Lateline: 09/06/17

June 09, 2017




DAVID LIPSON: Mark Butler, welcome to Lateline. 


LIPSON: Will Labor support a scheme that provides any incentives for new coal-powered generation? 

BUTLER: Well, you can't have a clean energy target that boosts coal-fired power production. It's simply an oxymoron, it's a contradiction in terms and I am concerned that Barnaby Joyce and Tony Abbott appear to be setting that as a pre-condition for the Government adopting the recommendations of Dr Finkel. 

You simply can't have coal-fired powered defined as clean energy. It just makes a nonsense of a scheme. 

LIPSON: Dr Finkel says when it comes to meeting our Paris targets we need to think about the outcome, not the inputs. With that in mind, why then rule out this high efficiency, low-emission coal technology if it helps us get to our Paris commitments? 

BUTLER: Because the International Energy Agency (IEA) defines that as coal-fired power that puts out about 740 to 800 kilograms of carbon per megawatt hour. Under no-one's definition is that clean energy. Now some are cleaner -

LIPSON: Dr Finkel's definition put it at 700 kilograms per megawatt hour so a little bit under that. Do you back that? 

BUTLER: Well, we'll engage. He hasn't recommended 700 kilograms, he's proposed that as one possible target. As I understand it, he said that governments -

LIPSON: No, he's suggesting that is what HELE (high efficiency, low emission) coal, that high efficiency coal power could generate. 

BUTLER: Well, that's not the advice of the IEA. But we'll study Dr Finkel's report carefully and we'll engage closely with business. 

But this should be a process of recognising the inevitably of shifting to clean energy. 

Now Australia already has one of the highest shares of coal-fired power in our electricity system on the face of the earth. That's why we produce about twice as much pollution from our electricity system as is produced in the United States or across the OECD on average. 

This process needs to be about reducing our reliance on coal-fired power, not increasing it. 

LIPSON: Dr Finkel also said, quote, "Security and reliability have been compromised by poorly integrated variable renewable energy generators including wind and solar." With that in mind is Labor's 50 per cent Renewable Energy Target still viable? 

BUTLER: We think it's more than viable. We think it's very realistic. You see it rolling out at that levels in many other places around the world, and I think what will be welcomed is Dr Finkel's very deeply considered recommendations about how we're able to take full advantage of the new storage technology that is sweeping the world, particularly battery storage. 

We want to consider those recommendations very, very carefully. We think they're going to open up enormous opportunities for consumers to take advantage of this new technology. 

LIPSON: But isn't Dr Finkel there saying that he doesn't mention the renewable target, I'll give you that, but he does say that security and reliability have been impacted by more wind and solar coming on, on to the grid. 

You know, is there not a risk that the security and reliability will be further hampered if we continue in this direction? 

BUTLER: Not if we have the market rules that reflect the new modern realities of electricity systems. Not electricity systems particularly in Australia, but systems across the world and I think that's the particular contribution of this report. It really does challenge us to put in place an electricity system that reflects the modern realities rather than trying to work with one that was built in another era, back in the 20th century. 

Add to that the enormous opportunities from the battery storage revolution and I'm very, very confident, as are most experts that look at this stuff, very, very confident that we can get to that level of renewable energy generation by 2030. 

Even with the very low ambition model that is included in this report, you see 42 per cent renewable energy by 2030 and that's assuming Malcolm Turnbull's very modest emission reduction targets that are based on really three degrees of global warming not the Paris target. 

LIPSON: Would Labor support the LET, the Low Emissions Target or the clean energy target as it's called in the Finkel report replacing the Renewable Energy Target? 

BUTLER: We have only just received this report over the last couple of hours, it's very long, it's very detailed as it should be and we'll study it carefully over the coming days. 

We have also said obviously we'll engage closely with business and with other stakeholders to make sure that we get our response to this right. 

I mean that's what a coalition of business groups and the ACTU, ACOSS and others said yesterday. They want a full and fair consideration of this report. 

LIPSON: But you're open to that replacement potentially? 

BUTLER: We're open to all of these recommendations. We've being clear about this. We're going to keep an open mind. We're going to give this to use the words of the coalition communique yesterday from the Business Council and many others, full and fair consideration but we'll do that not only by studying it in a closed door session, we'll also engage closely with business to understand very clearly what the impact of these recommendations should be. 

LIPSON: So what if business says that there should be incentives for coal-powered generation? 

BUTLER: Well, other than Minerals Council of Australia, I have heard no business say that. I have heard no-one from the electricity industry indicate any interest in building new coal-fired generation. 


I think everyone really who has paid attention to this policy area understands that new coal-fired power is a fantasy and I'm very concerned that Barnaby Joyce and Tony Abbott appear to be setting this as a condition for Coalition acceptance of the Finkel report in principle and for negotiations between the parties because, if that is a condition, the negotiations aren't going to go very far. 

LIPSON: Mark Butler, we're out of time. Thanks for joining us on Lateline. 

BUTLER: Thanks, David.