Solar is one of the priority technologies on the discussion paper. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Solar is one of the priority technologies on the discussion paper. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Government touts new emissions plan, but gas fight takes over

Government touts new emissions plan, but gas fight takes over

Energy
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Two reports made public, one released and one leaked, have reignited the debate over lowering emissions.

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A new "technology not taxes" push by the government as part of its latest iteration of an emissions policy has been muddied by a leaked document focusing on the role of gas in the economic recovery, which has been met with staunch opposition.

Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor launched the government's technology investment roadmap discussion paper on Thursday, ahead of a Low Emissions Technology Statement to be delivered later this year.

The discussion paper includes a long list of priority technologies, including pumped hydro, large scale solar and electric vehicles, it includes gas but doesn't focus on coal as a power source.

Labor welcomed progress on emissions policy but said there was already enough research to show the way forward.

"A technology roadmap is useful as far as it goes but there is no shortage of reports lining government bookcases about energy technology, all of which confirm that the cheapest and the cleanest way to renew our ageing, increasingly unreliable electricity system is centred on renewable energy," spokesman Mark Butler said.

"What is needed though is an investment framework that will give investors confidence to make that technology a reality and to deliver it on the ground."

Leaked report distracts from announcement

But a separate interim report from the manufacturing task force advising the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission that suggested the government underwrite investment in gas plants and pipelines has been met with anger from the Greens, parts of the crossbench and advocates for renewable energy.

Former Dow Chemical boss Andrew Liveris leads the manufacturing taskforce of the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission, which was tasked with advice on how Australia can chart its way out of the economic downturn through manufacturing.

The interim report recommended removing "red and green tape" barriers to gas supply, including removing moratoria in NSW and Victoria and underwriting supply hubs to "create the market".

Energy Minister Angus Taylor and Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Parliament earlier this year. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Energy Minister Angus Taylor and Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Parliament earlier this year. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Australia's east coast states weren't competitive for new investment in gas, due to "onerous environmental restrictions and unpredictable and often duplicative legal rules," the report said.

Reported by the ABC and The Guardian, the draft report has been criticised for the emphasis on gas, from a commission with a number of people with links to the industry.

Commissioner Neville Power, who is leading the coordination commission, is a former boss of Fortescue Metals and is currently deputy chair of Strike Energy, an oil and gas exploration company.

Climate and Energy Director at the Australia Institute Richie Merzian said the role of gas shouldn't be overstated because of interests on the commission.

"We have gas executive heading up a much more powerful and wide ranging commission shaping Australia's economic recovery and as a Canberra and a former public servant it frustrates me that the government has over 100,000 capable people with decades of experience in terms of designing public policy for the national interest and instead cherry picks fossil fuel execs to give them advice around climate change," he said

Investment in gas would also be an ineffective way to kickstart the economy as it was less jobs-intensive than other options, he said.

"It's an equally dangerous fossil fuel [to coal] that's being promoted. It's probably more dangerous as it has better marketing as natural gas and a transition fuel."

Independent Helen Haines said the leaked report was tremendously disappointing and had been developed in board rooms without consultation.

"This plan subsidises a national gas network that would almost certainly end up as a stranded asset and would waste taxpayer money on technology from last century," she said.

A spokesman for Prime Minister and Cabinet said renewable energy experts had been consulted by the commission among well over a thousand stakeholders.

"Options for the economic recovery are under active consideration and will be provided to Government in due course," the spokesman said.

"The National COVID-19 Coordination Commission is an advisory body tasked with providing recommendations to government on reforms to both accelerate the recovery of jobs and promote the rebuilding of the Australian economy over the longer term."

Former public servants weigh in

Former head of Treasury and Department of Climate Change secretary Martin Parkinson said the use of gas as a transition fuel had been hampered by bans and restrictions on gas exploration by the states, particularly the Victoria and New South Wales governments.

"The consequence of that has been energy prices have been far higher than consumers need to face, the electricity network has been far less reliable than it needed to be and coal fired power stations are hanging around longer than they need to," Mr Parkinson said.

Former Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Martin Parkinson. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Former Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Martin Parkinson. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

"We end up with this terrible trinity of prices higher than they need to be, emissions higher than they need to be and security of supply lessened."

He said that in the absence of a price on carbon, investment in lower emission technology was something the government could do.

But former Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Peter Shergold said history showed that governments chose technologies "very poorly" and rather than investing in the gas industry the Morrison government should set a price on emissions and "let the market respond".

Roadmap needs level playing field

Director of the Energy Change Institute at the Australian National University Ken Baldwin said it was important for a technology investment roadmap to keep all options on the table, without locking anything in or out in advance, and for comparisons to be regularly reviewed.

"The comparison between technologies needs to be done on a level playing field, which is set by the context. For example, environmental and social effects need to be evaluated when technologies are compared. One way of levelling the playing field on emissions, for example, is to include a carbon price," Professor Baldwin said.

"Eventually as technologies are implemented, social science input will be needed alongside the technological comparison. This will inevitably involve economic, sociological, environmental and policy inputs into decisions around implementation."

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Professor Baldwin said gas had a role to play in supporting renewable technologies at times of peak demand.

Solar and wind technologies would be the cheapest way to replace supply currently produced by coal-fired power stations and as they take up larger loads.

"Gas may play a role there to provide the last amount of supply needed to make up the shortfall with demand," he said.

The story Government touts new emissions plan, but gas fight takes over first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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