Tony Ab­bott calls for end to all en­ergy sub­si­dies, in­clud­ing on coal

The Guardian Australia - - Front Page - Katharine Mur­phy Po­lit­i­cal edi­tor

Tony Ab­bott has used the sec­ond an­niver­sary since los­ing the top job to de­clare he’s in­tent on look­ing for­ward, not back­ward – and has again weighed in to the govern­ment’s fraught en­ergy de­bate to call for an end to all sub­si­dies.

The for­mer prime min­is­ter told 2GB on Thurs­day he wel­comed signs from Mal­colm Turn­bull that the govern­ment was mov­ing away from the clean en­ergy tar­get rec­om­mended by the chief sci­en­tist to what he is char­ac­ter­is­ing as a “100%

re­li­able en­ergy tar­get.”

“I wel­come th­ese signs that we are mov­ing away from a clean en­ergy tar­get to a re­li­able en­ergy tar­get, and, frankly, noth­ing less than a 100% re­li­able en­ergy tar­get will do be­cause we’ve got to keep the lights on all the time ... if we are to be a first-world coun­try,” Ab­bott said.

Ab­bott de­clared the govern­ment should end all sub­si­dies for re­new­able en­ergy, and that would mean there was no need to sub­sidise coal.

De­spite lead­ing the suc­cess­ful po­lit­i­cal cam­paign to scrap the for­mer La­bor govern­ment’s mar­ket mech­a­nism, the car­bon price, Ab­bott de­clared on Thurs­day af­ter­noon: “I don’t want to see sub­si­dies, I want to see a mar­ket”.

“I say let’s not sub­sidise any­more re­new­ables, and if we don’t sub­sidise any­more re­new­ables, we won’t need to sub­sidise coal, be­cause coal in a nor­mal mar­ket is the cheap­est way of pro­vid­ing re­li­able power.”

“It is vastly cheaper than wind and so­lar and con­sid­er­ably cheaper than gas.”

And while ac­knowl­edg­ing that he signed Aus­tralia up to the Paris cli­mate agree­ment while prime min­is­ter, Ab­bott now ar­gues we are not obliged to abide by the com­mit­ments made in the in­ter­na­tional ac­cord.

Ab­bott said there was no need to walk away from the Paris agree­ment, be­cause the emis­sions re­duc­tions com­mit­ments con­tained within it were not bind­ing on Aus­tralia.

The for­mer prime min­is­ter’s pub­lic in­ter­ven­tion on Thurs­day af­ter­noon fol­lowed an ef­fort by La­bor in ques­tion time to por­tray Mal­colm Turn­bull as be­ing com­pletely in­dis­tin­guish­able from Ab­bott on en­ergy pol­icy.

With a fo­cus on the sec­ond an­niver­sary since Turn­bull took the Lib­eral party lead­er­ship, La­bor asked Turn­bull what had been the point of de­pos­ing Ab­bott from the prime min­is­ter­ship.

To Ab­bott’s ob­vi­ous amuse­ment, Turn­bull told the cham­ber he had built on “the out­stand­ing work of the mem­ber for War­ringah” and said he had de­liv­ered jobs and eco­nomic growth as prime min­is­ter.

The govern­ment this week has made it plain that its new in­vest­ment frame­work for en­ergy pol­icy will be favourable to coal.

In ques­tion time on Thurs­day, Turn­bull said the new pol­icy would en­sure all tech­nolo­gies were utilised “in­clud­ing coal”.

The clean en­ergy tar­get rec­om­mended by the chief sci­en­tist Alan Finkel was mod­elled at a level where coal would not get cer­tifi­cates, but the Na­tion­als have been mak­ing it clear for months that keep­ing coal in the mix would be the price of their sup­port for any pol­icy change.

As it moves to­wards crunch point, the govern­ment is mak­ing it clear the new in­vest­ment frame­work, which it wants to re­solve be­fore the sum­mer par­lia­men­tary re­cess, will need to be geared to re­li­a­bil­ity and af­ford­abil­ity as well as to emis­sions re­duc­tion, and en­com­pass all tech­nolo­gies.

Ear­lier in the day, the head of the Aus­tralian En­ergy Mar­ket Op­er­a­tor, Au­drey Zi­bel­man, told a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee she favoured the cre­ation of a day-ahead mar­ket – a sys­tem where the mar­ket op­er­a­tor iden­ti­fies the en­ergy de­mand for the next day, hour-by-hour, then gen­er­a­tors bid in to sup­ply the mar­ket.

She said a day-ahead mar­ket would cre­ate more cer­tainty and sta­bil­ity in the sys­tem, and also al­low tools like de­mand man­age­ment to be de­ployed in the event there was in­suf­fi­cient dis­patch­a­bil­ity in the sys­tem.

Zi­bel­man said the mar­ket op­er­a­tor was look­ing for the Turn­bull govern­ment to make key de­ci­sions in the next few months in or­der to have new mar­ket rules up and run­ning by 2018, and she noted play­ers in the en­ergy mar­ket were cur­rently “quite anx­ious” given the cur­rent lack of clar­ity.

She said mar­ket con­di­tions worked against build­ing new baseload power, and the fu­ture would be more fo­cussed on flex­i­ble en­ergy sources, such as peak­ing gas power.

The Aemo chief said in­vestors in the na­tional elec­tric­ity mar­ket wanted the clean en­ergy tar­get. “I think any in­vestor wants to have pol­icy cer­tainty that’s very im­por­tant for any in­vestor be­cause they need to make their de­ci­sions”.

But while en­dors­ing the clean en­ergy tar­get from an in­vestor stand­point, she said her or­gan­i­sa­tion was more fo­cused on en­sur­ing sys­tem needs were met.

Zi­bel­man said there were in­cen­tives in the mar­ket to pull for­ward re­new­able en­ergy in­vest­ments, but the mar­ket had to also sig­nal that re­li­a­bil­ity was im­por­tant. She said the an­swer was a “port­fo­lio so­lu­tion”.

A ma­jor in­dus­try group also stepped up pres­sure on the Turn­bull govern­ment to pull its gas ex­port con­trol trig­ger. The govern­ment has ar­gued this week there is no im­me­di­ate rea­son to move be­cause more gas has been made avail­able to the do­mes­tic mar­ket since the threat of cre­at­ing a do­mes­tic reser­va­tion.

But that view has been re­jected by the Ai Group. “In­dus­try re­mains deeply wor­ried about the state of the gas mar­ket,” said the group’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, In­ness Wil­lox.

He said the govern­ment needed to speed up the process and de­ter­mine that 2018 is a short­fall year un­der the ex­port con­trol ar­range­ments. “De­spite some re­cent im­prove­ment, our in­dus­trial mem­bers have be­come alarmed by the ex­tra­or­di­nary rise in the price, and re­duc­tion in the avail­abil­ity, of con­tractable gas”.

Pho­to­graph: Lukas Coch/AAP

For­mer Aus­tralian prime min­is­ter Tony Ab­bott marked two years since he was ousted from the top job by call­ing for an end to en­ergy sub­si­dies.

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