The Muppets Take Energy Policy

The howling Coalition backbenchers, and a few in cabinet, who have somehow managed to confuse their personal belief systems with the realities of the weather are doing a fantastic job of demolishing their parties’ chances at the next federal election.

This and most of what follows is an opinion, not (yet) a fact. What really comes of today's announcement of the Turnbull Government dumping the Clean Energy Target and introduction of a coal and gas championing National Energy Guarantee remains to be seen.

At a time when investors are increasingly wary of new coal projects and gas is fast pricing itself out of the Australian market, when big business and industry are begging for a vaguely sensible national energy policy, when grid-connected energy bills are soaring, ideological buffoonery has hijacked the present of our national energy plan. I say present, because when the have-you-seen-my-bill rage-fuelled electorate unleashes its collective frustration at the next election, the core of this policy surely will be dumped, right alongside the CET.

‘Australia’s future is in coal and gas’ the climate change denying coalition within the Coalition say, with a token bit of greenery on the side. Oh, how our future selves will laugh, after those of us in swing-voter land have swung away.

But this is all good news for anyone planning to lobby on evidence-based energy and climate policy for the future of our nation. They can save their campaign money, by default these muppets are going to do the job for them.

I want to be won over by well-conceived and future-focused policy. I want to hear the best options, whatever they are and from whatever side of the political pendulum, for turning around the basket case our energy market has become. And I want to hear those options from people who know what they are talking about. Like this from one of Australia’s leading energy efficiency experts, Alan Pears, in The Conversation recently.

I want to believe we are a nation moving forward, not backward. I want energy certainty and affordability for our businesses and industries and I want to believe that all of us in the quiet majority will still be able to afford to keep the lights on.

What seems to have been ignored in this debate is the key word of ‘markets’ and the energy market is the households, businesses and industry of Australia. There is plenty of hope that the market will correct the current astronomical prices, but do we out here who are paying the eye-watering bills believe it?

The Finkel option of a Clean Energy Target that was heaved into that big bin of high-priced advice to be ignored that presumably sits under Parliament House suggested households could save A$90 on their annual energy bills (yep, a whole $90). The Prime Minister says those savings will climb to $115 under the proposed energy guarantee. We will believe it when we see it. Either way, the damage has been done.

Any new investment in coal-fired generation will come up sharply against another market force, that of the banking sector and what they are willing to finance.

Grandstanders can wave those lumps of coal until the cows come home, and yes Barnaby, I’m looking at you; the banks simply aren’t going to pay for it. Why? Because it would be a poor investment decision in the face of overwhelming evidence of where the market is shifting, and banks like to get their money back.

The gas and electricity industry has done immeasurable damage to its reputation in Australia by gold plating the pole and line system and forcing the cost on to consumer markets, and by exporting our LNG at prices lower than the domestic supply.

This government wants to throw them a lifeline, but at what cost?

Let’s put it in terms even Tony Abbott could understand. There are times when it’s a great thing to be out there in your red budgies, a small nation swimming against the tide, and there are other times when those huge waves that have nothing at all to do with coastal surges and rising sea levels push you back to where you should have been in the first place.

I hope that I've got it wrong; that this new National Energy Guarantee (with it's phonetic acronyn of en-e-gee) will be underpinned by the latest and most rigorously tested evidence, that it will unite both sides of politics with the energy producers in Australia and deliver a Paris Agreement emissions reducing utopia of genuinely affordable energy with rock solid certainty of supply.

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