More NEG lies during Question Time

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull fired up over energy questions during Tuesday's QT (Image via YouTube screenshot)

The NEG was a hot topic during QT, with the coal dinosaurs ignoring climate change for promises of cheap, reliable energy, writes John Passant.

THE NATIONAL ENERGY GUARANTEE (NEG) dominated Question Time (QT) on Tuesday. This is not surprising given that the Coalition’s Joint Party Room approved it earlier in the day.

What is the NEG? 

Katharine Murphy in The Guardian gives a good summary:

'The National Energy Guarantee imposes two obligations on energy retailers: An obligation to supply sufficient quantities of “reliable” power to the market and an obligation to reduce emissions over the decade between 2020 and 2030.'

The obligation to reduce emissions is a furphy since the target of a 26 per cent cut in emissions by 2030 will mainly be borne by the current Renewable Energy Target. In 2020, when the NEG starts, the RET will, it is predicted, have delivered cuts in emissions of 24 per cent. Doctors for the Environment Australia goes further.

As Dr Graeme McLeay, a member of DEA, wrote in IA yesterday:

‘The NEG will not result in reduced emissions and leaves Australia without a climate policy beyond 2022.’

And that clearly is what the NEG is really about — giving the impression of doing something without doing anything to really reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

According to Giles Parkinson in Renew Economy, the NEG will:

‘… ensure no new investment in large-scale wind, solar or battery storage for nearly a decade… [The Party Room] also expressed support for a new government initiative they hope will support new coal-fired generation.’

The Government ignores the existential threat to humanity and capitalism that is climate change in favour of slogans about cheap and reliable energy. That was the theme that dominated the Government’s responses to Opposition questions on the NEG.

It would deliver cheaper, reliable energy. Now, stop me if you’ve heard this before but the Environment Minister told Parliament today the NEG would cut family power bills by $550 a year. As Opposition Environment spokesperson Mark Butler reminded us in QT, this was the same promise Tony Abbott made in 2013 when campaigning against Labor’s price on carbon — or carbon tax as Abbott called it.

As to reliability, developments in renewable energy make this a reality now. If the Government spent $300 billion over the next decade to set up solar and wind farms across the country, it would provide cheap reliable energy that did not contribute to climate change. In doing that, Australia could set the example and perhaps agenda for other countries.  

It would need a government of vision to do this. Instead, as became clear from the answers of the Prime Minister, Treasurer and Environment Minister today, we have a Government committed to the market to solve the very threat of climate change that the market creates. And this commitment to the market may involve Government support for a minimum price for future energy supplies to entice investment in the energy sector. In the Government’s mind, such investment could include coal-powered fire stations.

As the ALP reminded the Government in QT today, earlier this year the Treasurer thought that it was “false to think that a new coal-fired power station will generate electricity at the same price as old coal-fired power stations.”

In 2016 he said:

'These new HELE [JP: high efficiency, low emission] plants would produce energy at an estimated two-and-a-half times the cost of our existing coal fired power stations. They would also take up to around seven years to set up. While welcome, where the economics and engineering stack up, we shouldn’t kid ourselves a new HELE plant would bring down electricity prices anytime soon.'

To help pacify coal dinosaurs, NEG may offer a backdoor system for propping up coal.

It is not all bad news on the NEG front. The ABC is reporting that five House of Representatives Coalitions members – Tony Abbott, Andrew Hastie, Craig Kelly, George Christensen and Andrew Gee, plus Senator Eric Abetz – have reserved the right to vote against it. Barnaby Joyce had already threatened to do so.

If the five members of the House, or six, depending on Barnaby, did vote against the NEG, the Government would possibly be defeated over a signature piece of legislation, perhaps sparking a general election. One of the reasons I say “possibly” is that Labor has not yet made its position on the legislation clear.  

Labor should reject the NEG and rebut the Government lies about cheap energy. The Government also proclaims the NEG will promote jobs and growth. It is nonsense. The jobs of the future are in renewable energy, not coal. Coal is the road to destruction.

The exchanges in QT on Tuesday highlighted for me that the choice facing Australians is between the fossilised past and a living and renewable future.

Read more by John Passant on his website En Passant or follow him on Twitter @JohnPassantSigned copies of John''s first book of poetry, Songs for the Band Unformed(Ginninderra Press 2016), are available for purchase from the IA store HERE.

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