Federal Labor has effectively abandoned its 50 per cent renewable energy target after its leaders failed hopelessly to identify the obvious arguments to defend the policy.
Instead – less than a week after the Coalition made idiots of themselves by bringing a lump of coal into Question Time, Labor appears to have thrown its lot in to a new scheme that could mean little new wind and solar over the coming decade.
The feeble backsliding was revealed by climate and clean energy spokesman Mark Butler on Thursday, trying to cover the tracks of a pathetic performance from his leader, Bill Shorten, on the ABC Radio “AM” program a day earlier.
And by defending him, Labor appears to have thrown the renewables industry under a bus. Butler effectively admitted there would be no stand-alone renewable energy target, instead of relying on an emissions trading scheme to bring on wind and solar.
And what do the architects of that EIS expect will happen under such a scheme? As we pointed out in detail late last year, no growth at all in large-scale wind and solar between 2020 and 2030. The EIS has been designed to support gas, not wind and solar.
According to the modelling commissioned by the Australian Energy Market Commission, under an EIS fossil fuels will thrive and still make up 80 per cent of the country’s electricity mix by 2030. By adopting that policy, Labor could be killing wind and solar in its tracks, or at least after the end of the current target in 2020.
Let’s go back one step: The only thing more frustrating about the Coalition government’s attack on renewable energy in Australia has been the hopeless effort put up by Labor in defending its 50 per cent renewable energy target for 2030.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his ministers, despite operating in a debate almost devoid of facts, is running rings around Labor by accusing it of risking both surging electricity prices and regular blackouts. Labor’s response has been ordinary at best.
Leader Bill Shorten gave the impression of being a rabbit in the headlights when interviewed on ABC Radio’s AM program on Wednesday, when asked four times about the potential cost of the target.
Asked once, this is what Shorten said:
BILL SHORTEN: Well, let’s go to this issue of renewable energy and there’s a range of points. What I’m going to do is explain to people why we think increasing, having a goal of increasing renewable energy as part of our energy mix, is important.
Our weather is getting more extreme and unpredictable. We are seeing more weather records being broken almost on a weekly basis in Australia. We can’t go business as usual.
Our view about energy in the future is that we need a mix of fossil fuels and renewables …
Not exactly a cut-through response. And neither was this, on the fourth time of asking:
BILL SHORTEN: Well, our answer is very, very straightforward. We think the cost of not acting is far greater. We don’t think we could sustain the cost as the Liberals are saying, of building new coal-fired power generation on the scale which Mr Turnbull is saying and we don’t think that from insurance to drought to extreme weather events, that we can simply go business as usual.
Why focus on the cost of not acting when the basic economics tells us the cost of acting is much less. There are numerous reports from credible agencies that Shorten could cite. Here’s an example of what he could say:
Australia needs to replace coal-fired power stations in coming years, and building new coal generators is ridiculously expensive.
The CSIRO and the owners of the energy networks have told us that building a decarbonised grid is not only critically important, it is eminently doable, and will be $100 billion cheaper than having more coal and gas. And that decarbonisation can be done with wind and solar.
The same people say that nearly half of all our power will come from homes and businesses, using their own energy and storage. And you know what, the CSIRO and the network owners say this is going to save them money. It’s going to increase their energy security, and lower costs.
The chief scientist says the energy transition is happening and it’s inevitable, and the technology solutions to incorporating lots of wind and solar are at hand. But the only thing stopping them is bad policy, and the bad policy comes from lousy politics.
And then, maybe, Shorten could underline the point that we have to act on climate change, and why fossil fuels get massive subsidies because they are not asked to pay for the damage to the environment and climate.
The tragedy is that Butler, when interviewed on Radio National on Thursday, actually prosecuted those broad arguments, and did so reasonably impressively.
But the damage had already been done and the die was cast. Shorten’s ineptitude became headlines all through the 24 hour cycle, and treasurer spokesman Chris Bowen was equally inept on Sky News, when Labor gave the first hint that 50 per cent renewables was no longer a target – just an aspiration.
Butler, having finally given a rousing defence of the policy, was forced to admit it no longer existed when pressed on the issue by Fran Kelly on Radio National Breakfast.
Labor had been expected to adopt the sort of reverse auctions used so successfully by the ACT and proposed by Victoria and Queensland. This would be in combination with an EIS. Now, he said, Labor was confident that renewables would make up a large part of the energy mix in an EIS with no specific target.
The EIS, Butler now said, would provide the long-term price investment signal “that’s aligned with our emission reduction targets, which will require, in my very clear view, about half of our electricity by 2030 will be zero emissions.”
KELLY: But the long-term price investment signal won’t be a 50 per cent renewable energy target it’ll be, if it is a Labor government, an emissions intensity scheme.
BUTLER: That’s right –
KELLY: So you’re not going to have a 50 per cent target?
BUTLER: It’ll be an emissions intensity scheme that is aligned with our emission reductions target which will require, in my very clear view, that about half of our electricity by 2030 will be zero emissions.
He quoted the AEMC estimate that an EIS the would be $15 billion cheaper than the current policy and cheaper than a renewed RET. But we pointed out how ridiculous those assumptions were, because they were based around cost estimates of wind and solar that bore no relation to reality.
But if gas receives the policy backing on EIS, making it once again competitive with renewables, there is little chance that wind and solar will get much of a look in.
Butler accused the Coalition of wanting to “effectively muddle on, cross our fingers and hope that as these plants continue to shut down in a very disorderly fashion someone’s going to build a replacement plant. This is a very dangerous game the government is playing.”
And now, it seems, Labor wants to play the same game, and muddle on in its own disorderly fashion, albeit it to a different tune. But just as it sought to wedge Turnbull on carbon trading with the CPRS in 2009, it is trying to do the same with an EIS in 2017, and to hell with the consequences.
One thing that we’ve learned from the rise of Trump, Brexit and One Nation is that even without facts, clarity wins votes. Labor had the advantage of having facts on its side, but now it looks like they’ve gone and thrown it away.
As The Greens Adam Bandt noted, this is a capitulation, a betrayal and an act of cowardice. And everyone has a right to be angry.