Last night I had the misfortune, as I was flicking through the channels trying to find the football on Foxtel, of stumbling across a Sky News TV show, where Alan Jones, Peta Credlin and Craig Kelly were holding forth and discussing energy.
It was full of the normal bollocks – gross exaggerations about the cost of renewable subsidies, fantasy statistics over the number of new coal fired stations being built around the world, and heroic assumptions about the economic merits of a new coal-fired generator in Australia.
“You should be energy minister,” Jones told Kelly, the chairman of the backbench committee on energy.
The tragedy is that, for all intents and purposes, Kelly already is – and has been for years.
Australia’s energy policy and climate policy is deliberately calibrated to pander to the far right ideologues and climate science deniers, like Kelly, Abbott, Joyce and Abetz, and several dozen others within the Coalition party room.
The policies are calibrated for no other constituency, apart from the fossil fuel industry itself. And there is nothing to suggest that it is about to change.
Nowhere is this more clear than in the National Energy Guarantee, which has produced an arbitrary and plainly inadequate emissions reduction target for the electricity sector of 26 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
It is known by all that electricity has the capacity to achieve much greater and cheaper reductions than any other sector. So why is electricity restricted to 26 per cent?
The answer can only be to apply a deliberate brake to the clean energy transition that is upon us.
Worse, the Coalition does not even have an emissions reduction policy or plan for the rest of the economy.
Transport could be an option, but already Kelly is trying to swat away electric vehicle incentives as a carbon tax on wheels.
Without a significant increase in renewables, reductions in transport emissions through electrification will be difficult. And no one in the Coalition wants to go near building standards.
The federal Coalition government has now been in power for five years, and apart from killing the carbon price, slashing the renewable energy target, attempting to kill key institutions like the CEFC and ARENA, and ignoring others like the Climate Change Authority, it has produced absolutely nothing.
The Turnbull government’s climate policy is a fizza & actually WORSE than doing nothing. https://t.co/cxO6aoGcwg
— Environment Victoria (@EnviroVic) April 18, 2018
The NEG, for all intents and purposes, does not exist. It is like entering a room with a door painted in one corner, with a sign saying “bipartisan agreement”.
We are invited to walk through it. But of course, the door does not – and can not – open, because unless Turnbull gets serious about emissions, there will be no bipartisan agreement.
As we wrote yesterday, a rethink about reliability and how to embrace new technologies, has more or less made the reliability guarantee redundant.
However, we should note that it is hugely gratifying that key energy institutions like the Australian Energy Markets Commission and the Australian Energy Market Operator have emerged from the exercise with a whole-hearted embrace of the clean energy transition.
The only thing standing in the way of this transition is the government and its totemic gesture towards climate policy. At the moment, this policy makes the emissions guarantee completely irrelevant because its target is worse than if the NEG did not exist.
This leaves the question of future targets and the flexibility to change as absolutely paramount, and one that must be at the centre of discussions at the COAG energy ministers on Friday.
The Coalition wants to lock in its weak targets for at least a decade. Labor wants to be able to change it quickly should it get into power. If the Coalition has its way, it would be an unmitigated disaster.
I think Australia can do more and better, with ambition (and style).
Renewables are competitive, reliable (and i can tell you how) and are the only answer to making our planet great again @TurnbullMalcolm @EmmanuelMacron @elonmusk https://t.co/457tHYqG9u
— Franck Woitiez (@fwoit) April 17, 2018
And the clean energy industry is starting to wake to this. As these tweets above from the head of Neoen Australia, the builder of the Tesla big battery and numerous other wind and solar farms, and the former ACT climate change minister.
So, in effect, we are no closer to bipartisan agreement and long-term certainty than we were before the NEG.
The ACT government is right. If there is no flexibility and scaleability in the emissions target, then it should be rejected.
That leaves the matter to consumers – both small and large. They now hold the keys, and the wallets, to the future of this energy transition.
The Green Energy Markets study, written up by analyst Tristan Edis in this piece, is informative.
Edis notes that there is enough capacity being built or about to be built to meet not just the 26 per cent target with ease, but even the 41,000GWh renewable energy target that Abbott slashed under the pretence that such a target would be impossible to meet.
His analysis adds to the increasing evidence that business as usual would provide a retrograde step, effectively throwing the transition into reverse if the weak target became binding and influenced investment decisions.
The one bright spot is the uptake of rooftop solar – which is now running 50 per cent ahead of forecasts. Consumers have had enough of the government’s lack of action on climate and energy, and are voting with their solar cells.
That gives consumers at least some consolation. As we have been saying for years, every kWh of production from rooftop solar is one kWh of production less from fossil fuels. Households and other consumers can and do make a difference.
So too can big energy consumers, the big refineries and manufacturers who are also starting to switch to renewables, and who could be the only driving force in the take up of large-scale wind and solar over the coming decade, if government policy does not change.
That’s great, but it’s so far short of what could be achieved. Australia, as Morgan Stanley analysts write, should be the centre of disruption, given its enormous resources, and the response of consumers – both in the uptake of solar and storage, and their readiness for electric vehicles.
But as Sophie Vorrath notes in this piece, Australia is being outshone by the UK, of all Tory governments, with a commitment to end coal within a few years, ban the sale of diesel and petrol vehicles, and set a long term target of zero emissions.
At least the energy institutions now stand ready. AEMO’s Integrated System Plan has received some interesting responses, mostly about the need to recognise the accelerating change in consumer habits and distributed generation – solar, storage, demand management, EVs.
It’s time for the politicians to get out of way and remove the hurdles. It may mean having to shout down a noisy but ignorant right wing within their own party and commentariat.
It’s known as leadership. So let’s have some, from the man who promised he wouldn’t lead a party that did not take climate change seriously.