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Eight things Malcolm Turnbull should do on climate, renewables

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Malcolm Turnbull’s dramatic replacement of Tony Abbott as prime minister of Australia has raised hopes of a change in direction for the Coalition government, particularly on climate change and renewable energy, and thereby the shape of its economic future.

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 12.58.01 pmTurnbull promised an end to “policy by slogans”, and a new move to bring the Australian population along with the idea of an exciting future, first of all by explaining what that future might be, and respecting their intelligence.

But is this all just style and no substance? The next few weeks will tell.

Some are hopeful.

Paul Gilding, author and corporate advisor, describes a collective sigh of relief for those arguing for progressive climate and renewable energy policies.

“For climate advocates PM Turnbull is a “Nixon to China” moment,” Gilding said today. “We will never get on track as a country on this issue without genuine bipartisan support – and because of the way Rudd and Abbott made this a Left/Right issue, only the Liberal Party shifting can deliver the change we need.

“That’s why Turnbull’s arrival as PM is a game changer for Australia’s approach, but the impact will be medium to long term rather than sudden policy shifts. While Abbott had to say he supported action on climate policy, everyone knew he was faking it because the politics demanded he do so.

“Turnbull actually supports climate action and has long understood the economic implications of the transition required. And rather than being fearful of those implications he embraces them – seeing the inherent opportunity in a transition away from coal and towards a technology driven transformation of the energy system.

“The influence of this over time, on the business community and on public attitudes will be long lasting and leave a legacy for a generation.”

Others are not so sure. John Hewson, the former Liberal leader and now champion of fossil fuel divestment campaigns, said Turnbull may well have sold out. “I think it’s all for Malcolm to do right now,” Hewson said on ABC TV’s Q&A program. “The rumour is he’s sold out on climate change, which I personally think is the largest policy challenge – moral challenge, economic, political and social challenge – of this century.”

So what will Turnbull do? Over the next few days, weeks, months, we will find out. But here are eight things he could do right now:

Stop the slogans

This should be the easy part. No more “axe the tax”, no more “climate change is crap”, no more “wind farms are offensive”, no more “coal is good for humanity.” Oh, and don’t replace the slogans with 120-word ones.

Get excited about new technology:

This shouldn’t be too hard, either. Just before the first leadership crisis in February, Turnbull was in California having a test drive of a Tesla Model S, the up-market electric super-car. He raved about the experience: “Tesla has gone from employing 500 people to 11,000 in five years. A reminder of how innovation drives jobs,” he noted on his blog.

“Batteries have the potential to revolutionise the energy market, reducing peaking power requirements, optimising grid utilisation of renewables and in some cases enabling consumers to go off the grid altogether. The excitement of technology in the Bay Area is exhilarating…..but not quite as palpable as the jolt you feel when you hit the accelerator!”

Perhaps he should require all party members to test drive a Tesla. He could just as equally share that enthusiasm, and dump the party’s poisonous rhetoric, about other technologies such as battery storage and renewables. And he should not funnel government funds to daft projects like the rail link for the Galilee Basin coal mines. Even Barnaby Joyce understands that.

Get moving on climate change:

There was a telling moment in Turnbull’s first press conference when the newly designated PM was about to answer a question on emissions reduction targets. Deputy Julie Bishop quickly noted that Australia’s targets were set and would not change. It was a reminder to Turnbull that whatever his own views on climate change, he had to take the party with him.

It is clear that Turnbull has cut a deal with the Far Right rump of the party not to reintroduce an ETS – the very policy mechanism that caused his downfall in 2009. But Turnbull’s own views are very clear. As he said in 2010:

“Climate change is real, it is affecting us now, and yet, right now we have every resources available to us to deal with climate change, except for one, and that is leadership.

“We cannot cost-effectively achieve a substantial cut in emissions without putting a price on carbon.”

Turnbull has the opportunity to provide that leadership. It will take time to introduce a carbon price, but it will most likely come through a baseline and credit scheme, a sort of emissions reduction fund and safeguards mechanism with bite, and amendments to the current proposal. Reputex goes into more details here.

Sweep out the dead wood:

Turnbull may be constrained by promises made to the Right Wing, but he can change the rhetoric and the mood, and the vision, by sweeping away the inner cabal that fashioned Abbott’s policy making.

This includes the likes of climate deniers such as Maurice Newman, Dick Warburton, David Murray and Tony Shepherd, and shake the Cabinet from the grim grasp of the Institute of Public Affairs and its policy wish-list. The right wing commentariat – including Alan Jones, Ray Hadley, Tim Blair and Andrew Bolt voiced their anger. They will be sniping at every turn.

That generational change is also needed elsewhere, particularly in the energy industry where many of the incumbent utilities, and policy and pricing regulators – from the industry minister Ian Macfarlane down – are from the “old school” of energy management, and don’t seem to get the concept of decentralised generation, and the exciting technologies that Turnbull has alluded to, including EVs (such as his affection for Tesla), solar, and battery storage, and the smart software that will pull these technologies together.

Remove the threat to dismantle CEFC, ARENA and the CCA:

If only Bernie Fraser had hung around for another week. The chairman of the CCA resigned last week, apparently frustrated by his inability to get his voice heard, even by environment minister Greg Hunt. Yet the CCA should play a critical role in advising on climate change policies.

Ditto the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. Both have committed to playing a large role in the imminent roll-out of utility-scale solar, yet have been hamstrung in their broader goals by funding cuts in the case of ARENA, and restricted mandates in the case of the CEFC (Abbott’s instruction not to invest in wind farms or rooftop solar).

Both agencies have been operating with the threat of closure looming behind them. With a positive mandate, both can play a critical role in the bringing in and lowering the cost of the technologies that Turnbull is so excited about.

Express support for renewable energy, and boost the target:

Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and others in the Coalition made it very clear, they don’t like renewable energy, and they hated wind energy. That has caused the investment drought to continue, despite the reduced 33,000GWh target that was supposed to provide certainty, and turned large investors like Meridian Energy to greener shores. Turnbull should be able to turn that antipathy on a dime, simply by expressing support for new technologies.

Turnbull has been an enthusiastic supporter of renewable energy. Way back in 2010, he even attended the launch of BZE’s Zero Carbon plan for 2020, along with Bob Carr and the Greens’ Scott Ludlam. Turnbull was particularly supportive of solar thermal with storage.

“As you know the great challenge with renewable sources of energy; solar and wind in particular, is that they are intermittent,” he told the event. “So what do we do when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. How do we store that power.

“There is the ability with concentrated solar thermal power stations to use the sun’s energy to superheat a substance, in this case molten salt, that will hold its heat for long enough to be able to continue to generate steam and hence energy after the sun has stopped shining or during or day after day of rain. So there is a real opportunity there, with that technology, to generate baseload power from solar energy – something of a holy grail.”

Given that experience, maybe Turnbull should pitch for 100 per cent renewables? It is probably too much to expect Turnbull to lift the current renewable energy target in the short term, but that is exactly what he needs to do. The industry needs a long term policy, and Turnbull will be under pressure to match Labor’s 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030, which even big investment banks say is readily achievable. Rooftop solar needs ongoing regulatory support as well, and it fits Turnbull’s rhetoric about a new economic future.

Impose emission standards on coal generators, and efficiency standards on cars

Whatever his support for the current policy, Turnbull cannot duck the fact that Australia’s industrial emissions are growing, and particularly in the energy sector. Short of a carbon price, Turnbull could follow the lead of the US and China and impose strict emissions limits for coal-fired generators, impose energy efficiency targets for vehicles, and reintroduce the efficiency standards for new homes. Designing an exit strategy for coal generators is one of the most urgent issues.

Find a new environment minister, or tell Greg Hunt to stop saying silly things:

Greg Hunt likes to tell people how hard it was to push a progressive line in an Abbott government. Many people wondered how hard he tried. Hunt came up with some of the Abbott government’s worst whoppers on climate change, coal, and renewable energy.

Turnbull cannot afford to have such rhetoric repeated under his leadership, so if Hunt stays in that office (and we will find out at the end of the parliamentary sitting week) the former Australian universities debating captain will have to be given another topic to argue: Decisive climate change is good for the economy and will not bankrupt Australia.

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  • Jacob

    Is the coal power station in South Australia running again?

    On the right side of this article, the NEM graph shows 270MW of production.

    • Jacob, you might want to remember to attach an image of the NEM-Watch widget when you note things like “shows”, in order to provide context for other readers.

      I have done this below for you – just:
      1) Mouse-over the widget on any page of RenewEconomy and click “Save”
      2) Then, when making a comment, click the grey bar* under the comment section and browse to the image to add (will be in “Downloads” unless you shifted it).

      Paul

      * Giles, note that the grey bar used to make it clearer people could embed images.

      • Jacob

        Great work Paul!

    • Jon

      There are 2 coal fired generators in SA run by Alinta, Northern and Playford. Northern has been operating continuously for the whole year. Playford is mothballed.

  • Philip Ho

    Breathe of fresh air. There is a God.

    • johnnewton

      No. it’s only the minister for Goldman Sachs. Remember the useless CPRS? He was an architect.

      There is no God in Canberra. Only Mammon.

      • Philip Ho

        Ha, ha, ha …….the God saved us from the anti Christ in Abbott who pretends to be demi God.
        Psss. I am so pissed off having to listen to the three word slogans. Stop the …….. Axe the tax.
        OK back to the beautiful wind farms and leading edge technology in solar energy storage.

  • orko138

    #9. Phase out fossil fuel subsidies. This a G20 agenda item, and has been advised by both the World Bank and the IMF as well as the IPCC.

  • johnnewton

    Hmmmm I wonder whether a deal with the coal industry wasn’t part of his getting the job? He expressed himself completely happy with the coalition’s climate change policy.

    We shall see…

    • Ana Milosevic

      I have a ninemsn.com home page, and since last Wednesday the adds for coal keep appearing no matter which article one is looking at. Funny that???? Is it coincidence or is it a well PLANNED COINCIDENCE?????

      • johnnewton

        Adblock?

        • Hey, what about my business model?

          • johnnewton

            Giles, for her ninemsn page

  • It will be interesting to see if there is a change in policy on Renewable Energy, now that Malcolm is Prime Minister.

    Speaking with people who work within the Energy Industry, “Big business has been influencing the Government Energy Policy” (AGL, Energy Australia etc), as these businesses have on there books 5-30 years of coal assets in the ground that could be rendered worthless, if Australia was to adopt an aggressive Renewable Energy policy. And I’m sure they want to get as much as possible out of their assets.

    Also keeping in mind that these companies would still like a piece of the “User Pay” action in the Renewable Energy Industries future.

    In isolation, I think most people would say “Stuff Big Business”, and would agree that its common sense that the government should take the aggressive policy option with renewables. But when you consider that we will have the automotive industry shutting down within 2 years, and government with need to assist several 1000’s of people in transferring industry, it may not be economically and socially wise to take the aggressive approach.

    Though who knows what might be possible it the government is successful in introducing a tax law system that forces big foreign companies (Chevon, Ikea, etc) pay their fair share of taxes dollars in our great country (as announced today). More revenue means greater ability to support worthwhile policy such as an aggressively supporting renewable energy.

    Whatever your viewpoint its an interesting discussion.

    • Alan

      Best way to create new/replace old jobs currently is to go Renewables – 1000s of jobs just waiting out there for policy guidance. Coal is dead… ICE’s are dying… Start making the future or miss out and try to deal with the consequences from a position of weakness.

      • Hi Alan,
        I don’t disagree, maybe we will see a change in policy in this a area.
        It would be great if there was more incentive for household solar and battery storage (tesla powerwalls), that way we can all move further away from a user pay energy system.
        Lets hope.

  • john

    I do not expect change in basic policy from the Government.
    If Malcolm was to move on areas inside the target for mitigation he will be in trouble.
    The present policy of keeping the Direct Action policy will be the way he has to go.
    He knows and everyone else knows it is a {white man magic story} however that is what has been given to the public and he has to stick to it.
    His job is to repair the standing of the Liberal party before the Australian electorate.
    Perhaps in the next parliament he may try to implement some sensible policies and if he lifts the rating of the party he will be able to otherwise this is not going to happen.

  • Jenny Goldie

    Bravo Giles. I had held great hopes for Turnbull but was dismayed last night when I heard he said he wasn’t changing the targets. But you’ve given us something we can use to advocate with. If we can get rid of the inner cabal of Warburton et al, that alone will be progress.

  • Cooma Doug

    Great article

  • robert bell

    Mr Turnbull is a fantastic advocate for alternatives including energy. New technology and innovation is consistent with his philosophy of independence. Unlike Shorten and others he has the intellect to work a pathway through the maize that plagues Australia. An economy stuck with too few sectors generating economic wealth for the nation and a moving world in favour of alternatives against the primary wealth generation of Australia.
    Mr Shorten can promise 50% he will not deliver. I can promise 55%. You can promise 60%. Where is the blue print to do it? The plan. The tax $? The milestones? Rudd promised the biggest solar PV plant in the world in 2009 $1.5billion. Never happened. No plan. An idea. Where did the money go?? My Green mate never found it. It was 4 more years before Gilliard and Rudd were removed. Not one solar panel installed in 6 years!! Gilliard promised in 2012 to shut down Yallourn Power station one of the worlds dirtiest brown coal based power stations. She spent an hour in 2012 on Q&A advocating how she was going to do it. Never happened.
    Turnbull used the word PATHWAY several times last night. Direct action like altering the targets before he goes to bed is unrealistic. There are many ways to move the mountain of coal. Through championing innovation, banks questioning the wisdom of coal investment, which they are. People power using right wing generated innovation products like new PV panels and linkage to battery storage. There are 3 billionaires in USA that are driving the change including Elon Musk of Tesla. Other billionaire’s in other nations are now joining the program. It is not Government led. Government is part of the mix. It helps to have Govt and policies in tune but it alone can still amount to nothing. The market needs to be on side and it increasingly is on side. Market forces and money shifting to new frontiers where new sustainable job creating is happening. Some insurance Co’s now on board. A risk factor with climate not worth it. More will come. A lot of Australians Super is in Coal or the service
    industries! Maybe yours. Australians need to know the plan to independence and
    it will happen but 50% slogans do not cut it. Just rhetoric like the Rudd and
    Gillard hollow promises.

  • Alan S

    He could insist that his coalition partner starts to represent their landowner support base – instead of acting as an extension of the mining industry.

  • Ian

    The renewable energy target can be a useful guide as to the government’s energy policies. Ideally we want to have a carbon neutral economy with no consumption of fossil fuels in electricity generation, transportation or industry. We want this goal achieved as quickly as possible. The way we want this achieved is the construction of renewables generation and the shutting down of fossil generators. We want transportation to be transitioned away from oil and gas to renewable sources of energy.

    We acknowledge that fossil fuel generators need an exit strategy, but this must not be at the expense of rapid transitioning to carbon free economy. We want technological advances in renewable energy generation and storage which allow ordinary citizens to participate in the energy market to be encouraged and promoted, so that any person or company can have unlimited and unrestricted access to export ,import or store energy from a distributed energy network . We require a fair remuneration for Power generation.

    We want distributed energy generation ( presently rooftop solar) to be the primary aim of energy policy with investment channeled to complimentary technologies such as storage , wind , geothermal energy and smart electrical loads.

    We want investment in industries which will support local manufacture of components required for renewable generation such as solar ,wind, battery storage etc.

    A blue print or road map such as this must enter the debate to see if someone like Malcolm Turnbull can really evoke change. The only thing standing in the way of energy transformation is the fossil fuel incumbants. How will he manage them? How will he retrench them or retire them? He had no problems retiring Tony after all. If no definite innovative thinking takes place then he may well be retired at the next election.

  • MaxG

    Are you guys dreaming? why would he do anything that improves the position of ordinary people. This is the LNP; a neoliberal government and philosophy. Wake up people.