Government gives Newstart recipients energy payment to smooth passage of legislation


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has extended the energy payment to people on Newstart – after excluding them only days ago.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the decision was made at a meeting on Tuesday night of Scott Morrison, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and himself. He indicated it was about smoothing the passage of the measure through the parliament.

There was widespread criticism of the exclusion of Newstart recipients from the payment, which will be A$75 for a single person and $125 for a couple.




Read more:
Expect a budget that breaks the intergenerational bargain, like the one before it, and before that


The money is due to go out very soon and the government needed the legislation to pass immediately. While Labor had flagged it would support the one-off payment, the legislation could have been amended, because the government is in a minority in the House of Representatives.

The payment was originally set to be confined to those on the age pension, disability support pension, carers payment, parenting payment single recipients, and veterans and their dependants receiving payments.

The extension, which will also cover those on Youth Allowance and other working age payments, bringing the number of recipients to five million, will add some $80 million to the original cost of $284.4 million.

Labor seized on the backdown, seeking to suspend standing orders to move a motion in the House saying the government’s backflip “has already blown an $80 million hole in the budget”, and showed the budget was “unravelling less than 24 hours after it was delivered”.

The motion condemned the government for “only looking after the top end of town and treating vulnerable Australians as an afterthought”. The attempt to suspend standing orders failed.

Frydenberg, speaking to the National Press Club, explained the original exclusion by saying three-quarters of people on Newstart moved off it within 12 months, and 99% of people on it received another payment.




Read more:
Tax giveaways in Frydenberg’s ‘back in the black’ budget


“They get a parenting payment or they get a family tax benefit payment, whereas when you’re on the Disability Support Pension or on the aged pension, you tend to be on it for longer, and that seems to be – that is your principal form of payment”.

Frydenberg said the change “will secure the passage of the piece of legislation through the parliament”.

Appearing on the ABC Q&A on Monday, Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos could not say why Newstart recipients had been excluded from the payment. “The short answer is I don’t know why,” he said. He also said he thought Newstart was too low.




Read more:
Politics with Michelle Grattan: Peter Martin and Tim Colebatch on budget strategy and numbers


The Conversation


Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Advertisements

Why proposals to sell nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia raise red flags



File 20190222 195861 1fyoxnd.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Saudi Arabia has many possible motives for pursuing nuclear power.
TTstudio/Shutterstock.com

Chen Kane, Middlebury

According to a congressional report, a group that includes former senior U.S. government officials is lobbying to sell nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia. As an expert focusing on the Middle East and the spread of nuclear weapons, I believe these efforts raise important legal, economic and strategic concerns.

It is understandable that the Trump administration might want to support the U.S. nuclear industry, which is shrinking at home. However, the congressional report raised concerns that the group seeking to make the sale may have have sought to carry it out without going through the process required under U.S. law. Doing so could give Saudi Arabia U.S. nuclear technology without appropriate guarantees that it would not be used for nuclear weapons in the future.

A competitive global market

Exporting nuclear technology is lucrative, and many U.S. policymakers have long believed that it promotes U.S. foreign policy interests. However, the international market is shrinking, and competition between suppliers is stiff.

Private U.S. nuclear companies have trouble competing against state-supported international suppliers in Russia and China. These companies offer complete construction and operation packages with attractive financing options. Russia, for example, is willing to accept spent fuel from the reactor it supplies, relieving host countries of the need to manage nuclear waste. And China can offer lower construction costs.

Saudi Arabia declared in 2011 that it planned to spend over US$80 billion to construct 16 reactors, and U.S. companies want to provide them. Many U.S. officials see the decadeslong relationships involved in a nuclear sale as an opportunity to influence Riyadh’s nuclear future and preserve U.S. influence in the Saudi kingdom.

Of the 56 new reactors under construction worldwide, 39 are in Asia.
IAEA, CC BY-ND

Why does Saudi Arabia want nuclear power?

With the world’s second-largest known petroleum reserves, abundant untapped supplies of natural gas and high potential for solar energy, why is Saudi Arabia shopping for nuclear power? Some of its motives are benign, but others are worrisome.

First, nuclear energy would allow the Saudis to increase their fossil fuel exports. About one-third of the kingdom’s daily oil production is consumed domestically at subsidized prices; substituting nuclear energy domestically would free up this petroleum for export at market prices.

Saudi Arabia is also the largest producer of desalinated water in the world. Ninety percent of its drinking water is desalinated, a process that burns approximately 15 percent of the 9.8 million barrels of oil it produces daily. Nuclear power could meet some of this demand.

Saudi leaders have also expressed clear interest in establishing parity with Iran’s nuclear program. In a March 2018 interview, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman warned, “Without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

As a member in good standing of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Saudi Arabia has pledged not to develop or acquire nuclear weapons, and is entitled to engage in peaceful nuclear trade. Such commerce could include acquiring technology to enrich uranium or separate plutonium from spent nuclear fuel. These systems can be used both to produce fuel for civilian nuclear reactors and to make key materials for nuclear weapons.

Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S., discusses his government’s concern about Iran’s nuclear program.

US nuclear trade regulations

Under the U.S. Atomic Energy Act, before American companies can compete to export nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia, Washington and Riyadh must conclude a nuclear cooperation agreement, and the U.S. government must submit it to Congress. Unless Congress adopts a joint resolution within 90 days disapproving the agreement, it is approved. The United States currently has 23 nuclear cooperation agreements in force, including Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt (approved in 1981), Turkey (2008) and the United Arab Emirates (2009).

The Atomic Energy Act requires countries seeking to purchase U.S. nuclear technology to make legally binding commitments that they will not use those materials and equipment for nuclear weapons, and to place them under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. It also mandates that the United States must approve any uranium enrichment or plutonium separation activities involving U.S. technologies and materials, in order to prevent countries from diverting them to weapons use.

American nuclear suppliers claim that these strict conditions and time-consuming legal requirements put them at a competitive disadvantage. But those conditions exist to prevent countries from misusing U.S. technology for nuclear weapons. I find it alarming that according to the House report, White House officials may have attempted to bypass or sidestep these conditions – potentially enriching themselves in the process.

According to the congressional report, within days of President Trump’s inauguration, senior U.S. officials were promoting an initiative to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, without either concluding a nuclear cooperation agreement and submitting it to Congress or involving key government agencies, such as the Department of Energy or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. One key advocate for this so-called “Marshall Plan” for nuclear reactors in the Middle East was then-national security adviser Michael Flynn, who reportedly served as an adviser to a subsidiary of IP3, the firm that devised this plan, while he was advising Trump’s presidential campaign.

President Donald Trump, accompanied by national security adviser Michael Flynn and senior adviser Jared Kushner, speaks on the phone with King of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud shortly after taking office, Jan. 29, 2017.
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

The promoters of the plan also reportedly proposed to sidestep U.S. sanctions against Russia by partnering with Russian companies – which impose less stringent restrictions on nuclear exports – to sell reactors to Saudi Arabia.

Flynn resigned soon afterward and now is cooperating with the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. But IP3 access to the White House persists: According to press reports, President Trump met with representatives of U.S. industry, a meeting organized by IP3 to discuss nuclear exports to Saudi Arabia as recently as mid-February 2019.

Rules for a Saudi nuclear deal

Saudi leaders have scaled back their planned purchases and now only expect to build two reactors. If the Trump administration continues to pursue nuclear exports to Riyadh, I believe it should negotiate a nuclear cooperation agreement with the Kingdom as required by U.S. law, and also take extra steps to reduce nuclear proliferation risks.

This should include requiring the Saudis to adopt the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Additional Protocol, a safeguards agreement that give the agency additional tools to verify that all nuclear materials in the kingdom are being used peacefully. The agreement should also require Saudi Arabia to acquire nuclear fuel from foreign suppliers, and export the reactor spent fuel for storage abroad. These conditions would diminish justification for uranium enrichment or opportunities for plutonium reprocessing for weapons.

The United States has played a leadership role in preventing nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, one of the world’s most volatile regions. There is much more at stake here than profit, and legal tools exist to ensure that nuclear exports do not add fuel to the Middle East fire.The Conversation

Chen Kane, Director, Middle East Nonproliferation Program, Middlebury

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Labor’s energy policy is savvy – now is it scare-proof?


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Hours before Bill Shorten delivered his energy policy on Thursday,
Scott Morrison’s office had circulated an attack.

Labor’s plan was for a “carbon tax”; the proposed subsidy for “pink
batteries” would leave households “$8000 out of pocket”.

It was a wild broadside that said much about how the government hopes
a massive scare campaign can be an effective front line weapon in next year’s election.

In 2016 Malcolm Turnbull declined to run a heavily negative campaign,
especially against Shorten personally. When things went pear-shaped he
was strongly criticised for his approach.

Tony Nutt, Liberal federal director at the time, speaking soon after
the election, defended the approach by saying research had confirmed
voters were sick of political aggression and wanted to see a positive
vision and plan. But others in the party were not convinced.

Labor, for its part, did very well with its “Mediscare”.

In more desperate circumstances and with a new leader, the Liberals at
the next election will go all out stoking fears. Morrison is a much
better negative campaigner than Turnbull ever could be: he delivers
lines sharply and is not troubled by inconvenient nuance.

The government, assisted by the cooling of the housing market, has
been stepping up its warnings about the effects on house prices of
ALP’s negative gearing plan. Labor’s proposed crackdown on cash
refunds from dividend imputation is also a ripe target, especially for
agitating retirees (although pensioners are exempt).




Read more:
Pensioners would retain cash refunds on franked dividends under Labor backdown


And now that Shorten has released the energy policy this week, the
Coalition is reaching back into the past for lines and spectres.

Labor’s promise to subsidise home batteries ($2000 for
households with incomes under $180,000) is dubbed “pink batts to pink batteries” to trigger memories of Kevin Rudd’s ill-prepared policy that cost several lives.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor went for the ultimate try-on, when he
posed outside the Tomago Aluminium Smelter in Newcastle and claimed
that “if all of Bill’s batteries were installed, it would keep this
smelter, this business, going for less than 15 minutes”. “Bill’s
batteries” are not, of course, aimed at powering Tomago.

The old line about the ALP putting a “wrecking ball” through the
economy with its policy is getting a fresh workout.




Read more:
Households to get $2000 subsidy for batteries under Shorten energy policy


In crafting its energy policy, Labor is drawing on different, more
recent history – the widespread support from the business community
and other stakeholders for the National Energy Guarantee that the
Coalition abandoned amid its leadership meltdown.

Shorten says a Labor government would try to get bipartisan agreement for a NEG, but not rely on doing so.

In an interventionist approach, Labor proposes an additional $10
billion for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation; its investments
would support large scale generation and storage projects.

Labor’s investment would be in renewables, pushing towards its target
of 50% of Australia’s energy coming from renewables by 2050. In
contrast, the government is planning early next year to have a “short
list” of dispatchable power projects, focusing on coal, gas and hydro,
that it will look at underwriting.

An ALP government would also provide $5 billion for “future-proofing”
the energy network – the transmission and distribution systems.

Labor’s energy policy is in the context of its commitment to a much
more ambitious emissions reduction target than the government has – a
45% economy-wide reduction by 2030 on 2005 levels, compared with the
Coalition’s 26%-28%.

This week’s announcement is about the energy
sector only – the opposition will release soon its climate change
policies to lower emissions in other sectors including
transport. The government, homing in on the 45% target, is conjuring up scares about the nation’s cattle herd and the like.

Labor claims its energy policy would drive power prices down; the
government says it would drive them up. In fact no one can be sure
what will happen in the next few years in a situation where we are
undergoing a major transition to a different energy mix.

Nor is it clear which side will win the coming debilitating round of the
energy-climate wars.

The ALP would be unwise to underestimate the power of the scare. On
the other hand, the government’s own policy looks like a
shredded garment now it has torn up the NEG. Its “big stick’,
including the threat of divestitures, and its promised “short list” of new
dispatchable power projects don’t really cut it.

Labor would be heartened by the early responses its policy is
receiving from business groups, despite their reservations.

In a crack at the government’s threat, the Business Council of
Australia welcomed “Labor’s commitment not to support heavy-handed,
intrusive changes into the energy sector such as forced divestiture”.

Most notable in the reaction of these groups, however, was their
hankering for the NEG.

The Ai Group said a revised NEG was “still achievable” and “would be
greatly preferable” to a government directly underwriting new
generation, versions of which were being proposed by both major
parties. The BCA was pleased Labor was taking the NEG to the election,
reiterating that it was “a credible, workable, market-based solution
to the trilemma of affordability, reliability and reducing our
emissions”. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry was
likewise encouraged by the reference to the NEG.

This indicates that Labor’s decision to include the NEG in its plan is
not just sound on policy grounds but is politically savvy. By keeping
alive the NEG option, Labor has reached out to business.

Surely many Liberals are now starting to think that far from giving
themselves a break against Labor by rejecting the NEG, they may have
put themselves at a serious disadvantage which could be hard to
overcome even with a fierce scare campaign.

This also raises an interesting question for after the election, if
Labor wins. Given the widespread support for a NEG, would a Coalition
opposition persist in rejecting it? Much would depend on the factional
make up of the Liberal party of the day.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Households to get $2000 subsidy for batteries under Shorten energy policy


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

A Labor government would subsidise households to install batteries as part of the ALP’s energy policy to be unveiled by Bill Shorten on Thursday.

If Labor wins next year’s election, it would provide from 2020 a A$2000 rebate for 100,000 households, with annual incomes of less than $180,000, to buy and install battery systems. It would also provide low cost loans.

The ALP puts its emphasis on boosting the use of renewables, in a policy that keeps the National Energy Guarantee – abandoned by the government in the leadership meltdown – as an option on the table. The opposition indicates it is prepared to implement the NEG but its policy is providing for the future if agreement on it cannot be reached.

The ALP estimates the battery subsidy would triple the number of battery systems in Australian households. The policy sets a national target of one million household battery installations by 2025.

“The massive boost will also help manufacturers scale up production and reduce their costs”, Shorten and energy spokesman Mark Butler said in a statement.

They said the ALP policy would “help Australians slash their power bills.”

“The Smart Energy Council estimates that new household solar and batteries would allow most homes to save more than 60 per cent off their power bills”, Shorten and Butler said.

“Australians love renewable energy because they know it saves them money and it’s good for the environment”, they said, pointing out that household solar installation had rising from 7000 homes in 2007 to 1.8 million today.

“Supporting the installation of more household battery systems is the next big step in helping families keep their energy bills lower. When the sun goes down, or when electricity usage is at its peak, consumers can draw on their own stored energy”, Shorten and Butler said.

They said this was good for both consumers and the environment. People gained more control over their power bills, and cheaper and cleaner energy would help Australia achieve 50% of power from renewables by 2030.

A Labor government would also invest $100 million in a Neighbourhood Renewables Program, so renters and people in social housing could benefit from cheaper and cleaner energy.

The cost of the battery subsidy and the neighbourhood scheme is estimated at $215.9 million over the current forward estimates. The costing has been done by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office.

Shorten and Butler said Labor would “establish community power hubs to support the development of renewables projects in local communities – such as solar gardens on apartment rooftops, community wind farms, energy efficiency upgrades for social housing and grants for community groups to pilot new projects.”

They said the new initiatives built on Labor’s commitments to crack down on price gouging by power companies.

Labor’s policy on energy would create thousands of jobs in the renewable industry, they said.

In a speech to be delivered on Thursday, Shorten stresses a Labor government would seek bipartisanship on the NEG.

“We want a meaningful NEG that actually lowers prices, reduces pollution, and boosts renewables” he says in an extract released ahead of delivery.

“If I am elected as prime minister, I will sit down with the new opposition leader and the crossbench to talk about a way we can move forward with this framework,”

“But let’s be clear: we will work with the Coalition – but we will not wait for them. Our willingness to cooperate on a market mechanism doesn’t mean everything else gets put on hold,” Shorten says.

He says a Labor government would be prepared to directly underwrite and invest in cleaner cheaper power.

“We will prioritise renewables and support firming technology power like storage and gas. Labor will invest in new generation, in better transmission and distribution – because we realize this vital nation-building work cannot be left up to the big power companies.” Labor’s plan would deliver affordability, reliability and sustainability, Shorten says.

Labor’s battery subsidy program would be reviewed after two years, in light of projected falls in battery costs and to assess progress towards the one million new battery installations by 2025 target.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

State governments can transform Australia’s energy policy from major fail to reliable success


Tony Wood, Grattan Institute and Guy Dundas, Grattan Institute

This week we’re exploring the state of nine different policy areas across Australia’s states, as detailed in Grattan Institute’s State Orange Book 2018. Read the other articles in the series here.


Energy policy in Australia is a major failure. The federal government has been unable to forge an effective policy to ensure affordable, reliable and low-emissions electricity. It’s time for the states to step up.

Internationally, responsibility for climate change policies rests with national governments. The federal government says it remains committed to Australia’s target under the Paris Agreement, but it has abandoned the emissions-reduction obligation of the National Energy Guarantee (NEG). This leaves Australia’s electricity sector, which is responsible for 34% of our overall emissions, with no credible policy to reduce those emissions.

The states should fill this policy vacuum if it persists. They should work together on a nationwide emissions reduction scheme through state-based legislation, independent of the federal government. A Commonwealth-led national policy would be best, but a state-based policy is far better than none.




Read more:
The too hard basket: a short history of Australia’s aborted climate policies


In October 2018 the COAG Energy Council agreed to continue work on the reliability element of the NEG. The states and territories should maintain this support and implement this policy with the Commonwealth government, and so support the reliability of the National Electricity Market during a challenging transition.

The Grattan Institute’s State Orange Book 2018 shows that there is also much the states can do to reduce energy prices. Consumers are understandably upset – household retail prices have increased by more than half in the past decade, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (see page 7 here).

How your state measures up on energy.
Grattan Institute State Orange Book 2018

The federal government is certainly focused on price – Prime Minister Scott Morrison has referred to Energy Minister Angus Taylor as the “minister for getting electricity prices down” – but many important pricing policies depend on state action.

Retail pricing is the obvious example. Poorly regulated retail electricity markets have not delivered for consumers. Retail margins are higher than would be expected in a truly competitive market. Many consumers find the market so complicated they give up trying to understand it.




Read more:
A high price for policy failure: the ten-year story of spiralling electricity bills


State governments should work alongside the federal government to help consumers navigate the retail “confusopoly”. Governments should require retailers to help consumers compare offers and get the best deal. They should also stop retailers using excessive pay-on-time discounts (which tend to confuse rather than help consumers and can trap lower-income households), and ensure vulnerable customers do not pay high prices.

However, governments should resist the temptation to use price caps as a quick fix. If set too low, price caps could reduce competition and drive longer-term price increases.




Read more:
Capping electricity prices: a quick fix with hidden risks


Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory, which have not yet adopted retail competition, should move in that direction – while learning from the mistakes of others.

Network costs make up the biggest share of the electricity bill for most households (see page 8 here) and some small businesses. This is particularly an issue in New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania, where network values increased substantially under public ownership and those costs were passed on to consumers.

These states should write down the value of their overvalued networks or provide rebates to consumers, so the price of the networks is more closely aligned to the value they provide to consumers. Given the poor performance of publicly owned networks, any network businesses still in government hands should be privatised.

Responsibility for setting network reliability requirements should be transferred to the Australian Energy Regulator to prevent risk-averse state governments from imposing excessive reliability standards, which would drive up network costs again.




Read more:
Amid blackout scare stories, remember that a grid without power cuts is impossible… and expensive


Until recently, it seemed state governments had learned the lessons from the bad old days of excessively generous subsidies for rooftop solar. That was until August 2018, when the Victorian government committed more than A$1 billion to pay half the cost of solar panels for eligible households and provide an interest-free loan for the remainder. Most of these systems would pay for themselves without subsidy. The Victorian government should abandon this waste of taxpayers’ money.




Read more:
Policy overload: why the ACCC says household solar subsidies should be abolished


Finally, Australia’s gas market is adding to the price pain of homes and businesses. As international prices rise, there is no easy way to avoid some painful decisions. But some state policies are making matters worse.

The Victorian and Tasmanian governments’ moratoria on gas exploration and development constrain supply and drive up prices. The moratoria should be lifted. Instead, these states should give case-by-case approval to gas development projects, with safeguards against specific risks.

Australia needs reliable, affordable electricity to underpin our 21st-century economic prosperity. That must be protected while we also decarbonise the energy sector.

Energy market reform was at the forefront of national competition policy in the mid to late 1990s. But reform has since slowed, and the states are partly responsible. The states can rekindle the fire by pursuing a clear, nationally consistent action plan for affordable, reliable and low-emissions electricity.

Australia’s households and businesses – and the environment – are relying on the states to step up.The Conversation

Tony Wood, Program Director, Energy, Grattan Institute and Guy Dundas, Energy Fellow, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Explainer: what is energy security, and how has it changed?


Samantha Hepburn, Deakin University

The idea of energy security has been at the centre of much policy debate recently. The federal government defines energy security as the adequate supply of energy across the electricity, gas and liquid fuel sectors.

But this notion has become outdated, following the spate of electricity blackouts that have occurred in the past few years. The concept of energy security is now increasingly synonymous with resilience: responding to problems quickly and avoiding power outages.




Read more:
Trust Me I’m An Expert: Why February is the real danger month for power blackouts


To be secure, the national energy market must ensure a sufficient supply of electricity at an affordable price and be able to respond to major disruptions. Being “energy secure” in this context now means having a backup plan. Unfortunately, Australia doesn’t.

All about oil

Historically, energy security was purely about oil supply. It evolved as a policy response to the 1973 Arab oil embargo. At the time, the aim was to coordinate among the industrialised countries if supply was disrupted, to avoid future supply problems and to deter exporters from using resources as a strategic weapon. Four key developments emerged from the embargo:

  • the International Energy Agency (IEA), whose members are the industrialised countries;

  • strategic stockpiles of oil, including the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve;

  • continued monitoring and analysis of energy markets and policies; and

  • energy conservation and coordinated emergency sharing of supplies in the event of a disruption.

Australia is not ‘secure’

When Australia joined the IEA in 1979, it was a net exporter of oil and was therefore exempt from the requirement to stockpile liquid fuel. Since this time, however, Australia’s oil production has peaked and is now in decline.

Reasons for this are various but include the reduction in oil refining capacity and significant increases in reliance on imported oil products.

In 2012 Australia became non-complaint with the IEA requirement that all members maintain oil stocks equivalent to at least 90 days of the previous year’s daily net oil imports.

In contrast with many other IEA members, Australia does not have a public (or government-owned) stockpile of oil and has instead relied on commercially held stocks. Currently, Australia has an aggregated fuel reserve of roughly 48 days, including about 22 days’ supply of crude oil, 59 days of LPG, 20 days of petrol, 19 days of aviation fuel, and 21 days of diesel.




Read more:
Australia’s fuel stockpile is perilously low, and it may be too late for a refill


This lack makes Australia very vulnerable in a crisis – 98% of our transportation relies on liquid fuel, as do all of our major defence platforms. An extended disruption means our economy, policy force and army could cease to function.

While the federal government intends to return to compliance by 2026, our ongoing failure to understand and respond to a changing environment has resulted in us becoming, at least in the context of liquid fuel, energy “insecure”.

Are we ready for a new approach?

The modern energy landscape is complex, and energy security is a much broader and more dynamic concept than it was thirty years ago. Public expectations have also evolved. Australia must address a multitude of new challenges that include: climate change, integrating renewable energy, rising peak demand, rising domestic gas prices and a raft of new geopolitical rivalries.

In many parts of the world, mechanical and analogue systems traditionally powered by oil-products, have been replaced with automated and networked systems that run on electricity. As a result, the number of digitally connected devices has grown from 400 million in 2001 to in excess of 25 billion in 2018.

These changes make electricity and natural gas, in addition to oil, key supports of many facets of society. They ensure that the modern world is completely dependent on energy generation. Within this context, resilience is a critically important requirement.

Future energy systems, responsive to this enlarged concept of energy security will therefore look very differently. Large fossil fuel and synchronous generators will be replaced by a clean electricity system composed of small-scale, clean asynchronous generators. It will mix large renewable projects (which will mean extending the physical transmission network) with distributed energy generation (for example, from rooftop solar), and the network will require new systems to ensure coordination and stability.

Renewable energy is an important component of energy security but it works differently to fossil fuels. For example, inertia functions differently. Inertia is the capacity of a power system to respond to unexpected shocks, and its ability to react and stabilise the system’s balance.

Inertia slows down the rate at which frequency changes after a disruption in the grid, such as the failure of a power plant or a transmission line. Inertia has traditionally been provided by fossil fuel generators. However, within a mixed energy framework, renewables will provide synthetic inertia. For example, modern wind turbines can use the kinetic energy stored in the generator and blades to be responsive during grid stress. This can provide an efficient injection of power into the grid where it is required, and the delivery can be flexibly controlled to suit regional grid conditions. New storage technologies will, however, need to be incorporated into networks early so their application in practice can be understood.

These are all responses to a new understanding of energy security. Today, what is essential to the definition of energy security is not just an adequate supply of energy at an appropriate price but an adequate supply of sustainable, resilient energy at an appropriate price, which is responsive to the demands of a decarbonising economy.




Read more:
At its current rate, Australia is on track for 50% renewable electricity in 2025


In light of this, energy security is perhaps even more crucial in our modern world than it was back in 1973. Understanding the evolving meaning of energy security means we are better equipped to comprehend the different ways in which our global interconnection can make us vulnerable.

We need to minimise risk and reduce exposure. We need to imagine what a secure energy framework of the future looks like. We need energy policy that is more responsive to the social, economic and environmental demands of modern Australia.The Conversation

Samantha Hepburn, Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law, Deakin Law School, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

If the NBN and Snowy Hydro 2.0 were value for money, would we know?


Rosalind Dixon, UNSW and Richard Holden, UNSW

When Malcolm Turnbull wrote to his electorate last week outlining his
achievements he listed economic growth, jobs, same-sex marriage and a number of really big construction projects including the Western Sydney airport, Melbourne to Brisbane inland rail, and Snowy Hydro 2.0.

Some people will like those and other big projects, some will not. But, combined, they are going to cost more than $75 billion over the next ten years, so it is worth asking as a separate (threshold) question whether they are likely to be value for money.

For some of them, such as the National Broadband Network or the Gonski education
reforms, its worth asking whether we might get better value if we spent even more. Turnbull’s downsizing of Labor’s original NBN plan made it cheaper, but not necessarily better.

For goods provided for a social purpose, value for money is about more than profit. But social returns often get left out of the equations because they are harder to measure. In a paper to be launched on Monday night as part of the University of NSW Grand Challenge on Inequality, we put forward a mechanism for considering both together.

How it’s done in the private sector

In the private sector any significant investment decision requires a summation of future costs and benefits discounted (cut) by a few per cent each year to accord with the reality that future costs and benefits matter less to us than immediate payoffs or costs.

If the project makes sense when the discount rate is set at or above the firm’s cost of capital (or hurdle rate of return) it is worth agreeing to. If its benefits are so far into the future that they only make sense with a very low discount rate it is said to be not worth proceeding with.




Read more:
The NBN: how a national infrastructure dream fell short


There is no reason why we can’t do the same for public sector projects as well, although assessing the benefits is complicated.

This is where the revolution in empirical economics and social science over the last two decades comes in.

How to measure what’s hard to measure

Consider a proposal to lengthen the school day by two hours. The costs are relatively easy to calculate: some more teacher time, slightly larger utility bills. Maybe some more pencils.

The benefits are more complex. Does a longer school day lead to better educational outcomes? What does that lead to late in life? How can we tell?

Modern social science has a well-refined method for answering these questions – the randomised controlled trial. Take 50 randomly selected schools and lengthen their school day, then compare the outcomes on standardised tests to a group of control schools. This reveals the true, causal impact of a longer school day on test scores.

Test scores are obviously not an end in themselves, but these can then be mapped all the way through into high school and post-secondary outcomes, and then into labour market and later life outcomes. This would naturally involve understanding the impact on earnings, but also outcomes such as crime and physical and mental health.

Answering these questions persuasively is what modern social science, armed with amazing data and great computing power, does extremely well. Just as a pharmaceutical trial gives one group, say, heart medication and another group a placebo, randomised trials can increasingly guide public policy.

Trying it out

Our study includes a demonstration of that sort of analysis on the money that will spent on the National Broadband Network and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

We find that, taking into account social benefits such as telemedicine and the expansion of skills, the money being spent on the NBN will make sense even at a very high discount rate of 15.2%. Labor’s original more expensive fibre-to-the-premises model would have made sense at an even higher discount rate of 21.1%.




Read more:
Explainer: how much does the NDIS cost and where does this money come from?


The benefits of the National Disability Insurance System are harder to measure. But, when account is taken of the value of reducing stress in carers and value of independence to those being cared for, it too becomes worthwhile at reasonable discount rates.

Politics, and political debate, will still need ultimately to control these sorts of investment decisions.

But the debate would be far better if we had a common language for assessing the relevant costs and benefits, and a more principled way of prioritising the competing demands on the public purse.The Conversation

Rosalind Dixon, Professor of Law, UNSW and Richard Holden, Professor of Economics and PLuS Alliance Fellow, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Tony Abbott loses traction in his fight on energy



File 20180626 112611 1a35dbv.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Before the Coalition party room meeting Abbott had again publicly left the way open to cross the floor when legislation comes to parliament, assuming Frydenberg gets a deal at the COAG Energy Council in August.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg had clear Coalition party room support on Tuesday to decisively stare down a fresh sortie by Tony Abbott on the National Energy Guarantee.

The frustration many government MPs feel about the ongoing argument was epitomised by the comment of marginal seat holder Ann Sudmalis who told colleagues, “The more that people stuff around with this issue, the greater the risk I won’t be here”.

Before the meeting Abbott had again publicly left the way open to cross the floor when legislation comes to parliament, assuming Frydenberg gets a deal at the COAG Energy Council in August.

Asked whether, if the premiers sent back a plan he didn’t like, he was committed enough to cross the floor, Abbott said: “The short answer is yes. I think that I have an obligation to keep faith with the position that the government took to the people in 2013.”

“My anxiety about the national energy guarantee is that it’s more about reducing emissions than it is about reducing price,” he said.

But Frydenberg has been actively mobilising pro-NEG forces in the Coalition to counter Abbott – last week, several MPs spoke out publicly – as well as to lock in backbench support before the final push with the energy ministers.

Ahead of the party room, industry representatives briefed a backbench committee meeting attended by more than 30 government MPs. Their message was that the NEG was the only realistic option available to restore investment confidence.

Those present were Jennifer Westacott, CEO, Business Council of Australia;
Innes Willox, CEO, Australian Industry Group; Mark Vasella, CEO, BlueScope; Arnoud Balhuizen, Chief Commercial Officer, BHP; Vanessa Guthrie, chair, Minerals Council of Australia, and Fiona Simson, president, National Farmers Federation.

Government sources said the briefing, which saw many questions, went well for the NEG supporters.

At the later party meeting, 16 backbenchers spoke.

Two, including Abbott, wanted Frydenberg to bring the detail that he planned to take to the August meeting to the party room first. Two urged greater focus on pricing in the NEG. The four dissidents were Abbott, Eric Abetz, Craig Kelly and former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce.

Among the rest, according to the government briefer, there was strong support for both the policy and the process.

Turnbull stressed the importance of getting on with the policy and said that anything from the meeting with the states and territories would come back to the party room.

Frydenberg said the corner had been turned on prices. There was no silver bullet but the NEG was an important part of dealing with prices.

Turnbull declared Frydenberg had the confidence of the party room.

Abetz, speaking on Sky later, said his main concern was to keep prices down. He said the business leaders had told the backbenchers they were still sorting out details of the NEG with the government. Abetz said he didn’t like “signing blank cheques”.

He said that if there was to be a NEG there needed to be a reasonable place for coal, and urged that there should be “a commitment to retrofit some of our existing coal operations or build a new one”.

The ConversationAsked on Tuesday night whether he would cross the floor on legislation Joyce dodged the questioning, saying it was a hypothetical.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Government celebrates on tax, fights on energy


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The odds were always in the government’s favour in the battle to get its A$144 billion income tax package through parliament.

However much some Senate minnows might have objected to the package’s third stage – taking effect way out in 2024 and favouring the wealthy – they didn’t want to be blamed for denying middle and lower income earners early tax cuts.

Pauline Hanson – of course – attracted the limelight but at no point voted against stage three. But the two Centre Alliance (former Nick Xenophon Team) senators epitomised the dilemma – they voted (successfully) to amend the bill to exclude the last stage, but when the government said it was the whole package or nothing, they folded.

In response, they copped a serve from Tim Storer, the South Australian independent who was on the NXT election-ticket in 2016. Storer was the only crossbencher to hold out.

Clearly the government has had a big victory and Labor has taken a risk in saying that if elected, it will (Senate permitting!) repeal the legislation’s second and third stages, while keeping, and building on, the initial tax cuts.

What’s less clear is the size of the risk for Labor.

If the whole package had been defeated, the ALP would have been exposed as tax-cut spoilers. As it is, middle and lower income voters will know that whoever wins the election, they have a guaranteed tax cut, indeed a rather bigger one under Labor.

From Labor’s point of view, committing to repeal the second stage, which moves the threshold at which the 37% rate cuts in from $90,000 to $120,000, is more of a gamble than saying it will kill the third stage, which flattens the scale, with benefits directed to high earners.

But stage two doesn’t start until mid 2022, so a Labor government would not be taking away a bird in the hand but one that was still on the wing. Some voters might apply a discount to a cut so far in the future, even though it has been legislated.

How voters react to Labor’s position will also depend on whether the government can convincingly sell its arguments that the ALP is dissing “aspiration”, engaging in “class warfare” and, via a range of policies, is the “high tax” party.

Also, the debate over tax cuts can’t be seen in isolation. The opposition has money to use and policies still to unveil. Polls show people have other priorities – fiscal consolidation, spending in certain areas. Voters at the election will look at the full menus before them, as well as the leaders and the government’s record.

Nevertheless, the results in the July 28 byelections will be interpreted as a referendum on the competing tax plans, though other factors will feed into those contests as well. Super Saturday will reset the political landscape in one way or another.

It would have been a huge setback if the government hadn’t secured its income tax package, which was the budget’s centrepiece. Politically, there’s less at stake in its intention to put to a Senate vote next week its tax cuts for big business. On current numbers this legislation is headed for defeat.

More crucial than the fate of the company tax cuts is the government’s long struggle to nail down its national energy guarantee (NEG), with the crunch coming when Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg meets his Council of Australian Government counterparts on August 10.

The tax win has further enhanced the reputation of Senate leader and chief negotiator Mathias Cormann. The outcome of the NEG negotiation will be important for Frydenberg’s reputation.

On tax, the battle was only with the parliament. On energy, Frydenberg has to wrangle state and territory ministers (the ACT is particularly challenging), and also fend off an insurgency from Tony Abbott and other sceptics, who ran interference at this week’s Coalition parties meeting. As well, unease seems to be growing among some Nationals, including frontbencher Keith Pitt.

After an earlier general discussion in the party room, the Abbott band had wanted the NEG plan returned there before the August meeting. This isn’t happening – the next broad party room consideration is due when the legislation comes forward. But that doesn’t prevent ad hoc sorties of Tuesday’s kind.

Abbott also launched public attacks covering not just the energy issue itself but the way Malcolm Turnbull runs the party room.

“I think the government is more interested in reducing emissions than it is in cutting prices,” he told 2GB on Wednesday. And it was “a big mistake for the Coalition to sub-contract out its energy policy to the Labor state governments”.

He left open the option of crossing the floor when legislation comes. It will formalise the emissions reduction target. The critics will cavil at any provision that would facilitate a Labor government moving to a more stringent target. Yet this flexibility might be needed to secure a deal for the package.

Abbott said he hoped things wouldn’t get to the floor-crossing stage but “the executive government needs to understand that you can’t take the party room for granted”.

He complained at Turnbull’s “practice of discussing legislation at enormous length every party room meeting before we actually get to backbenchers’ questions and comments”, declaring this “completely unprecedented”.

While by necessity, “the government spends an enormous amount of time negotiating with the crossbench”, it needed to “spend a bit more time talking to the backbench,” he said.

There are obvious retorts to Abbott’s criticisms. For example, on the “sub-contracting” to the states, it is the states that have the main responsibilities in this area.

As to party processes, while he contrasted Turnbull’s style with his own and that of Howard and others, some colleagues were quick to recall his notorious “captain’s calls”, especially the paid parental leave scheme.

By late Thursday, the pro-NEG forces were mobilised, with an assortment of backbench Liberals (Julia Banks, Trent Zimmerman, Trevor Evans, Tim Wilson) and Nationals (Mark Coulton, Andrew Broad) publicly rallying to its defence.

As the Coalition celebrates on tax, the internal heat over the NEG has suddenly been turned up to high, with the disunity going on full display.

The ConversationFrydenberg’s timetable means he doesn’t have to deliver on the NEG until after the byelections. But when it comes to the main election game, a credible (though inevitably disputed) energy policy is as crucial for the government as having its income tax plan in place.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Budget 2018 was old news for energy policy – the next big headlines won’t come until July


David Blowers, Grattan Institute

As with many previous budgets, matters relating to energy and climate change were relegated to little more than a footnote in Treasurer Scott Morrison’s 2018 budget speech. And even the contents of that footnote told us nothing new.

This will bring relief to some, but cause frustration for others.

No money was set aside for a new coal-fired power station, despite the plaintive calls from the backbench in recent weeks. Nor was there any extra help for consumers struggling with sky-high electricity bills. There was no extra funding for the government’s Emissions Reduction Fund, but neither was money cut from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency or the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.




Read more:
A high price for policy failure: the ten-year story of spiralling electricity bills


What Budget 2018 did contain was three “announcables” – or, to put it more accurately, re-announcables.

First, Morrison declared that adoption of the federal government’s National Energy Guarantee would save the average household A$400 a year on its electricity bills. This is a bit of sleight of hand. Yes, modelling for the NEG shows that consumers’ bills will be on average A$400 lower than in 2017. But much of those savings will occur before the NEG comes into force in 2020.

Second, the treasurer declared that:

All energy sources and technologies should support themselves without taxpayer subsidies. The current subsidy scheme will be phased out from 2020.

The subsidies to which Morrison refers are from the Renewable Energy Target (RET). But it is hardly news that the scheme will to be phased out from 2020. This has been known for a decade. In fact, it’s a bit of a stretch to say the subsidies are being “phased out” at all.

After 2020, existing or new renewable energy projects will still be able to generate the same renewable energy certificates for every megawatt hour of electricity they produce, which they can then sell to retailers. The ability to generate certificates – and therefore generate a subsidy – will only end in 2030. The difference between the pre- and post-2020 RET is that there will be no annual increase in the target.

Finally, the treasurer pledged that the federal government will keep up the pressure on the big energy companies to give consumers better electricity and gas deals. This announcement is a signal as to when we can expect to see the next real action from the government on energy. It will come in July, when Morrison receives the report on the Retail Electricity Pricing Inquiry, which is being carried out by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).




Read more:
As the Libs claim South Australia, states are falling into line behind the National Energy Guarantee


The Turnbull government will be keen to act on the ACCC’s recommendations, given the looming federal election and the pressure on all politicians to find a way to cut voters’ energy bills.

The ConversationSo if we want some real headlines on energy, rather than some reheated footnotes, we will be waiting for a couple of months yet.

David Blowers, Energy Fellow, Grattan Institute

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.