Opinion Pieces

There is only one energy future: firmed renewables

October 10, 2018


Australia is in the deep throes of the most severe energy crisis in living memory.

Power and gas prices have skyrocketed in recent years and are continuing to go up in spite of claims from the Liberal Government that they have solved the energy crisis and prices are coming down.

Confidence in our energy system and governments’ ability to fix it has never been lower.

Meanwhile, the latest government data released late on Grand Final Friday again showed Australia’s carbon pollution is on the rise, up by 1.3 per cent the year to March alone.

This aligns with the government’s emissions projections, which show continuous increases all the way to 2030, with emissions falling 21 percentage points short of the government’s target of a 26 per cent cut 2030.

Just when the Government has abandoned any effort to do so, the necessity of integrating climate change reality into energy policy has never been more critical.

Even if we put climate change imperative to one side, we would still be experiencing a profound energy transition, as the coal plants build in the 60s, 70s and early 80s reach their used-by dates.

The cheapest and cleanest replacement generation is renewable energy, even when coupled with necessary firming technologies like batteries, peaking gas plant and pumped hydro.

The facts are understood, by Labor, by energy experts, by industry, and by the vast majority of the Australian community; there is only one energy future for Australia. It is a firmed renewables future, with modern technologies and infrastructure delivering affordable, reliable and clean energy.

Everyone is on that page it seems, except the current government. 

The modern Liberal party is plagued by a fundamental division on climate change, which has crippled the party’s ability to formulate any real climate policies, especially when such policy overlaps with energy.

As former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has admitted, it is simply beyond the ability of the modern Liberal party to integrate climate realities into energy policy.

Prime Minister Morrison and Energy Minister Taylor are reduced to an ad-hoc mix of rhetoric, ACCC recommendations, and arbitrary threats of interventions not supported by any report or analysis, such as taxpayer bankrolling of coal plants and forced divestment.

Is it any wonder that people like John Hewson now despair at the state of their once free market party?

Until the Liberal party can accept the unequivocal advice of scientists, which they have again refused to do following the latest report from the IPCC released earlier this week, no one can expect anything other than the current grab-bag of rhetoric and threats that pass as Liberal Government energy policy.

In this energy policy chaos, Labor’s approach is simple.

We will support new generation investment both large and small scale, delivering 50 per cent renewables by 2030.

We will modernise the grid, support greater energy productivity, and we will do this by working with innovators, energy users and energy producers.

And unlike the Government, we will be realistic about the future of coal power generation.

We aren’t moving out of coal today or tomorrow, or next year, but coal workers and coal power communities know their economies will need to change and those plants and jobs they currently rely on won’t be around forever.

A responsible government plans for change, to ensure workers and communities aren’t left behind. That is exactly what Labor will do.

If the energy transition is managed well, it will lead to lower prices for consumers and businesses, new industries and jobs, and a modern system.

And it will lead to the massive cuts in our carbon pollution we need.

Over time, with Australia’s huge renewable resources, low-energy costs will again become a competitive advantage for Australian businesses.

Australian households and businesses have rightly had enough of politicians fighting over energy and climate policy. I have had enough too.

Our plan isn’t to use energy policy as a political foil, to leverage advantage in some demographic in some seat somewhere.

It is to gain the trust of the Australian people and deliver the progress I know we can.

That’s Labor’s energy plan.

This opinion piece was first published in the AFR on Wednesday, 10 October 2018.