A “middle finger” to climate and renewables: Morrison draws fire – and dismay

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Politicians and industry insiders respond to new PM’s appointment of anti-wind Conservative as energy minister, coal company lawyer as environment minister.

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Scott Morrison has wasted no time in signalling what direction his “new generation” Coalition government will be taking on renewable energy and climate change. And other political parties and observers have reacted with anger and dismay

As Giles Parkinson writes here today, the new prime minister has not only ended the experiment of combining the energy and environment portfolios, but has appointed one of the country’s most prominent anti-wind campaigners as energy minister, and a former mining industry lawyer as environment minister.

His chief of staff is a former deputy CEO of the Australian Minerals Council.

With Angus Taylor the new “minister for getting energy prices down,” and Melissa Price looking out for the environment (but not climate change), Morrison appears to have abandoned any efforts to seek emissions reductions in the electricity sector, or anywhere else for that matter.

So how is the news being taken elsewhere?

“It seems climate change is the portfolio that dare not speak its name,” said Labor’s energy and climate spokesperson, Mark Butler, in comments emailed to RE.

“Who has responsibility for climate change in the Morrison government, or have they finally given up any pretence and under PM Morrison there simply isn’t any climate change policy?”

Greens climate and energy spokesperson Adam Bandt said Morrison’s ministry sent a crystal clear message on renewable energy and on climate change.

“By breaking the Environment portfolio away from Energy and handing the latter to a coal-hugger, Scott Morrison has given the middle finger to climate change and renewable energy,” Bandt said.

“Scott Morrison, the man who literally hugged a piece of coal on the floor of the House of Representatives, has appointed another coal-hugger to set the country’s energy policy.

“Angus Taylor has made a name for himself amongst the hard-right by undermining renewable energy. Since he entered Parliament, he has been on a crusade to destroy the Renewable Energy Target.

“Having the coal crew running Australia’s climate and energy policy is a recipe for more drought and more bushfires.

“When Parliament resumes, I will be confronting the new Energy Minister about his record on climate change and renewables. We must stand up to these coal-hugging zealots before they destroy our country and our planet,” Bandt said.

And on the other side of the equation, Liberal MP George Christensen – the Coalition’s member for Dawson, in Queensland’s north – has welcomed the new appointments, saying on Twitter he is looking forward to Morrison and Taylor getting to work on establishing a “major equity fund for new coal-fired power” and abandoning renewable energy subsidies.

With a view to the energy market, ITK analyst and regular RE contributor David Leitch said the appointment of Taylor “a cause for some despair” for anyone hoping for bipartisanship on energy policy.

“There will likely be no meaningful federal government climate policy, no attempt to do anything towards our legally binding, but unenforceable COP 21 obligations,” Leitch said in his article today.

“Taylor brings far too much negative history to the portfolio to be ever seen as anything other than a roadblock, not even a speed-hump, but a straight out roadblock.”

Executive director of The Australia Institute, Ben Oquist, told the ABC on Monday that, while it was the Coalition’s prerogative to separate its energy portfolio from climate, “we can’t separate… energy prices and reliability from emissions reduction.

“And I think a lot of people will be looking for early signals from Angus Taylor that he understands that,” he said.

“We are going to decarbonise our electricity network… in the end we’ll have to if we are going to meet our Paris targets and address climate change. And anyway, renewables are cheaper.

“Given that, industry is going to be looking for a signal that Angus Taylor understands that, because if we don’t get that signal there won’t be investment certainty.

“And remember, these are investments that last 30 and 50 years, not the five months, potentially, until the federal election, not event the three years until the next government,” Oquist said.

But already, industry seems resigned to the fact that investment certainty for renewables is as far away as ever.

“It is now apparent that the NEG is headed for the well populated graveyard of attempts at Australian energy policy and a further period of policy uncertainty is likely,” ASX-listed wind farm developer Infigen Energy said in its 2018 Annual Report.

“In any event, equally significant to the success of any new policy settings will be government confidence in that policy’s capacity to deliver outcomes that are market based. This requires governments to
refrain from sponsoring initiatives that undermine investor confidence and heighten risk,” the report said.

“Unfortunately, energy policy remains in a fluid state,” Infigen CEO Ross Rolfe echoed, during the company’s results briefing for FY2018 on Monday morning.

“We are no closer to achieving a national policy framework that delivers on the goal of affordability, reliability and emissions reduction.

“With the RET largely satisfied, new generation will respond to electricity price dynamics only,” he said.

Energy Networks Australia said it welcomed the appointment of Taylor, at a time when Australia’s complex energy system was transforming rapidly.

“Enduring policies that can deliver affordable and reliable energy as we transition to a low emissions future continue to be the priority for energy networks,” said ENA chief Andrew Dillon, in a statement on Monday.

“I look forward to briefing Minister Taylor on how a more connected future can increase competition and how we are working with the Australian Energy Market Operator to create Open Energy Networks that can harness the growing level of distributed generation to put downward pressure on prices.”

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