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Turnbull’s new energy target: Drop the “clean” and ignore climate

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The Turnbull government’s draft outline of a clean energy target reportedly attempts to divorce the mechanism from emission reduction trajectories, in the latest sign of the Coalition’s commitment to coal and its attempts to put the brakes on a rapid transition to a renewables-based grid.

According to a report in the Guardian on Thursday, a draft document circulated by energy minister Josh Frydenberg’s office to COAG energy ministers last Friday attempts to water down the already weak climate ambitions of the Finkel review, which recommended a CET be adopted.

Turnbull screenshot

According to the Guardian, the draft removes a key recommendation for an agreed emissions trajectory for the electricity system, and even removes recommendations for subsidised solar and batteries for low-income houses.

The Finkel report itself was considered to be a sop to the climate deniers, because it took into account only the target set in place by the Abbott government – a 26-28 per cent reduction by 2030 which is widely considered to be completely inadequate to meet the Paris goals of capping global warming “well below” 2°C.

The Finkel Review envisaged that the share of renewable energy in Australia might rise to 42 per cent by 2030, but that coal would still be supplying power as late as 2070 – decades beyond where most climate scientists consider it safe to do so.

But while the government has adopted 49 of the 50 Finkel recommendations, the introduction of a CET has caused a blockage, principally because it would provide no financial incentive to build new coal.

The revelations from the Guardian came as Turnbull back-tracked on comments earlier in the week about the government’s desire for a new coal-fired generator.

After saying on Monday he had no plans to build a new coal plant, Turnbull told media after a meeting with utility CEOs – who all think the idea of a new coal plant is ridiculous – that the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility may still invest in a new facility.

To highlight the pressure that Turnbull and Frydenberg are under within their own party, and the calisthenics they must produce to satisfy the hard right, Abbott insisted on Wednesday that if Turnbull were to invest in pumped hydro, then he must also invest in coal.

So it would come as no surprise if the Turnbull administration was redoubling its efforts to find a way of allowing new coal fired generation, as a sop to the hard right and the mineral lobby.

And to do that, you would need to ignore any climate targets. It then begs the question about having a CET at all. Like the negotiations around the CPRS when Turnbull was leader of the Opposition, does the perfect become the enemy of the good, or just the barely acceptable?

“That’s what you would expect,” said one source of the Guardian report. “Decouple energy from climate. Otherwise coal must be out.”

Effectively, the mechanism as described in this initial document would become an ET rather than a CET or the RET (renewable energy target) that is due to expire in 2020.

A final document was due to be circulated to COAG chiefs on Thursday.

Another key document will be the release of two reports next week from the Australian Energy Market Operator – one its regular update on what generation will be needed in coming years in various regions.

The other will be a specific document requested by the Coalition about Australia’s needs for baseload or dispatchable generation over coming years. This is also expected to look at “demand side” options that can also help guarantee security of supply.

The movements at the federal policy level, or the lack of them, came as the Queensland LNP, which may seize power in next year’s state poll if it aligns itself with One Nation, released its renewable energy policy, which is effectively not to have one.

The document circulated at the North Queensland renewable energy forum – at the heart of a solar boom that is accounting for 40 per cent of all solar farm developments in the country – effectively abandons Labor’s 50 per cent renewable target for 2030 and does no more than required under the federal RET.

The document also lays the blame on the high levels of renewable energy for the state-wide blackout in South Australia and describes Labor’s 50 per cent renewable energy target as “extreme”.

“Renewable energy is more expensive than fossil fuel generation,” the document says, which is news to two of the biggest energy users in the state, Sun Metals and Telstra, which are building their own solar farms to lower their costs of energy.

It is also news to companies like Nectar Farms, and the new owners of the Whyalla steel works, who are investing in renewable energy (100 per cent in case of Nectar’s huge vegetable greenhouse, the largest in Australia) because it is cheaper than fossil fuels.

The LNP document commits to establish a Cabinet Committee and a “one stop shop” for renewables, and pledges to investigate and monitor the level of “intermittent” renewables in the system.

The CSIRO and the networks lobby have already made clear that anything between 30 and 50 per cent renewable energy penetration – far beyond that considered by the LNP – should be considered “trivial” to energy security. The biggest risk is likely to be network outages and coal and gas plant failures in the middle of a heat-wave.  

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  • Apocalypso

    A phone survey of all Texans today revealed that Malcolm Turnbull is a fuckwit.

    • juxx0r

      Maybe Texans should ring up Peabody coal and tell them to drop their membership of the Australian Minerals Council and then we could get back to reality downunder.

    • Marcus L

      I’m glad it’s not my money being invested in coal….
      oh shit, wait……

  • Andy Saunders

    Maybe you should stop referring to Nectar Farms as “the largest in Australia” etc, because it doesn’t yet exist!

    Besides, Sundrop Farms just down the road deserves some credit – it’s been there for quite a while and is also renewable-powered with its solar-thermal field…

    • Matt

      Andy – some of these RE zealots never let the truth get in the way of a fantasy!

  • Joe

    The NAIF should be renamed The Long Live Coal Fund. I mean there is a lazy $5Billions of our dosh sitting there waiting to be deployed…..for Coal projects. We know $1Billions is going to Mr Adani and his soon to be ‘stranded asset’ now that the High Court has dismissed all objections against the Carmichael Mega Coalmine. Mr Adani put the icing on his Coal Cake by announcing that building the Carmichel Mega Coalmine begins in October. So now what to do with that other $4Billions…piss it away building a new Coaler or two. Why not build some more soon to be ‘stranded assets’. After all it is only taxpayer money, plenty where that came from and us taxpayers just love subsidising Fossil Fuels…NOT!

    • john

      perhaps just the name the fund as it is viewed.
      Northern Australian Idiots Fund
      Just about sums up the view from the cloister in Canberra.

      • nakedChimp

        He, some up here are not idiots, but definitely lost words for what is going on in the Canberra echelon of power.

    • jeffhre

      Stranded assets is the theme of the era. Here in the US we just abandoned a few new nukes. China has cut loose a few coal fired plants.

    • Mike Shackleton

      Adani has been announcing “start dates” on the Carmichael Mine for years. To what end I am not certain of but there are reports that Adani in India is in financial strife – keeping this project “live” probably only delays the Administrators from being called in.

      The project needs 10s of billions to fund it. No bank has stepped up to approve a financing deal. They would never see their cash back. Not to mention the current legal action Adani is subject to India with respect to “transfer pricing” of projects being billed through the UAE at inflated rates.

      • Joe

        No doubt those financial question marks will have the ultimate say in whether the mine does start. But here in Australia all the objections have been removed. The environmental ‘roadblocks’, the yakka skink, the ornamental snake, the brown throated finch and ‘Our Reef’…brushed aside. Native Title Law objections…brushed aside. You do have to wonder if Adani can indeed be stopped.

  • JIm

    What a fiasco of a PM.Turnbull is in Turnbull denial!

  • Roger Franklin

    “Beam me up Scotty – limited signs of intelligent leaders down here!”

    • Tom

      Now that John Key has retired from being NZ PM, can we bring him to Australia on a 457 visa to cover skills shortage in PMs? He’d work well with all the other Kiwis running Australia.

      • Roger Franklin

        Tom – I think states, people and organisations are going to continue to make decisions as to how they produce and consume energy.

  • phred01

    obviously the captain is ruling from the backbench

  • Richard

    The Liberal contortions are of no import. Because Labor still has a policy to price carbon. While Labor maintains that policy no private investor will ever build a coal fired plant.
    On top of that renewable plus storage
    Is already cheaper than new built coal.
    So all the old fossil gentailers are moving to build renewable/storage ahead of the shutting down of 2/3rds
    of the coal fleet over the next 15 years due to old age.
    it’s more than likely that renewable plus storage will be so cheap in 15 years even the remaining coal plants will not be viable. Which is also powering the shift from old fossil gentailers, they need to stay ahead of the curve as their old assets die and a new system emerges.

    The Libs know all this but are just playing political games. They know that there is very little they can do to stop the change, but they can position themselves to blame high prices and blackouts on renewables. It might win them a few more votes.
    Actually the main game is not coal anymore it’s individuals and business providing most of their own power.
    We should be watching extremely close
    how the government may or may not shift the playing field away from self sufficiency towards the gentailers.

    There is no doubt that it will be cheaper to make your own and store it by a fair margin in ten years.

    So far we have heard nothing from the government in how they might manage this. True to form the Libs look set to leave it up to the market. Ironically, at the end of the day, that may well see our energy system transformed in record time.

    • riley222

      Pretty good call Richard.
      The only important part the present government can play is in the role of facilitating storage. The remainder looks like it will pretty much be determined by market forces.

      • Richard

        The whole battery scene is still early days. Certainly government could help kick it along but I don’t think the
        incumbents would be too happy.
        In any case the costs are coming down so quickly just give it a few years and batteries will be an automatic inclusion with every new solar install.

      • Alastair Leith

        What those same market forces that have seen nothing of substance built in eight years in WA? Those same market forces that Abbott and Hunt managed to grind to a halt as easily as sticking a finger in the barrel of a water pistol from the benches of opposition and then Govt?

    • Alastair Leith

      remains to be seen if that ALP price on carbon actually bites, and if all and sundry are exempted if they happen to export or run livestock.

      • Richard

        Well they are not going to attack farming. That would be political suicide at this point.
        Keep the gun on the fossil fuel industry, no one likes them anyway and everyone
        Loves the idea of being energy independent

        Besides, if they carbon tax farmers the big winners will be the large industrial factory farms that can capture emissions in sheds.
        The poor old free range family farm will cop it in the neck.
        And that is not good politically or good at all imo.

    • Alastair Leith

      Just how Libs in Victoria are claiming closure of Hazelwood has lead to doubling of wholesale power price, Lol. It’s all such juvenile panto, but guess what, they actually get elected time and time again. people never learn.

      • Richard

        Half the population is below average intelligence. It is difficult for many to understand the complexity of power markets and changing technology. They
        are easily frightened politically . The Libs are just taking advantage of an easy situation with power price rises. After all a politician only has one job and that is to win votes, anyway they can.
        I’m not concerned however because economics comes before politics and coal is on the way out.

        • Chris Marshalk

          Speaking of below intelligence, have to worked in Telstra?. This place is a breeding ground for incompetence & nepotism. Sounds like the LNP.

  • MaxG

    Well, no surprise here — these guys are politicians… utterly useless as we know it… think four pillars of democracy: the people, the government, the corporations, and the free press. As we know it, the free press has been corporatised, the government is being corporatised (privatised), meaning the people are left in the lurch, at the whim of the corporations, which is exactly he state of play.

    • riley222

      Max,the system is stuffed, it can only get better. Surely the populace can see whats going on, we have compulsory voting in Oz, otherwise I wouldn’t be hopeful, having seen how the US has ended up.

      • MaxG

        I am an optimist, but can’t see what you are seeing.
        The populace is wilfully ignorant, compulsory voting does nothing to prevent the Australian Trumps = LNP folks to gain control (as they have). I claim AU is no different to the US. Look at the security laws, environment, CSIRO, ABC, Energy, privatisation, health, education, etc. Sorry, I see no difference.

      • nakedChimp

        It will get worse. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The drive for this sorry state of affairs is just getting stronger and most people are blissfully unaware of this fact.

      • jeffhre

        “the system is stuffed, it can only get better.” Better, what if the corporations (what was once called the free market) take more of the 20% of resources and influence that they do not now control? Will they then about face and resolve to “do better?”

  • Mike Westerman

    Realistically tho’ all this policy weakness does is delay larger projects, particularly storage and so maintains profits for the big end of town for longer. Labor will reverse it when they are elected late next year so it just means a minor pause in investment. No more coal stations will ever be built in Australia while closures will continue.

    • Ken Fabian

      Labor better at this than the LNP? Maybe, a bit like the way “Low Emissions Coal” is better than other coal plants. I’d like to think the game has been changed by RE successes enough to change the backroom dynamics sufficiently to overcome their timidity, but even now Labor seems reluctant to push this issue hard. They too are much influenced by the mining industry and continue to support more big coal mines like Adani’s.

  • Robert Comerford

    And the good news…. the ABC’s fossil fool reporter has gone to channel 9 …a good fit!
    :>)