Abbott’s Green Army is coming back, for last charge of the coal brigade

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Five years to the day after the Coalition won office, it still has no climate and energy policy, except for a fig leaf and a green army slogan. And it is actually boasting that this is a good thing.

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RenewEconomy contributor and Energy Insiders podcast co-host David Leitch might have to double-check his airline ticket when he arrives back in Australia next week. He might have cause to think he’s had a trip back in time in Doctor Who’s Tardis.

Australia, in September 2018, looks and sounds like 2013, at least when it comes to climate and energy policy:

The Coalition government’s environment minister is talking up the benefits of the Green Army and the Emissions Reduction Fund.

The energy minister is warning of black-outs, industry closures and “de-industrialisation” because there is too much wind and solar and not enough “fair dinkum” baseload in the grid, and he is trying to make a virtue out of having no energy policy.

The prime minister Scott Morrison, when not fondling a lump of coal in parliament, and comparing big batteries to big bananas, is talking about anything but cutting emissions. He’s the PM for cutting electricity prices back to where they were before Tony Abbott won government, he says.

And, what’s more, he’s got a policy, a single policy: Go the Sharks!

No, not the ones screwing customers on energy bills. The government is so bereft of ideas and policies it has had to cancel next month’s COAG premier’s meeting, because apparently it has nothing to discuss and no idea what it’s doing.

It’s been exactly five years and a day since Abbott was sworn in as prime minister and the Coalition took power. And in all this time their policies have not advanced a jot.

They’ve actually regressed to the point where the government is trying to make a virtue out of having no clue. So incompetent are they that they have not only failed to deliver a coherent, and economically and environmentally rational policy that could look to Australia’s future, they have even failed to deliver on their own preferred outcomes.

They tried to kill the renewable energy target, but failed, so more than 3,800MW of wind and solar has been added to the grid since then. And another 6000MW will join it in the next few years. No Coalition minister has dared attend, or will attend, the official opening of any of these facilities.

The energy minister Angus Taylor, a leading light and hero of the country’s small but noisy anti-wind collective, says there is too much wind and solar in the grid, and sprouts all sorts of nonsense about renewables on Sky News. And the PM has his back.

“I want to see how we can get greater investment in what I call Fair Dinkum power, that’s the stuff that works when sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow,” Morrison said on Tuesday, in his return to the 2GB program of Ray Hadley, when asked about his waving of a lump of coal in federal parliament in February last year.

“My view hasn’t changed. It (coal) is a big part of Australia’s energy future.”

So much so, that Taylor is threatening to seize any coal generators that any company threatens to close down, as AGL is proposing to do in 2022/23 with the ageing and unreliable Liddell power station.

And to hell with emissions and climate change. According to Taylor, in an opinion piece for the AFR, and endorsed by Morrison,  emission reduction targets are “corporate greed dressed up as saving the planet.”

So, to be clear, there will be no emissions reduction policy. And once the renewable energy target is met, Taylor told parliament on Tuesday in response to a question from Greens MP Adam Bandt: “We won’t be replacing that with anything.”

Not only is ignorance a virtue, but so is doing nothing.

“The Liberals are now openly boasting that they have no renewable energy policy, condemning Australia to higher power bills, more pollution and worsening climate change,” Bandt says. “This coal-hugging Minister is a direct threat to our way of life.

The Coalition government does, however, need a fig leaf for a policy, as former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull once helpfully observed, because if Australia does pull out of Paris, as the right wing are calling for, it will be stuffed on a free trade agreement.

So it stays in, and in an effort to look like it might do something it has decided – as espoused by Melissa Price, the former mining industry lawyer newly installed as the environment minister, to revive the Green Army and its legion of weed-pickers, and the Emissions Reduction Fund, the nearly exhausted $2.5 billion sugar hit to farmers and others who promise to do things they might well have done anyway.

It’s all great click-bait that plays to so many different constituents – 2GB, Sky News, the Murdoch tabloids, extreme web-sites – except for one: Reality.

Erwin Jackson, from Environment Victoria, says that if the Coalition was to try to meet its current commitment to the Paris climate treaty through the ERF, the government would need to shovel $10 billion out the door.

And that is assuming the ERF could deliver auction results at recent prices. “This is a fairly heroic assumption as they need around 800 million tonnes, or over four years’ worth of electricity sector emissions, of abatement from 2021-30,” Jackson says.

“This is more than four times current contracted abatement and this would likely drive up contract prices significantly as the market is already in the doldrums. Just six million tonnes were contracted at the last auction.”

The irony is, as any number of analysts have pointed out – not least from the Australian Council of Social Service, which represents the most vulnerable to soaring electricity bills – is that taking emissions reductions seriously will actually reduce bills, not raise them.

Better still, meeting Labor’s 45 per cent emissions reduction target, or even a 65 per cent emissions reduction target by 2030, still delivers significant savings to consumers. The modelling was done by Frontier Economics, not known as the greenest of all modelling companies.

Its findings:

Under the business as usual (BAU) scenario, an average saving of 18.5 per cent for electricity bills.

Under the 26% scenario, an average saving of 20.8%.

  • Under the 45% scenario, an average saving of 18.3%
  • Under the 65% scenario, an average saving of 15.0%.

“Higher emissions reductions provides more “bang for your buck”, resulting in significantly greater emissions reductions from business as usual, but with similar savings,” the report observes.

It’s obvious to everyone except to the Far Right and the Morrison government that the two things that will drive down prices are higher emissions targets and more renewables in the system.

Throw in some smart energy efficiency initiatives, a focus on low-income housing with some support/incentives/subsidies for rooftop solar and battery storage, and you are just about there.

The Coalition, instead, is focused on yesterday’s technologies and yesterday’s modelling. They actually believe the nonsense they are served from the IPA, the Minerals Council (its former deputy CEO is Morrison’s chief of staff), and the extreme blogs that hooray Taylor every time he tries to slap down renewables.

Taylor notes he has just six or eight months to do something. So saddle up – if the polls stay firm – we are about to see the last charge of the coal brigade.

Giles Parkinson is founder and editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, and is also the founder of OneStepOffTheGrid.com.au and founder/editor of www.TheDriven.io. Giles has been a journalist for 35 years and is a former business and deputy editor of the Australian Financial Review.

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