coal fire station

The government has again provoked the ire of renewable energy advocates this week, with Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg suggesting new coal-fired power stations may be welcomed as part of the National Energy Guarantee (NEG).

The ACT government was one of the first to come out swinging on Monday, expressing its “surprise and dismay” at the concept.

ACT Minister for Climate Change and Sustainability Shane Rattenbury said that after ten months of negotiations on the NEG, the comments have “come as quite the unwelcome surprise.”

“Electricity prices are already high, and consumers will only bear further costs unless the Coalition embraces the modern age of cheap, reliable, renewable energy,” Mr Rattenbury said.

“Despite the protestations of Mr Abbott, and now it seems, Mr Frydenberg, the era of coal is over. We need to phase out this technology if we’re to have any chance of a decent future for energy and the environment in Australia.”

He said that the ACT is leading the way on renewables, and the territory has some of the lowest energy prices in the country. It expects to have 100 per cent renewable energy by 2020, and achieve zero carbon emissions by 2045 at the latest.

Mr Rattenbury also pointed to the recent results of a Lowy Institute on Australian attitudes that showed 84 per cent of respondents think the government should focus on renewable energy, and only 14 per cent think it should focus on fossil fuel sources such as coal and gas.

Pauline Hanson added to the voice of the 14 per cent this week, proposing a motion in the Senate for the government to financially back the building of new coal-fired power stations and the retrofitting of existing ones as part of the NEG.

Coalition senators voted with Ms Hanson on the motion, which The Guardian reported was narrowly defeated 34 votes to 32.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also floated the idea that coal power could be part of the energy mix under the NEG.

The Guardian quoted the PM saying that the NEG is technology agnostic, “designed to ensure you have dispatchable power, reliable power, affordable power and you meet your Paris emissions’ targets”.

“That can be done with a variety of technologies coal is a big part of it now. I believe it will be a big part of it for a very long time.”

The Smart Energy Council has been lobbying state governments that are part of the National Energy Market to refuse endorsement of the NEG unless three conditions are met:

  1. The NEG must incorporate a legislated minimum two per cent annual emission reduction set as the Emission Reduction Safeguard;
  2. Federal Government legislates to reduce National Electricity Market emissions by at least 45 per cent by 2030; and
  3. Existing state renewable energy targets are maintained.

The Smart Energy Council called on the Queensland government to protect its booming large-scale renewable energy sector. The state is home to 88 per cent of the large-scale projects completed in 2017, with a strong pipeline of projects under construction or in the planning stages in 2018, including utility-scale solar, wind power, pumped hydro storage and large-scale battery deployment.

Eight of the nation’s top 10 postcodes for rooftop solar installations are also in the sunshine state.

“The future of renewables is shining bright in Queensland, this could all come quickly crashing down if the National Energy Guarantee is approved in its current form,” Smart Energy Council chief executive John Grimes said.

“Without a stronger national target to reduce emissions, the National Energy Guarantee will cheat Queenslanders and the whole of Australia out of more investment, jobs and cheap clean energy.”

Mr Grimes described the NEG as “junk policy” that is “actually worse than not having a national policy” because the proposed emissions reduction target in the NEG is only 26 per cent – lower than what could be achieved given the current construction and investment trajectory of the renewable sector.

“The National Energy Guarantee is not in the Queensland Government’s interest or the public interest.”

Earlier this month, the Smart Energy Council took a similar message to the Victorian government.

The state saw a recent large-scale renewable energy auction attract 3,500 MW of new wind and solar capacity in bids, roughly six times the capacity put to tender.

Mr Grimes said current wind and solar projects in the pipeline in Victoria will attract up to $1.3 billion of investment, create 1,250 construction jobs over two years, and 90 ongoing jobs.

“The overwhelming response to the recent auction is telling – Victorians want a transition to renewables for clean, cheaper and reliable energy,” said Mr Grimes.

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  1. The NEG has Abbott stamped all over it. It is a road map to disaster. The Prime Minister and Minister Frydenberg need to acknowledge this and start again, taking advice from people who are investing in a big way in renewables.