Turnbull to run electricity grid on NBN model

October 20, 2017

Seven years after he launched a ground-breaking study showing how Australia could re-power with 100% renewable energy by 2020, Malcolm Turnbull, now Prime Minister, has announced a “National Energy Guarantee” (NEG) policy that will have no renewable energy target.

As the dismal reality of the copper-wire National Broadband Network (NBN) that Turnbull foisted on the nation becomes clear, it appears that the electricity grid will likewise be shackled to yesterday’s technology of ageing, super-polluting coal and gas power stations.

Like the NBN’s governance, the system lacks transparency and benefits shadowy private interests that most people aren’t fully aware of.

Unlike the NBN, the NEG also locks in Australia’s ongoing international leadership ... in causing climate disaster.

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel recommended a 42% Clean Energy Target for 2030. Labor is somewhat ahead of this with a vague commitment to 50% renewable energy by 2030.

In 2013, the Australian Energy Market Operator, which runs the grid for the eastern states, modelled a scenario for 100% renewable energy by 2030 that would cost a similar amount to business-as-usual.

On the other hand, Australia’s Paris Accord commitments are 26–28% emissions reductions by 2030. But, as reported last week, emissions are actually growing to record levels, which suggests even this low target may not be met if current trends hold.

The NEG requires generators to reduce electricity emissions by the same amount as our Paris Accords commitments — although electricity generation is one of the easiest areas to cut emissions, so other sectors, such as agriculture and transport, may have to work harder (at higher cost) to cut the same low amount.

The NEG policy introduces the idea of a “reliability guarantee” and an “emissions guarantee” which eastern states generators will have to meet. Western Australia has a separate grid which is not covered in the policy.

Exactly how these guarantees are to be set remains unclear. But it appears they will be met by trading mechanisms, possibly introducing the trading of fossil fuel energy capacity for reliability.

Turnbull’s announcement came with promises of $115 a year savings on energy bills for consumers. Get your offshore bank accounts ready to stash the loot — along with the small fortune we all saved after the carbon price repeal, when energy retailers dropped their prices massively in response. (Forgive my sarcasm; they didn’t.)

The current renewable energy target finishes in 2020, although Labor-governed states have targets beyond that date: Victoria has a 40% renewables by 2025 target that it is actively pursuing. 

Although the current federal 2020 target (which was reduced by 25% from its previous level) will probably be met, the signal is that little renewable energy will be built after that date under current government policy.

This announcement will probably, once again, frighten off the private investors and developers who have driven the construction of large wind and solar generation under the current Renewable Energy Target.

At the same time it allows Labor’s targets, vague and mediocre as they mostly are, to look good. Worse, the likelihood that the country won’t even meet its criminally low Paris Accord targets suggests that environmental advocacy will be dragged into defending those targets.

The energy sector is run by a quasi-monopoly (oligopoly, we could say, if not cartel) of a few companies which are mostly heavily invested in coal and gas generation infrastructure. There is every indication that they are manipulating the energy market to raise prices to their benefit and the public’s detriment.

New renewable energy is upsetting this cosy relationship, and the Turnbull government is acting to defend the interests of this cartel which is ripping off the public and wrecking the environment.

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