After nine years, Australia has something like an energy policy

By Bernard Keane

June 9, 2022

Chris Bowen
Minister for climate change and energy Chris Bowen. (AAP Image/Steven Saphore)

Well, CoalKeeper looks dead after yesterday’s meeting of energy ministers to address the east coast energy crisis.

Coal and gas haven’t been explicitly excluded from the “capacity mechanism” that forms part of the 11-point plan for the crisis — that’s the proposed mechanism through which energy retailers would pay suppliers for dispatchable power even if it wasn’t used — but the post-meeting communique hinted that it wouldn’t include fossil fuels.

“Energy ministers agreed to advance the work on a capacity mechanism as a priority to bring on renewables and storage to support stability for the national energy market,” it said. It later repeated the reference to “work on a capacity mechanism to support renewables and storage”.

That’s exactly what the capacity mechanism should have always been, but the previous government twisted it into a plan to force households to pay up to $400 a year to keep coal-fired power plants operating even when their expensive output wasn’t needed.

The meeting also outlined a way forwards on energy policy beyond a series of measures designed to address the current energy crunch created by the unreliability of coal-fired power.

Energy ministers agreed the time is right to work together on a new agreement to set the vision for Australia’s energy sector transition to net zero. To this end, energy ministers have tasked energy senior officials to work together intensively ahead of the ministerial meeting in July to consider how a new agreement could reframe and reset existing priorities, frameworks and governance to ensure the sector can chart the course out of the current challenges, and set the sector up for a stable transformation towards decarbonisation.

Stripped of its bureaucracy-speak, that means the goal is that the energy ministers’ meeting next month will consider an agreement between governments on a path to decarbonisation, and officials have only a few weeks to put the basics together.

The first thing to note is that the stand-off of the Angus Taylor era is over — the commonwealth is now an active and engaged partner in decarbonisation. In the Taylor era, there was incessant and open conflict between the commonwealth and the states — with the states, and much of the energy industry, deciding to ignore the commonwealth and get on with decarbonising their energy networks.

Taylor was openly ridiculed by other ministers as he seemed to deliberately sideline himself from energy policy and interjected only to attempt to prop up coal-fired power and criticise the states’ and energy producers’ plans to accelerate renewables investment.

Now the commonwealth brings the possibility of better coordination across the east coast, Tasmania and South Australia, Labor’s plans for transmission investment, and the potential for additional funding to achieve its higher 2030 emissions reduction goal.

And there’s an urgency to the task. There’s a lot of lost time to make up.

This article is republished from our sister publication Crikey.


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