Turnbull's NEG is his new NBN — guaranteed

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"... a Prime Minister who cannot deliver a Clean Energy Target … has now delivered a coal energy target." (Image via @Ozlandscapes)

Coal is to Turnbull's new National Energy Guarantee what copper was to his lacklustre version of the National Broadband Network, writes managing editor Dave Donovan.

ARE ENERGY PRICES set to fall under the Turnbull Government’s new scheme — the National Energy Guarantee (NEG)?

Well, the ABC seemed to think so.

‘Power bills to drop under new energy plan’, trumpeted the headline in the lead story on ABC Radio’s flagship PM programme on Tuesday night (17/10/17). Once you listen to the report, however, you realise this unqualified statement was merely repeating a boast by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, apparently on advice from his new Energy Security Board (ESB), that bills may fall by “more than $100 a year in 2020. There’s no modelling to support this claim.

Which is hardly surprising, given the ESB was only set up two months ago at COAG and only met for the first time last month. Hardly enough time for Board members to learn each other’s names, let alone produce detailed modelling on an incredibly vexed and complex area of public policy. Yet still enough time, somehow, to produce advice recommending the abandonment of Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s number one recommendation from a detailed year-long review into the energy market — the Clean Energy Target. It’s amazing what one can come up with when pressed.

The ABC redeemed itself later that night, however, when ABC Lateline host Emma Alberici pressed the chair of the Energy Security Board, Kerry Schott, to guarantee that Australian consumers’ power bills would fall in three years’ time.

Schott categorically refused to back up the (two) PM's brash claims:

“That’s not what the guarantee is all about .... I don’t think anyone can guarantee a price reduction in anything, to be honest, because prices depend on too many things.”

Consumers hoping power prices would plummet due to Malcolm’s latest cunning plan suffered a further blow yesterday morning when, on ABC PM’s sister programme, AM, the Prime Minister also refused to back up his own claims from the day before.

“Will you guarantee those price reductions,” asked AM host Sabra Lane.

“Well, what I can guarantee” replied PM Turnbull, “is that we’ve got those price figures, those cost figures ‒ in fact, which is based on their estimate of a 20 to 25 per cent reduction in wholesale generation costs ‒ we’ve got that. I can guarantee that the people that are giving those figures are the best informed and the most knowledgeable in the industry.”

“You’re guaranteeing they’re the best informed, but you’re still not guaranteeing those figures,” pressed Lane.

“Well, Sabra, what I’m – Sabra! – what I’m guaranteeing is that we’re taking advice from the best people in the field and that is unquestionably the Energy Security Board.”

The interview then further deteriorated, with a remarkably petulant and defensive PM berating Lane for having the temerity to “attack” the “distinguished and expert” Energy Security Board, who are “not academics” — an apparently important reverse qualification for Turnbull.

So who, beyond Ms Schott, sits on this knowledgeable, distinguished and non-academically expert Board?

Well, the "independent" deputy chair is Clare Savage from the Business Council of Australia (BCA).

Here’s what former Liberal Party staffer Guy Pearse wrote about the BCA in his book High & Dry: John Howard, climate change and the selling of Australia's future (2007):

Since it was established in 1983, ten of the twelve BCA presidents have been mining industry chief executives and/or directors whose companies have interests in one or more of the most emission intensive sectors....

To say that the BCA is dominated by big polluter interests at the highest levels is to understate the situation.

In 2009, the Climate Institute wrote:

Over the last twelve months the Business Council of Australia (BCA) and several of its big polluting members have sought to stall and undermine Australia’s progress to a low-carbon economy.

The BCA has successfully lobbied for special treatment for a select group of its members under the Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), securing unlimited free permits for Big Polluters who need only make minimal carbon efficiency improvements.

Independent indeed...

The other members of the Board are the heads of the Australian Energy Market Commission, the Australian Energy Regulator and Australian Energy Market Operator — or as Sabra Lane accurately described them:

“… bodies that oversaw the last ten years of disastrous energy policy in Australia.”

Impressive! Sabra Lane, that is.

The truth is, there is no guarantee power prices will come down from the NEG. What is guaranteed is that there will be less investment in clean energy as retailers are forced to include a certain percentage (who knows what?) of so-called “dispatchable power” (coal, gas or stored power) in their energy mix. So, like Turnbull’s NBN relies on copper, the NEG relies on coal.

Or, in the words of SA Premier Jay Weatherill:

“… a Prime Minister who cannot deliver a Clean Energy Target … has now delivered a coal energy target.”

An exaggeration by Weatherill, since Turnbull hasn’t actually “delivered” anything yet, as the NEG plan still needs to be signed off on by all COAG states and territories (with the exception of WA and NT, which are not a part of the National Energy Market). And with Weatherill the leader of one of three Labor states, along with Queensland and Victoria, that are strongly critical of the NEG, its chances of ever being delivered seem, well… negligible.

And so our nation will most likely continue along its current dark path without any credible energy policy. Prices will continue to skyrocket, blackouts increase in frequency, investment dollars disappear and we will almost certainly fail to meet our Paris emissions targets. All because of one political party’s overweening addiction to coal.

As Naomi Klein famously said:

“It’s hard to tell where the Australian Government ends and the coal industry begins.”

After yesterday’s limp surrender, we know it doesn’t end with Malcolm Turnbull. And nor does high power prices.

This Independent Australia editorial was originally published in the IA weekly newsletter and members only area. If you'd like to receive exclusive subscriber only articles like this one, along with many other extras, for as little as $5 a month, simply subscribe to IA HERE.

You can also follow managing editor Dave Donovan on Twitter @davrosz.

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