The chances of the Turnbull government getting the approval of the states for its National Energy Guarantee appear remote after a devastating response to the proposal following an emergency phone hook-up on Tuesday.
Approval for the states – through the COAG process – is apparently critical for the Coalition to implement the plan, because it requires changes to the National Electricity Rules.
But in a testy phone-hook up between Frydenberg and the state energy ministers, the federal Coalition admitted it had no details, no modelling – and all it had to show for what it describes as “breakthrough moment” was a press release and an eight-page letter from the Energy Security Board.
State representatives said they were gobsmacked by the sheer front and incompetence. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said one. “We would be ripped apart if we tried something like that.”
Queensland energy minister Mark Bailey was dismissive of the lack of detail. “The detail is threadbare and it would be irresponsible to set the nation’s energy policy based on a short letter which is all we’ve been given.”
It is particularly ironic because the federal Coalition needs the state approval, yet Frydenberg told the state energy ministers that the states would be relied on to do the heavy lifting to meet the various targets.
In other words, Canberra, having lambasted the states for “going it alone”, was now relying on them to take action, something that the federal Coalition was unwilling to do.
“We need to see more detail on what this plan would mean for Queenslanders’ electricity prices, renewable investment and emissions before we can even think about signing up to it,” Bailey said, adding that Queensland remained committed to its 50 per cent renewable energy target.
“We’re also backing the cheapest form of energy infrastructure to build which will put downward pressure on prices and that’s why we’re committed to a 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030.
“This is a policy written by Tony Abbott and announced by his spokesperson, Malcolm Turnbull,” said Victoria energy minister Lily d’Ambrosio. “This isn’t leadership, it’s simply a desperate man doing whatever he can to save his job.”
As it turns out, even Abbott isn’t happy, possibly because it has been pointed out to him that the scheme is in effect a carbon price in disguise, and it aims to reduce the very emissions that Abbott has said are good for the planet. Frydenberg described Abbott as a “conscientious objector”.
But that is still not good enough for the states, who say the new restrictions – and the placing of extraordinary power in the hands of major utilities – amounts to a “war on renewable energy.”
“There is no modelling so his claims about reducing power prices can’t be believed,” d’Ambrosio said. “It will put thousands of jobs in Victoria at risk and shatter investor confidence.”
Victoria has a 40 per cent renewable energy target for 2025, which it is now legislating. Queensland and the Northern Territory are aiming for 50 per cent by 2030; South Australia is already there but looking to add more; while the ACT has already signed contracts with wind and solar farms to take it to 100 per cent renewables by 2020.
South Australia premier Jay Weatherill said it was clear that this was more about defending coal than promoting renewables, dismissing it as a “coal energy target”, and ACT energy minister Shane Rattenbury was equally devastating.
“The federal government has succumbed to the climate deniers on their backbench, who are determined to burn up the country, and the planet, with dirty fossil fuels,” Rattenbury said.
“Australia is now among the only countries in the world that is seeking to guarantee the future of coal and gas. This removes any requirement for renewable energy.”