Having just finished wading through the Australian Government Department of Industry and Commerce’s Energy White Paper (The White Paper) I can tell you it seems to have been written in a way to dissuade readers. If one persists, it does however read as a manifesto for the fossil fuel industry. At the end of 74 pages there are two key themes that the paper doggedly adheres to:
- Government should not interfere in ANY way to influence the energy market in Australia; it should all be left to market forces. Contradictorily, it also advocates considerable support for fossil fuel industries.
- Australia must use or sell as much of our fossil fuels as possible to remain internationally competitive.
The White Paper is Australia’s road-map for our energy for the next decade or two, and within that strategic space I agree with the CEO of The Climate Institute, John Connor when he said “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”. Perhaps the Federal government has finally realised fossil fuels have a finite future so are engaging in a fire-sale? As Saudi Oil Minister, Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani said; “the stone age did not end because we ran out of stones”. The fossil fuel age will not end because we run out of coal or oil, it will end because if we are to avert climate catastrophe most of the known coal reserves must be left in the ground. The sooner we “switch to modern, smart and clean energy” the sooner Australia can focus on building an export market with a long and prosperous future.
Whatever the authors’ motives The White Paper consolidates the work done by this Federal government to undermine Australia’s Renewable energy industry; an industry with great potential for Australia and our export incomes. Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten said: “Since Tony Abbott was elected, investment in Australia’s renewable energy industry has fallen 88 per cent, while around the world investment rose by 16 per cent.” But of course, this was not stated in The White Paper, his quote is from the Age newspaper.
The White Paper says little about Australia’s responsibility to reduce our overall carbon emissions, as if that is not pertinent to a paper on energy usage. Even worse, it claims “Prematurely forcing new technologies (meaning Renewables) in the energy market through policy interventions runs the risk of early adoption coming at a higher cost and lower efficiency than if that product found its way into the market on a competitive basis.” Commentary on carbon reduction is limited to the Government’s commitment to supporting coal through inefficient carbon capture and storage (CCS) aspirations, saying; “The capacity to store CO2 will be critical to Australia’s continued reliance on coal-fired power stations and our capacity to reduce emissions from our LNG sector”…“the focus of Australian Government investment will be on ensuring Australia has the capacity to permanently store CO2 in deep geological formations.” CCS is impossible where coal-based power stations are located; because substrata that yields coal is not suitable for CCS. This commitment to CCS is clearly not leaving the future of the energy sector to the market, but picking favourites, and those favourites are coal and gas. Better to invest in renewable technologies with a future.
The resistance to supporting the renewable industry is even more bizarre when the paper admits: “The largest proportion of our power is generated by coal-fired power stations, with around three quarters of these plants operating beyond their original design life. Some will require either costly refurbishment investment or decommissioning over the coming two decades (CPCU 2014).” Surely when 75% of current infrastructure is at the end of its life is an ideal time to replace it with new technology? However the intention is to remove any funding the Federal government invests in new renewable technology, stating: “The Clean Energy Finance Corporation invests in projects that use a commercial approach to overcoming market barriers and mobilising investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency and low emissions technologies. The Australian Government has announced that it will abolish these agencies” (ARENA and The Clean Energy Finance Corporation).
The White Paper advocates additional support for fossil fuel businesses through:
- “Implementing the Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda, including establishing and supporting the Oil, Gas and Energy Resources, and the Mining Equipment, Technology and Services Growth Centres.”
- Creating a “National Resources Development Strategy” to bolster investor confidence in mining industries.
- Employment support with a $476 million VET Industry Skill Fund to train people for the mining, oil and gas industries (not renewable industries). Amending 457 visa applications to be “more flexible”.
- Reforming workplace relations to ensure negotiations “do not unduly delay or jeopardise (the resource sector) projects”.
- Initiating a review of environmental regulations, to “streamline the approvals process.”
- The introduction of an “Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development”.
- “Implementing science and research priorities, including energy and resources, that will drive investment in areas that are of immediate and critical importance to Australia.”
- “…taking a true “Team Australia” approach working hand in hand with state and territory governments to attract investment through identifying the resources and energy sector as one of five National Investment Priorities”.
And the list goes on about the kinds of support the Federal Government intends to give the energy resources industries. This is not an energy level playing field. This all about cutting any support for the renewable energy sector, whilst at the same time focusing big money and Government effort on fossil fuel exploration. It is disingenuous, no; hypocritical to say the Energy White Paper is about freeing the energy market up to allow market forces to prevail, quite the opposite. As I said at the beginning, this is a fossil fuel manifesto!