States return serve to Frydenberg, as News Corp rolls out climate deniers

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Will the states agree to “thoughtfully do nothing” about climate change and sign up to the NEG? Turnbull says they must listen to the energy experts. But which ones?

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Remember Ian Plimer? Quite possibly the inspiration for the First Dog on the Moon character Ian the Climate Denialist Potato. Well, he’s back. Just in time for the crucial vote on the National Energy Guarantee this Friday at CoAG and, more importantly, next Tuesday in the Coalition party room.

“Climate policy is underpinned by two fallacies. The first is that human emissions of carbon dioxide drive global warming. The second is that future climate can be predicted from computer models,” he writes, casually batting away decades of scientific research and an overwhelming global consensus.

“As soon as the word emissions entered the language … electricity prices skyrocketed, electricity supply became more unreliable, subsidies for wind and solar energy went through the roof and employers and consumers had massive cost increases,” Plimer continues.

“Pragmatism and principled inaction is the correct policy to ­address the non-problem of human-induced climate change promoted by the Paris accord. But do our politicians have the courage to thoughtfully do nothing?”

Well, as luck would have it Ian, it seems they do.

In fact, just a few pages away in the same paper, respected business journalist Alan Kohler, described the NEG as a “stupendously complicated idea that isn’t really designed to achieve anything at all.”

The real question is, can Turnbull and Co convince the states to buy what they’re selling?

The pressure is certainly being applied. As we wrote yesterday, the current high-rotation sound-bite from the government is that any state that doesn’t sign on to the policy this Friday doesn’t want Australians to have cheaper power prices.

And to help deliver that message, the Conservatives have called in reinforcements, including the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group and the ever faithful Minerals Council of Australia.

Just today, the Ai Group released its own gentle encouragement to the states, a letter co-signed by a “broad array of energy stakeholders” – including Adani, AGL Energy, ERM Power and the National Farmers Federation – who are apparently comfortable with the do-nothing policy.

“The National Energy Guarantee is a mechanism to pursue emissions reductions and maintain reliability in the National Electricity Market while minimising cost through flexibility,” the letter says.

“The States and Territories should approve as soon as possible the general design of the Guarantee mechanism and the specific enabling changes to the National Electricity Law that the Energy Security Board proposes.

In doing so they do not need to agree with the Commonwealth’s proposed emissions targets, which are a distinct question and will be hotly debated in the Federal Parliament.

“…On the other hand, if the COAG Energy Council were to defer decisions too long, a looming series of elections raises the risk that the opportunity to reach agreement on a mechanism would be lost.”

The Labor states have said they might be for turning, but only if the NEG is adjusted to address concerns about flexibility and additionally – that is, to actually allow it to actually do something, and certainly more than the ESB modelling which shows no new generation, no emissions reductions, and questionable price reductions.

But to actually do something about emissions would depend on the Coalition government having the courage of its convictions on climate change – which at this point in time, are as hazy as ever.

On Monday night, federal agriculture minister and National Party MP David Littleproud told the audience of the ABC’s Q&A program that linking Australia’s current drought to man-made climate change was a “big call,” adding that he didn’t “give a rats” if it was man-made or not.

(Littleproud later qualified on Twitter that what he meant was that he didn’t give a rats what caused the drought, because it needed to be addressed regardless. But as other Tweets quickly pointed out, it’s hard to find a solution to a problem if you’re disinterested – or even in denial of – the cause.)

And on ABC’s 7.30, Malcolm Turnbull was no more reassuring – even resorting to quoting “that poet” who once rhymed things about weather, little knowing her words would be used (again, and again) by climate-evasive Conservatives more than 100 years later.

“I don’t have any doubt that climate is changing… people say the climate has always changed, of course… but just in the 36 years I’ve been involved …in the farming business… everyone agrees that we’re seeing rainfall that is …more erratic, and droughts that are more frequent, and seasons that are hotter,” says the man who promised never to lead a party that doesn’t take climate change seriously.

“And all of that means that the land of ‘droughts and flooding rains’ is going to continue to be a challenging environment.”

And again!

“The goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global one, and … we play our part. Australia has always had a variable, volatile, sometimes capricious climate … as the poet wrote: ‘the land of droughts and flooding rains’,” he told Leigh Sales.

“We have got a target, it’s consistent with our Paris commitment, and this is all about cheaper electricity… The National Energy Guarantee, so the experts say – you don’t have to take my word for it, or Josh’s, it’s the experts in the Energy Security Board have got it all modelled – it will reduce electricity prices.”

Meanwhile, however, there are more and more other experts who are coming to a different view.

Like The Australia Institute Climate & Energy Program, which has on Tuesday released a special update of their National Energy Emissions Audit, assessing the value and effectiveness of the current NEG using figures from the Australian Energy Market Operator.

The report, says TAI, shows multiple scenarios in which much larger emission reductions and levels of renewables can be achieved in the NEM than envisaged in the current NEG, and at a lower cost.

“The proposed NEG 26 per cent emissions reduction target is virtually meaningless,” says the report, “as it will be exceeded well before 2025 in all of AEMO’s scenarios.”

Under the ‘slow’ scenario – where the fall in grid consumption outweighs the slower growth of new renewable capacity – the reduction in emissions relative to 2005 reaches 49 per cent, the report notes.

Under AEMO’s ‘fast’ scenario, where renewable growth outweighs the acceleration in electricity consumption, the reduction in emissions by 2030 reaches nearly 53 per cent.

Even under the ‘neutral’ scenario,’ it says, emissions near the target level in less than two years from now, and “decisively exceed it in 2022-23.” By 2030, emissions reduction reaches 39 per cent.

“AEMO believes renewables of about 50 per cent by 2030 is possible with secure reliable power, under some approaches the renewable share reaches nearly 70 per cent without compromising security and reliability,” says Dr Hugh Saddler, author of the report.

“With efficient planning and investment in an effective mix of network services, it will be quite possible to ensure that the electricity supply system of the NEM remains secure and reliable.

“It would appear that the design of the National Energy Guarantee has been based on the simplistic assumption that, because only one technology can provide all of the services in a single package, as it were, continued choice of that technology must be the most effective and least cost way of providing those services.

“This would be as if AEMO were a home energy audit listing improvements undertaken to keep the house warm, and the NEG is effectively only concerned with how well the heater works.

“The NEG is only concerned with one narrow solution: dispatchable power, and by doing this it is failing to give all Australians the best and most cost-effective solution.”

Sophie Vorrath

Sophie is editor of OneStepOffTheGrid.com.au and deputy editor of its sister site, RenewEconomy.com.au. Sophie has been writing about clean energy for more than a decade.

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