‘National Energy Guarantee’ a national disgrace.

Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership has been fraught with spineless (or a complete lack of) policy and the Government’s announcement of a National Energy Guarantee yesterday was congruent with what we’ve come to expect. In short, their national energy policy removes the Clean Energy Target, has 0 renewable energy policy after 2020, and defers critical decisions to state Government, the Australian Energy Regulator, and the Australian Energy Market Operator. The ‘National Energy Guarantee’ policy is based on a unanimous recommendation by the independent Energy Security Board, chaired by Dr Kerry Schott.

National Energy Guarantee

As per the official document, the National Energy Guarantee will actually comprise of two separate guarantees, determined and enforced by different bodies: 

The reliability guarantee will be set to deliver the right level of dispatchable energy—from ready-to-use sources such as coal, gas, pumped hydro and batteries—needed in each state. It will be set by the AEMC and AEMO. The goal of this is to help stop blackouts like those seen in South Australia last year and reduce prices by using long-term contracts rather than short-term spot prices. 

The emissions guarantee will be set to contribute to Australia’s international commitments. The level of the guarantee will be determined by the Commonwealth and enforced by the AER. This means that renewable subsidies and incentives have been scrapped completely – retailers will be responsible for ensuring their power is efficient enough to help Australia meet its international obligations (our Renewable Energy Targets signed up during the Paris climate change conference). No word yet on what the penalty would be for those not reaching this target but presumably they’d be able to make up for it the next year or face a light slap on the wrist. 

This is a ‘technology- neutral’ position which does not ‘pick winners’ – so it’ll be interesting to see how this pans out. What impact will it have on the myriad Australian solar farms currently in various stages of development? What about future plans? 

Residential Energy Prices

The Government estimates this Guarantee ‘could’ lead to a reduction in residential bills – around $100-115 per year over 2020-2030. They’re hoping to reduce spot price volatility without using subsidies or taxes – which theoretically could help the ballooning cost of electricity in Australia. See the graph below which is labeled ‘% increase’ on the Y axis – which may make it a little more difficult to see that the price has more than doubled every year since 2012. With Australian wages stagnating and underemployment at an all-time high, something needs to be done about these gigantic increases. But is this really the way to go about it? 

National Energy Guarantee - Average Retail Electricity Price Increases 2004-2017
National Energy Guarantee – Average Retail Electricity Price Increases (source:energy.gov.au)

We understand it’s difficult to balance this rapidly increasing price with the subsidisation of new technology which can take time to show results, but this 50c/day saving is hardly the ‘game-changer’ it’s hailed to be – so the myopic choice of ignoring Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s recommended Clean Energy Target in favour of a 50c / day saving Turnbull can’t even guarantee is a perfect metaphor for the endemic, anaemic, short-sighted policy we’ve come to expect from Australian politicians over the past decade or so. How far can we kick the can down the road? I guess we’ll find out. 

It’s becoming increasingly clear that coal-fired generators have no future in Australia. Have renewables reached the point where they don’t need any help from the Government with regards to subsidies or tax breaks? Prima facie this looks like an atrocious plan for renewable energy and Australia’s energy future as a whole.

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