Giles Parkinson, Editor, RenewEconomy
Some people gave the debate to Kevin Rudd, and some to Tony Abbott. Most agreed that neither leader was inspiring. Even the worm could barely register a positive response. And on climate change and clean energy, both leaders failed.
Tony Abbott refused to be drawn on the big question over Direct Action – how would it be deployed in the inevitable scenario where Australia is required to lift the level of ambition in its emissions reductions targets.
His answer was informative, however, if only for the lack of information: the coalition is still insisting that no action is taking place internationally. And it still intends to ditch the two independent voices that would contradict that view – the Climate Change Authority and the Climate Commission.
Abbott said he wanted to deal with ‘facts’ rather than hypotheticals. ‘We’ve always said that if circumstances change we will adjust appropriately but there is no way that other countries are embracing the kind of carbon tax and the kind of emissions trading scheme that Australia has. If anything the trend is all the other way.’
And there is still no plan for how the coalition will meet even a five per cent target – a story in the AFR on Monday suggested that privately there was a concession that the coalition would have to buy permits in international markets. Hocus pocus. The member for Greenway seems to be the only one who gets in.
Rudd’s cooking with gas
Rudd made some flowery talk about his fears of the impact on climate change on future generations, and on the Great Barrier Reef. At least Labor has some policies in place that allow it to be more ambitious, or to finally respond to the science. They can thank the Greens and the country independents for that.
But on clean energy, Rudd also got a fail. He said it was imperative to ‘bring on new gas supplies’ to ‘bring down the cost of energy’ – just like in the US.
Sorry, Kevin, that’s not going to happen. Not even gas companies are pretending that a gas boom in this country will bring down the price of gas as it has done in the US. Quite the contrary. Most gas in Australia is destined to be fed to the LNG plants in Queensland and for the export market, which means local prices will meet international prices, and that means a doubling or even tripling of domestic gas prices – and a rise in the cost of gas generation.
And, as the CSIRO concluded in a recent report, there is growing concern about the environmental benefits of coal seam gas extraction.
Rudd’s advisers are presumably picking up from some recent speeches by Gary Gray, which has made the same contentious conclusion that having more gas will reduce electricity prices. Citigroup recently pointed out that in most countries, gas will actually be an expensive option, and its future will be almost entirely dependent on its ability to be deployed as a filler for renewables. A report by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) in June came to a similar conclusion on costs about the untapped shale gas resources in the country.
WA’s solar imbroglio
There are a few seats hanging in the balance in Western Australia, and it is doubtful that the federal coalition would appreciate the Barnett government’s move last week to tear up contracts on solar feed-in tariffs. It has even offended its own state-based Liberal Party members. Two coalition member politicians have threatened to cross the floor to vote against the proposal, and it promises to produce fireworks at the party meeting on Tuesday.
This table below illustrates what is potentially at stake in the upcoming federal election. Several seats could change hands, and it would need only a small amount of disaffected solar houses to effect that change. Warwick Johnston has more detail in this piece.
With an estimated 140,000 solar homes in the state – and growing rapidly – solar promises to be a hot issue. Even the conservatives in NSW and Queensland have recognised the growing attraction of rooftop solar to households, even without subsidies, and are intent on treading carefully.
(Update: the WA government has reversed its decision for a retrospective cut in solar tariffs. ‘Quite simply, we got this decision wrong and we have to fix it,’ Premier Barnett said in a statement. ‘We have listened, and we appreciate the commitment that many people have made to take up renewable energy, like solar power.’)
Farmers want/don’t want new coal-fired generators
The Victorian Farmers Federation pushed out a media release last Thursday, lambasting the Greens for a whole bunch of policy measures – including farming practices and genetically modified food – that the VFF says would result in increased costs.
What caught our eye, however, was the VFF complaint that The Greens ‘oppose expanding or opening new coal mines and building new coal-fired power stations’, which would drive up the cost of energy used to produce and process food. And the fact that the Greens wanted ‘net zero or net negative Australian greenhouse gas emissions within a generation’, which the VFF said would cripple the nation’s energy-rich economy.
So, are Victorian farmers coming out in favour of new coal-fired power stations? This would be ironic given the health problems, and the fact that many coal-fired generators are looking for government payments to close earlier because of the massive over-capacity.
RenewEconomy rang VFF president Peter Tuohey for some clarification. ‘Oh, no, we’re not suggesting that,’ he said, when asked if the farmers really wanted more coal-fired power stations to be built. ‘It’s a matter of the cost of providing energy – wind turbines are a very expensive form of energy.’
Well, that’s a relief. But the farmers should probably acquaint themselves with two studies by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. One is that when comparing with new coal- and gas-fired generators, wind is actually cheaper. And if the government were to dilute the renewable energy target, then the cost to consumers – including farmers – would actually rise rather than fall.
This article was first published in reneweconomy.com.au.