storage (including Snowy 2.0) is highly effective and cost competitive," said Professor Andrew Blakers on the potential for storage technologies to complement and augment a renewable-focused grid. "Pumped hydro can be built fast enough to stabilise any amount of solar and wind at lower overall cost than any fossil fuel alternative."

All this rhetoric espousing the supposed dangers of what are referred to as "intermittent" renewables are ignoring the inherent problems with relying on coal and gas. Firstly, there's the concern that the NEG may rely too much on old coal-fired plants that are liable to become unreliable as they age. In fact, while the Coalition seems to be implying coal and gas are both provide reliable, dispatchable generation sources, coal plants are more often designed as "base load" plants meaning they can take hours or days to cycle off and on.

While gas is more common as dispatchable generation, we still face the issue of high gas prices, and too much reliance on gas in our energy mix could push electricity prices higher.

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Interestingly the NEG recommendation was apparently made by the newly-formed Energy Security Board. Created, ironically, on Finkel's recommendation, the board was only established in early August of this year. However the ESB is concerned with energy security and reliability -- emissions targets are not part of its scope.

Thankfully the NEG does leave some room for emissions reductions, promising reductions in line with Australia's international climate commitments. "The obligation to have a reliable power system is now intimately linked with an emissions reduction target," said Energy Security Board chair Dr Kerry Scott.

The new scheme works on an "energy intensity calculation", which would require retailers to buy efficient power in line with Australia's Paris target -- which is a reduction of 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030. While the Government is confident that the NEG can help Australia meet its targets under the Paris agreement, others are not as convinced.

Experts have called for the electricity sector to take on a larger share of emission reductions, with more cost-effective ways to cut emissions than any other industry. "The cheapest way to meet the Paris emissions target is by increasing the renewable energy share of electricity to 50 per cent," said Professor Andrew Blakers. There is a risk that consumers may end up paying more in other places, if the burden of climate targets falls on other, more costly industries. "It is not clear whether the NEG can do the heavy lifting for the rest of the economy that will be needed to meet our Paris targets," added Professor Ken Baldwin.

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And in case we've all managed to forget, while tropical storms ravage Ireland and half of California burns in intense wildfires, this policy is about more than just your quarterly power bill. "In a modern world, energy security is not just about reliability and affordability. It is also about sustainability. It has to be," said Samantha Hepburn, Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law. "The well being of future generations depends upon it. The production of energy is one of the highest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change imperatives are driving decarbonisation across the globe. Supporting the transition to less carbon intensive energy production is a critical component in this process."

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    Australia, the nation being run by an ex Prime Minister. Love living in the past.

    I guess the money spent by the coal industry was very well spent.

    Tony told turnbull to bend over and turnbull replied with "How far?"

      Oh man, All those downvotes from the usual window lickers is cute

      Hi all of you :)

    Technology agnostic got us a copper-wire based internet.

    Technology neutral looks as if it'll get us more reliant on gas for electricity generation.

    The future is here! And it's been here for a fucking long time...

    If Tony Abbott, an avowed climate change denier, supports it then it is obviously the wrong choice.

    I really like how, only a few short years ago, Turnbull waxed lyrically about the need to defend the environment (especially in the face of human caused climate change) and then once he's in a position to do something about it he does, basically, nothing. Yet somehow he's adamant that "doing nothing" is a great leap forward.

    Why do we always get the government we deserve? Why not for once get a government better than we deserve?

    I don't care what they do as long as prices come down. It's ridiculous how much we pay for electricity, gas and water.

      Energy prices rise because energy companies dont give a flying crap what the government tells them about prices.

      Government say it will only reduce electricity bills by $100 over a decade. That's actually less than the CET.

      I don't mind paying a bit more for clean energy.

        I don't mind the fact I pay less for clean energy! (Solar Panels)

    What about removing the subsidies on coal, to get an even playing field?
    As is coal fired generation is no longer financially competitive long term.

    Edit: As the LNP are taking away the renewable subsides that would be an even starting point for each, I though it was self explanatory but obviously not.

    Last edited 17/10/17 9:16 pm

    Remove all subsidies, and let the market decide.

      Thats fine, How about the coal industry goes first?

    Great progress - Trump being in power is having exactly the effect I predicted, and hoped for.

    Isn't this actually a positive for renewables in the future? There were and would continue to be problems with the intermittent supply from renewables. It is also be a big problem when too much power from these sources that has to be sunk somewhere. Storage will allow renewable power to be even more affordable. Eventually coal power should become simply too expensive.

    An interesting comment made today was that the network costs were inflated by inappropriate investments and gaming of the regulatory system. If 40% of a customer's bill is network charges and 20% is retail, local systems (ie. your house or a small town/village) are not at such a disadvantage compared to 'cheap' baseload generation when the overheads are so high. Going off the grid for some users, and hence away from coal/gas will just happen. One of the board members alluded to this sort of more appropriate type of investment. This is exactly what has been happening in Hawaii for years as more and more people go off the grid.

    Instead of decrying the lack of subsidy for renewables I think it bodes well for the future if the network is changed to cater for renewables and fossil fuels die because of economics. If the less transparent subsidies that fossil fuels enjoy can also be eliminated it will accelerate.

    You know that they are just taking the p!ss when they called it the NEG...it is just a seriously huge middle finger to us all!

    Can anyone explain why we subsidise coal?

      Job creation is one. Taxing of profits another. Influence on politicians and parties for donations ? Energy security - typically a country would like to control the resources it needs rather than rely on imports.

      Because the coal industry has the LNP in its pocket. The coal industry says jump and the LNP says "how far?"

        A bit more bipartisan I am afraid. The Queensland government is providing subsidies to Adani a big coal miner, in the name of jobs I suspect.

          Yeah all 100 of those jobs, sorry 10,000 is what adani claimed right? Lol

            If not jobs, then why do you think the Queensland Labour Party is supporting coal mining?

              Because money gets you anything in politics :)

    This won't make retail prices cheaper... it will make wholesale production cheaper and they pass on the savings to us. The issue has been the whole time the industry hasn't been passing on the savings, they been playing the energy market and inflating prices and a maybe $50 to $100 retail reduction doesn't counter the compounding increase in prices we have been victims of over the years.

    Its too little... we need a lot more NOW! The ACCC says the market is a serious issue. Bring the market and the suppliers to bare their responsibility in this, and if they won't admit the faults (as reported by the ACCC) then reintroduce regulations or abolish the market.

    I know I'll probably get lampooned for this but, Corporations and big business in general, are the bain of this planet. Hell, global climate change alone is reason enough to want them to stop pissing on all of us. It's not going to happen anytime soon, but we need a better system of Governance, one where the planet and its inhabitants are considered more important than profits.

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