A white paper published by the Australian Government’s ministry for Industry and Science last week has come under heavy criticism across the spectrum for its heavy focus on fossil fuels, and almost total relegation of renewable energy as a priority.
The white paper was intended to drive “competitively priced and reliable energy supplies by promoting competition in energy markets, increasing energy productivity and facilitating investment in energy resources development.” However, all it’s really done is shown people how far Australia’s Liberal Government is willing to dismiss renewable energy in favor of pleasing its supporters in the fossil fuel industry.
“The measures in the Energy White Paper will deliver stable energy policy and efficient transparent markets that give consumers information to make choices about their energy use and industry the confidence to invest,” said Australia’s Minister for Industry and Science, Ian Macfarlane, who has been one of two ministers heading up the negotiations over Australia’s Renewable Energy Target. According to RenewEconomy, “Ian Macfarlane hasn’t just rejected the offer of a compromise cut to the target from 41,000GWh to 33,500GWh, he’s also making stuff up,” such as accusing the Clean Energy Council of trying to set up a scheme for failure by promoting a higher Renewable Energy Target (RET). RenewEconomy’s Giles Parkinson continued:
He continued in the same vein on ABC Radio on Thursday. Indeed, environment minister Greg Hunt was using the same argument before Easter, even claiming that the Climate Change Authority had agreed with his assessment, which we pointed out was simply not true.
“Natural Resources” = Coal
At the same time that the Liberal leaders are falsely accusing renewable energy proponents and groups, they are showing their true colors when it comes to renewable energy. In the official press release from Ian Macfarlane, there is no single mention of the word “renewable,” and only 32 mentions of the word in the 75-page document. Unsurprisingly, coal alone appears a little more often, with 42 mentions throughout the document, and this particular gem from the press release:
“The White Paper recognises that investment, particularly foreign investment, is essential to realising the potential of Australia’s natural resources and technology innovation.”
These words are attributed to Ian Macfarlane, and represent the clarion call for the Liberal Government as it moves forward with its attempts to dismiss renewable energy. “Natural resources” has long been a catch-cry for Australia’s massive coal and gas supplies, and the central message behind Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s clear love-affair with coal. Mr Abbott was quoted speaking to business leaders at the Asia Society Texas Center in Houston last year, saying that Australia doesn’t “believe in ostracising any particular fuel and we don’t believe in harming economic growth.” Mr Abbott went on to say that, “for many decades at least, coal will continue to fuel human progress as an affordable energy source for wealthy and developing countries alike.”
However, despite the Prime Minister’s strong support of coal, based partially on not wanting to harm economic growth, cutting the country’s carbon tax and investigating ways to axe or cut the Renewable Energy Target dropped the investment into Australia’s renewable energy industry by 70% by November of 2014.
“We’ve had a loss of 70 per cent of new investment in renewable energy in this country, and when you compare that with the US and China, which are powering ahead – China particularly at record levels – it’s a pretty sorry state of affairs,” said the Climate Council’s Professor Tim Flannery.
Absurdly, despite the obvious impact the Government’s meddling has had in the energy sector, Ian Macfarlane opened the white paper claiming that “Australia is a growing energy superpower.” And while this may be true, such a focus on coal will leave Australia as a energy superpower reviled by the rest of the world. There is no talk throughout the entire white paper of any environmental impacts Australia’s current energy-focus will have, nor any talk of emissions standards, renewable energy targets, or climate goals.
How have those outside looking in seen the white paper?
The Climate Institute released a press release in response to the paper, labeling it “mostly a fantasy of climate ignorance” and describing the paper “as a willfully deluded document, whose recommendations sidestep the challenges and opportunities facing our energy sector in a world of cleaner, smarter energy systems.”
“This Energy White Paper envisages an Australia clinging on to its old, dumb and dirty energy sector rather than driving a switch to modern, smart and clean energy,” said John Connor, CEO, The Climate Institute.
“This White Paper is deeply flawed because of its reliance on an international policy scenario that would take global warming to around 4°C above pre-industrial levels. By doing so it makes the same dangerous error the government made in its post-2020 Emissions Reduction Target Issues Paper. Both ignore the internationally agreed goal of avoiding what would be a disastrous and costly 2°C of warming.”
Tristan Knowles, an energy analyst for the Australian Conservation Foundation, called the white paper “merely a rubber stamp on Australia’s old dinosaur industries and further proof that the current government has its head in the sand on energy policy.”
Australia’s Financial Review’s Laura Tingle went a step further, calling the document “so vapid as to sound like an election platform, except it is from a party that is already in government.”
Energy Superpower Or Super-Pariah?
The white paper comes at the same time that the Australian Clean Energy Council is calling for the Liberal and Labor Party’s to come to a compromise on the Renewable Energy Target. In a press release published this week, the Clean Energy Council (CEC) welcomed “Federal Labor’s decision to back the renewable energy industry’s proposal on the Renewable Energy Target,” saying that the proposal to “meet in the middle of their negotiating positions to do a deal on the future of the target” would mean “an end to the crisis confronting the sector is in sight.”
Danish wind energy company Vestas Wind Systems has even come out in support of the CEC’s proposal. In a press release on its own website, Vestas said that “the Australian Government can act quickly to secure jobs and investment in rural and regional Australia by accepting the Renewable Energy Target (RET) compromise proposed by the Clean Energy Council (CEC) to break the current political deadlock.”
Sadly, this doesn’t look likely, given the immediate reaction from the Liberal Party, who rejected the proposal immediately.
The white paper highlights three key priorities:
- Increasing competition to keep prices down
- Increasing energy productivity to promote growth
- Investing in Australia’s energy future
Laudable priorities, until you look into the specifics.
In its focus on keeping prices down, all attention is focused on Australia’s gas industry, with further development and better regulation expected to drive down the price of gas. Whereas, investing in the country’s energy future, the white paper states that “ongoing access to large volumes of coal and gas will also underpin our energy generation mix for some decades.” Thankfully, the paper immediately adds that “these fuels will be increasingly exposed to competition from renewable energy.”
But that will not stop the Government from prioritizing coal, especially for export, as the authors of the paper note that “with the right policy settings, our importance to global energy markets will continue to grow,” because of Australia’s leading position as the world’s largest exporter of LNG, coal, and uranium.
More than “willfully deluding” themselves, the white paper works under several false assumptions.
RenewEconomy points out that the assumption that “Australia’s large quantities of traditional energy resources provide low-cost, predictable and reliable power for Australia and the world” is simply untrue, as is the assumption that the “world will do nothing new to address climate change.”
Furthermore, the authors of the white paper take a surprisingly antagonistic stance towards mechanisms such as the Renewable Energy Target and solar feed-in tariffs.
“Policy interventions in the market framework should not be used to force market outcomes beyond the reliable and competitively priced supply of energy. They should allow markets to operate efficiently for competitive outcomes, while providing consumer protection. Interventions, such as the RET and solar feed-in-tariffs, can distort market signals and cause unintended disruptions to competitive energy markets.”
All in all, Australian’s cannot help but look at the current government and hope for an early election. There does not seem to be any sign the current government will back down, and only being removed from power will have any impact.
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