Memo to federal politicians: get on with renewable energy plan
Illustration: Jim Pavlidis
There is a consensus that reliable, affordable and environmentally sustainable electricity is crucial to the wellbeing of our growing population, and to the economy as a key factor of production.
There is widespread agreement that the historic reliance on fossil fuels, particularly coal, is unsustainable, as it is a major cause of dangerous global warming, and thus that there should be a transition to renewable energy sources.
There is, too, agreement that such a transition requires business investment, which in turn depends on confidence government policy will not unduly chop and change, as it has here in the past decade.
The electricity industry itself has long been calling for a price on carbon emissions as a pivotal part of creating certainty, as well as a market incentive to expedite the shift to renewables, a journey being made cheaper and easier by rapid progress in storage technology.
So, there is an evident and urgent commonality of interests across our society and throughout the world that energy policy be well managed.
Providing fresh and compelling evidence of this commonality is a group letter released by organisations representing electricity suppliers and consumers, big and small business, environmental advocates, researchers and the union movement.
On the one hand, it’s encouraging to see such a well co-ordinated and community-wide clarion call to lawmakers to put aside petty politics and broker a bipartisan approach to energy policy.
On the other, though, it is dispiriting we are in this situation as long as a decade after then prime minister John Howard took a market-focused carbon price to the 2007 election, as did the victor of that encounter, ALP leader Kevin Rudd.
The letter exhorts all politicians to “stop partisan antics and work together to reform Australia’s energy systems and markets”.
It says politicking has made energy investments “impossibly risky”, which has squeezed supply, shoving prices up and shackling change.
“The result is enduring dysfunction in the electricity sector.”
Yet the government argues that price hikes and recent supply crises, particularly in South Australia, primarily reflect a failure of renewable energy.
In recent days it has run the line with vehemence, dubiously seeking to besmirch the federal ALP for events that are clearly well beyond its control.
The government’s misappropriation and distortion of the South Australian situation looks particularly flimsy in light of a revelation by Fairfax Media that it is ignoring advice from its own independent advisors that blackouts are not being caused by that state’s relatively high renewable energy target, but by failures in the network, and damage caused by extreme weather.
Coal-dependent states are having supply woes, too, after all.
The government has so far failed to make a convincing case for its renewed enthusiasm for coal.
We believe it will be unable to do so, and should capitalise on the opportunity to help lead a bipartisan plan to advance the transition to renewable energy.
Historically, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been an unambiguous supporter of using a price on carbon as we transition to renewable energy.
In 2010, he said Australia “cannot cost-effectively achieve a substantial cut in emissions without putting a price on carbon”.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, too, supports pricing carbon.
Most policy thinkers support it in principle.
The power industry supports it. Community support is widespread.
It is hard to think of a core issue on which there is more agreement, yet less policy progress.
And, like the reliance on fossil fuels, it’s unsustainable and fraught.
Press link for more: The Age