Household savings figures in Turnbull’s energy policy look rubbery


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The big questions about Malcolm Turnbull’s energy policy will be, for consumers, what it would mean for their bills and, for business, how confident it can be that the approach would hold if Bill Shorten were elected.

The government needs to convince people they’ll get some price relief, but even as Turnbull unveiled the policy the rubbery nature of the household savings became apparent.

Crucially, the policy aims to give investors the certainty they have demanded. But the risk is this could be undermined if Labor, which is well ahead in the polls, indicated an ALP government would go off in yet another direction.

And most immediately, there is also the issue of states’ attitudes, because their co-operation is needed for the policy’s implementation. Turnbull talked to premiers after the announcement, and the plan goes to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) next month.

Turnbull describes the policy as “a game-changer” that would deliver “affordability, reliability and responsibility [on emissions reduction]”.

Unsurprisingly – given it would end the subsidy for renewables, rejecting Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s recommendation for a clean energy target – the policy sailed through the Coalition partyroom with overwhelming support.

Finkel later chose to go along with it rather than be offended by the discarding of his proposal. The important thing, he said, was that “they’re effectively adopting an orderly transition” for the energy sector, which was what he had urged.

In the partyroom Tony Abbott was very much a minority voice when he criticised the plan; his desire for a discussion of the politics was effectively put down by a prime minister who had his predecessor’s measure on the day.

The policy – recommended by the Energy Security Board, which includes representatives of the bodies operating and regulating the national energy market – is based on a new “national energy guarantee”, with two components.

Energy retailers across the National Electricity Market, which covers the eastern states, would have to “deliver reliable and lower emissions generation each year”.

A “reliability guarantee” would be set to deliver the level of dispatchable energy – from coal, gas, pumped hydro, batteries – needed in each state. An “emissions guarantee” would also be set, to contribute to Australia’s Paris commitments.

According to the Energy Security Board’s analysis, “it is expected that following the guarantee could lead to a reduction in residential bills in the order of A$100-115 per annum over the 2020-2030 period”. The savings would phase up during the period.

When probed, that estimate came to look pretty rough and ready. More modelling has to be done. In Question Time, Turnbull could give no additional information about the numbers, saying he only had what was in the board’s letter to the government.

So people shouldn’t be hanging out for the financial relief this policy would bring. Although to be fair, Turnbull points to the fact it is part of a suite of measures the government is undertaking.

Business welcomed the policy, but made it clear it wanted more detail and – crucially – that it is looking for bipartisanship.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the policy’s detail “and its ability to win bipartisan and COAG support will be critical”. Andy Vesey, chief executive of AGL, tweeted that “with bipartisan support” the policy would provide investment certainty.

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The Australian Industry Group said it was “a plausible new direction for energy policy” but “only bipartisanship on energy policy will create the conditions for long-term investment in energy generation and by big energy users”.

It’s not entirely clear whether the government would prefer a settlement or a stoush with the opposition on energy.

Turnbull told parliament it had arranged for the opposition to have a briefing from the Energy Security Board, and urged Labor to “get on board” with the policy.

But Labor homed in on his not giving a “guarantee” on price, as well as the smallness of the projected savings. Climate spokesman Mark Butler said it appeared it would be “just a 50 cent [a week] saving for households in three years’ time, perhaps rising to as much as $2.00 per week in a decade”.

But while the opposition has gone on the attack, it is also hedging its bets, playing for time.

“We’ve got to have … some meat on the bones,” Butler said. “Because all the prime minister really announced today was a bunch of bones.”

“We need detail to be able to sit down with stakeholders, with the energy industry, with big businesses that use lots of energy, with stakeholder groups that represent households, and obviously state and territory governments as well, and start to talk to them about the way forward in light of the announcement the government made today,” he said.

The initial reaction from state Labor is narky. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said it seemed Finkel had been replaced by “professor Tony Abbott as the chief scientist”, while South Australia’s Jay Weatherill claimed Turnbull “has now delivered a coal energy target.”

These are early days in this argument. Federal Labor will have to decide how big an issue it wants to make energy and climate at the election. Apart from talking to stakeholders and waiting for more detail, it wants to see whether the plan flies at COAG.

If it does, the federal opposition could say that rather than tear up the scheme in government, it would tweak it and build on it. That way, Labor would avoid criticism it was undermining investment confidence.

The ConversationBut if there is an impasse with the states and the plan is poorly received by the public, the “climate wars” could become hotter.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/sk78v-786f19?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

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The government’s energy policy hinges on some tricky wordplay about coal’s role


John Quiggin, The University of Queensland

The most important thing to understand about the federal government’s new National Energy Guarantee is that it is designed not to produce a sustainable and reliable electricity supply system for the future, but to meet purely political objectives for the current term of parliament.

Those political objectives are: to provide a point of policy difference with the Labor Party; to meet the demands of the government’s backbench to provide support for coal-fired electricity; and to be seen to be acting to hold power prices down.

Meeting these objectives solves Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s immediate political problems. But it comes at the cost of producing a policy that can only produce further confusion and delay.


Read more: Federal government unveils ‘National Energy Guarantee’ – experts react


The government’s central problem is that, as well as being polluting, coal-fired power is not well suited to the problem of increasingly high peaks in power demand, combined with slow growth in total demand.

Coal-fired power plants are expensive to start up and shut down, and are therefore best suited to meeting “baseload demand” – that is, the base level of electricity demand that never goes away. Until recently, this characteristic of coal was pushed by the government as the main reason we needed to maintain coal-fired power.

The opposite of baseload power is “dispatchable” power, which can be turned on and off as needed.

Classic sources of dispatchable power include hydroelectricity and gas, while recent technological advances mean that large-scale battery storage is now also a feasible option.

Coal-fired plants can be adapted to be “load-following” which gives them some flexibility in their output. But this requires expensive investment and reduces the plants’ operating life. The process is particularly ill-suited to the so-called High Efficiency, Low Emissions (HELE) plants being pushed as a solution to the other half of the policy problem, reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Given that there is only limited capacity to expand hydro (Turnbull’s Snowy 2.0 is years away, if it ever happens) and that successive governments have made a mess of gas policy, any serious expansion of dispatchable power would realistically need to focus on batteries. The South Australian government reached this conclusion some time ago, making a decision to invest in its own battery storage. That move was roundly condemned by the federal government, which at the time was still focused on baseload.

The government’s emphasis on baseload was always mistaken, but the confusion and noise surrounding energy policy meant that few people understood this. That changed in September when the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) reported that Australia’s National Electricity Market faced a capacity shortfall of up to 1,000 megawatts for the coming summer, and that older baseload power stations will struggle to cope.

Clearly this situation called for more flexibility in dispatchable sources in the short term, and widespread investment in dispatchables for the long term.

A question of definition

Obviously, this presented Turnbull with a dilemma. The policy advice clearly favoured dispatchables, but vocal members of his backbench wanted a policy to subsidise coal.

The answer was breathtakingly simple. The new policy redefines coal as dispatchable, despite it having the opposite technological characteristics.

This is not an entirely new approach. Before the government decided to abandon the proposed Clean Energy Target it put a lot of effort into redefining coal as “clean”. The approach here involved creating confusion between carbon capture and storage (CCS) and HELE power stations. CCS involves capturing carbon dioxide from power station smokestacks and pumping it underground, thereby avoiding emissions. This would be a great solution to the problems of carbon pollution if it worked, but unfortunately it’s hopelessly uneconomic

By contrast, HELE is just a fancy name for the marginal improvements made to coal-fired technology over the 30-50 years since most of our existing coal-fired plants were designed and built. The “low” emissions are far higher than those for gas-fired power, let alone renewables or, for that matter, nuclear energy (another uneconomic option).

The core of the government’s plan is a requirement that all electricity retailers should provide a certain proportion of dispatchable electricity – a term that has now been arbitrarily defined to include coal. By creating a demand for this supposedly dispatchable power, the policy discourages the retirement of the very coal units that AEMO has identified as ill-suited to our needs.

Elusive certainty?

Given that the policy is unlikely to survive beyond the next election, it’s unlikely that it will prompt anyone to build a new gas-fired power station, let alone a coal-fired plant. So the only real effect will be to discourage investment in renewables and create yet further policy uncertainty.

This undermines the basis for the (unreleased) modelling supposedly showing that household electricity costs will fall. These savings are supposed to arise from the investment certainty resulting from bipartisan agreement. But the political imperative for the government is to put forward a policy Labor can’t support, to provide leverage in an election campaign. If the government had wanted policy certainty it could have accepted Labor’s offer to support the Clean Energy Target.

The ConversationIt remains to be seen whether this scheme will achieve the government’s political objectives. It is already evident, however, that it does not represent a long-term solution to our problems in energy and climate policy.

John Quiggin, Professor, School of Economics, The University of Queensland

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

How the National Energy Guarantee could work better than a clean energy target


David Blowers, Grattan Institute

The Turnbull government has announced its new energy policy, called the National Energy Guarantee (NEG). The NEG contains two new obligations on electricity retailers. The first is to ensure we have enough electricity generation available to meet our needs (the Reliability Guarantee). The second is to drive down the sector’s greenhouse emissions (the Emissions Guarantee).

No, it’s not Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s Clean Energy Target. But it is a policy that will drive down emissions in the electricity sector after 2020 and can be adapted by the Labor Party to hit the emissions-reduction target of any future Labor government.


Read more: Subsidies for renewables will go under Malcolm Turnbull’s power plan


In other words, the NEG can offer the previously elusive prospect of a bipartisan and credible emissions reduction policy, of the kind that industry has been crying out for.

What is the Emissions Guarantee?

Under the Emissions Guarantee, retailers will be required to buy or generate electricity with a set level of emissions intensity – the tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted per megawatt hour – each year. The allowable level of emissions intensity will be reduced each year, to stay in line with Australia’s Paris climate target.

To meet this obligation, retailers will probably build or purchase their own generation assets, or sign contracts with other generators. Over time, retailers’ portfolios will become cleaner and cleaner, as new low-emission generators are built and more high-emission generators are shut off.

There are several benefits to this scheme. Australia’s emissions targets for the electricity sector should be met. And the scheme can theoretically be ramped up to meet more challenging targets over time, simply by lowering the emissions intensity limit for retailers.

It should also be reasonably cost-effective. Rather than the government imposing quotas or limits for various types of technology, retailers will be given a free hand to pick the cheapest mix of generation that will meet their emissions obligations. It is genuinely technology-neutral.

This makes the Emissions Guarantee superior to Finkel’s Clean Energy Target. The CET would have acted as a mechanism to push clean energy technologies into the system, but it would not have cared which generators left the market as a consequence.

Under a CET, a black coal generator could leave the market instead of a higher-emitting brown coal generator, if the black coal generator produced more expensive electricity. Then even more low-emission generation would have to be built to meet the target.

The Emissions Guarantee overcomes this problem. The important outcome is that the mix of generation meets a level of emissions intensity. This can be achieved by pushing in low-emissions generation and/or by pushing out high-emissions generation. The outcome will be similar to that of an emissions intensity scheme: lower levels of renewables than under other schemes, but a cheaper way to reduce emissions.

There are downsides to this approach. First, like an emissions intensity scheme and the CET, the Emissions Guarantee is not linked directly to the absolute emissions that need to be abated if Australia is to meet its Paris targets. But this problem can be overcome if the mechanism allows some flexibility around the setting of the emissions intensity target – which it appears to do.

Nor is the scheme integrated fully with the wholesale energy market – the National Electricity Market (NEM). As a result, it could produce some perverse outcomes in the NEM, where some regions have too much of particular types of generation.

What is the Reliability Guarantee?

This is where the other part of the policy comes in. Under the Reliability Guarantee, retailers will be required to contract (or own) a certain amount of “dispatchable” generation – electricity that can be switched on at will – to meet demand in each state.

The Reliability Guarantee appears to be a type of “capacity mechanism”, aimed at ensuring that generation can always meet demand. It appears to be consistent with the “retailer capacity obligation” proposed in a Grattan Institute report last month.


Read more: Baffled by baseload? Dumbfounded by dispatchables? Here’s a glossary of the energy debate


Many of the precise policy details are yet to be worked out – not least the precise definition of “dispatchable generation” under this scheme. But the hope is that it will ensure all NEM states have sufficient electricity supply. Avoiding any repeat of last summer’s blackouts and shortages has become a political imperative.

While reliability might be guaranteed under the new policy, it should be remembered that capacity mechanisms tend to be both complex and costly. The devil will of course be in the detail. But the fact the government has chosen to impose the obligation on retailers suggests the market will be given the opportunity to find the least-cost solutions to our reliability needs.

A way forward?

So the retailers will now be responsible both for delivering our emissions reductions and for making sure that the lights stay on. These obligations will strengthen the incentives for retailers to own their own generation assets, rather than being hostage to wholesale prices. The issues raised by ACCC boss Rod Sims relating to the power of the big gentailers now have increased importance.

The National Energy Guarantee is not the best policy solution. A carbon price imposed on electricity generators may have avoided the need for either of the two “guarantees” contained in the NEG. But the political reality is that a carbon price of any sort is not going to be adopted in Australia any time soon.

The ConversationSo this is not a perfect solution, but it is better than what we have now. And importantly, it is supported by all members of the newly formed Energy Security Board. Opportunity knocks for this nation’s politicians.

David Blowers, Energy Fellow, Grattan Institute

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

Subsidies for renewables will go under Malcolm Turnbull’s power plan


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government is set to unveil its long-awaited energy plan that would scrap subsidies for renewables and impose obligations on power companies to source a certain proportion of “reliable” supply.

While the plan emphasises reliability and reducing power prices, the government is also confident it would allow Australia to meet its commitments under the Paris climate change agreement.

Cabinet considered the scheme on Monday night. It goes to the Coalition partyroom on Tuesday morning, before being announced later in the day.

It follows months of uncertainty and internal pressures within the Coalition over the future of energy policy, as the government battles to head off the risk of blackouts as well as to quell mounting voter anger at soaring bills.

In a report released on Monday the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said residential electricity prices have increased by 63% on top of inflation in the last decade, with network costs being the major contributor.

As the government has flagged for a week, its plan rejects the clean energy target recommended in June by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, to which Malcolm Turnbull initially appeared favourably disposed.

Ironically, the alternative scheme has been worked up by the Energy Security Board, a new body that was established on a recommendation from the Finkel inquiry.

Under the scheme, power companies would have twin obligations imposed on them by the government.

  • They would be required to get a certain amount of power from “reliable” sources – whether coal, gas, hydro, or batteries.

  • They would also have to source another amount that was consistent with lowering emissions in line with Australia’s international commitments. Australia has signed up to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 26–28% below 2005 levels by 2030.

It would be up to the companies as to how they met the obligations put on them.

The plan assumes that prices would be driven down because the scheme would give the certainty that investors have been looking for, so supply would increase.

The Coalition party meeting will be given an estimate of the expected savings on power bills, which would be more than the A$90 annual household saving estimated under the Finkel target.

The scheme is expected to appeal to the right in the Coalition because there are no subsidies for renewables, making for a level playing field – coal is treated the same as wind and solar.

The present renewable energy target would continue until its expiry in 2020, after which there would be no new certificates issued under it.

The Energy Security Board has on it an independent chair, Kerry Schott, and deputy chair, Clare Savage, as well as the heads of the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), the Australian Energy Regulator, and the Australian Energy Market Commission.

The ABC reported that Drew Clarke, a former chief-of-staff to Turnbull and former head of the communications department, will become AEMO’s chair. This would be an appointment by the Council of Australian Governments.

In Question Time, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten accused Turnbull of “caving in” to Tony Abbott by rejecting a clean energy target.

Turnbull said the government “will deliver a careful energy plan based on engineering and economics, designed to deliver the triple bottom line of affordability, reliability and meeting our international commitments. And that is in stark contrast to the ideology and the idiocy that have been inflicted on us for years by the Australian Labor Party.”

Abbott, speaking on 2GB, said that “we’ve got a big policy problem” that needed to be addressed. This included “continued heavy subsidies for unreliable power”, lack of new coal-fired baseload power, bans on gas and a lack of incentives for farmers to go along with gas development, and bans on nuclear power.

Abbott said the problem over the last few years was that “we haven’t been running a system for affordability and reliability, we’ve been running a system to reduce emissions. It’s given us some of the most expensive power in the world and this is literally insane, given that we are the country with the largest readily available reserves of coal, gas and uranium.”

The ConversationMonday’s Newspoll found that 63% thought taxpayer-funded subsidies for investment in renewables should be continued; only 23% thought they should be removed. But 58% said they would not be prepared to pay any more for electricity in order to implement a clean energy target to foster more renewable energy sources.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Power bills can fall – but the main attention must be on affordability: ACCC


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Rod Sims, holds out the prospect of an absolute fall in electricity bills over coming years – but says this will require focusing centrally on affordability, not just reliability and sustainability.

In its Retail Electricity Pricing Inquiry preliminary report into the electricity market, released on Monday, the ACCC says residential electricity prices have increased by 63% on top of inflation in the last decade, with network costs being the major contributor.

Household bills rose by nearly 44%, from an average of A$,1177 in 2007-08 to $1,691 in 2016-17.

Household bills have risen less than electricity prices because usage has fallen, mainly due to self-supply by solar panels.

The report comes as cabinet is set to consider on Monday the government’s energy policy, which it hopes to take to the Coalition partyroom on Tuesday. Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg last week signalled the government had moved away from the Finkel inquiry’s recommendation for a clean energy target.

Facing the prospect of a shortage of power in the period ahead, the government is particularly focused on the need to increase dispatchable power.

The clean energy target, even in modified form, is also unpopular in Coalition ranks.

The ACCC report indicates that supporting renewable energy has been a relatively minor driver of the spiking of prices.

Sims – who flagged the ACCC findings when he addressed the National Press Club recently – says affordability should be the “dominant” objective in policy but in recent years it has come after several other objectives – including reliability, dividends and sustainability.

He said different approaches were needed to pursue each of the objectives of affordability, reliability and sustainability. As reliability and sustainability were pursued, it was important to do it in “the least-cost way and to let people know the costs”.

“What’s clear from our report is that price increases over the past ten years are putting Australian businesses and consumers under unacceptable pressure,” he said.

The ACCC found that on average across the national electricity market (which does not include Western Australia or the Northern Territory), a 2015-16 residential bill was $1,524, excluding GST. This was made up of network costs (48%), wholesale costs (22%), environmental costs (7%), retail and other costs (16%) and retail margins (8%).

Sims said the primacy of network costs in rising bills was not widely recognised.

Since July 2016, retail price rises were likely to be driven by higher wholesale prices.

“We estimate that higher wholesale costs during 2016-17 contributed to a $167 increase in bills. The wholesale (generation) market is highly concentrated and this is likely to be contributing to higher wholesale electricity prices.”

The ACCC estimates that in 2016-17 South Australia had the highest residential electricity prices, followed by Queensland, then Victoria and New South Wales. SA prices were roughly double those in Europe.

Sims said measures the government had already taken – notably telling companies to make customers aware of better deals, and its plan to scrap the process allowing companies to appeal against decisions of the Australian Energy Regulator – would help lower prices.

The ACCC is now looking in detail at further measures, ahead of making a final report. In the meantime, its preliminary report puts forward some suggestions. These include the states reviewing concessions policy to ensure consumers know their entitlements and concessions are well targeted to the needy, and a tougher stand against market breaches.

It says increased generation capacity (particularly from non-vertically integrated generators), preventing further consolidation of existing generation assets, and lowering gas prices could help reduce the pressure on bills.

The ACCC will also look at how to mitigate the effect of past investment decisions – but it notes that many are “locked in” and will continue to burden users for many years.

It will as well consider what more can be done to make it easier for consumers to switch suppliers.

The report says that “an increasing number of consumers are reporting difficulties meeting their electricity costs, and some consumers have been forced to minimise their spending on other essential services, including food and health services, to afford electricity bills.

“Businesses across all sectors have faced even higher increases over the past 12 months, following renegotiation of long term contracts. Many of these businesses cannot pass the increased costs on and are considering reducing staff or relocating overseas. Some businesses have even been forced to close.”

The ConversationThe ACCC’s final report will be released in June next year.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

As the Clean Energy Target fizzles, what might replace it?



File 20171013 31418 1iqrkby.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Indigo Skies Photography/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Alan Pears, RMIT University

Disclaimer: This article does not reflect my views about effective energy policy, which would ideally be comprehensive and deliver deep emissions reductions. Rather, this column explores what options might be attractive to our present prime minister and energy minister.


The energy melodrama continues to escalate. According to some interpretations, renewables are now so cheap that they don’t need any subsidy. Meanwhile, business concerns about energy policy uncertainty are reaching a crescendo, while voters see a government bumbling in the opposite direction to what much of the public actually wants.

Nevertheless, the existing Renewable Energy Target (RET) needs replacement, not least because it only runs until 2020 anyway. It is also too simple: it does not incentivise “dispatchable” renewable energy – that is, technologies that include energy storage to stabilise a grid that depends on intermittent renewables. To be fair, we need to remember that the current RET model was first proposed in 1997 and introduced by the Howard government, in a very different situation.


Read more: Coal and the Coalition: the policy knot that still won’t untie


So we do need a new energy target in some form. A well-designed target will decline in cost as competition and innovation do their work; it would be an effective policy tool to support emerging activities. We might think of it as a government endorsement that helps to focus both industry and consumers. Some degree of certainty is needed to underpin investment. And, as I explain later, a well-designed approach improves system reliability and stability.

So how does the government encourage reliable, affordable, cleanish electricity supply while also meeting its other apparent criteria of supporting coal and not boosting renewable energy “too much”? On top of that, how does it deal with high gas prices, which increase the cost of gas-fired generation? And support Snowy 2.0? It’s a wicked problem.


Read more:
Baffled by baseload? Dumbfounded by dispatchables? Here’s a glossary of the energy debate


A dispatchable reliable energy target – a DRET – could be an attractive solution to a government in trouble. Superficially, it sounds like just a tweak of the popular RET. It mentions the right buzzwords. It could include incentives for “baseload coal”. It might even pass through the Senate.


Read more: Grattan on Friday: Turnbull close to finalising energy package but can he sell it?


The present Renewable Energy Target

It’s worth noting that the present RET certificate price was trending down nicely towards zero – until the Abbott government tried to kill it off and investment collapsed. Renewable certificate prices (actually Large Generation Certificates, or LGCs) had fallen below A$30 due to competition. The Abbott government’s own review found that renewable energy was pushing down wholesale electricity prices by about as much as the cost of the certificates. The scheme was functioning effectively as a cheap net incentive for large-scale renewable energy.

Meanwhile, the price for Small Technology Certificates (STCs) that subsidise rooftop solar on voters’ homes has remained high, but has been politically untouchable.

The Large Generation Certificate price was trending down until investment stalled due to the uncertainty created by Abbott Government efforts to abolish the RET. Note: LGC=Large Generation Certificate STC=Small Technology Certificate.
Clean Energy Regulator

DRET design options

Under a DRET, variable renewable energy projects would need to incorporate or partner with facilities that could store energy, stabilise voltage and frequency, and help restart after a blackout. As the present energy market provides weak signals for these, and they would cost extra, the rationale for a subsidy exists, even for coal-supporting MPs who want to be re-elected. So the subsidy would shift from the energy source, to the delivery of reliable supply.

It would make sense to include incentives for demand-side action, too, as reducing demand reduces pressure on the supply system and energy prices.

Another important question is how incentives can be delivered in ways that support efficient market operation. The present RET certificate approach sends a price signal, but leaves qualifying generators exposed to risk from varying wholesale electricity and certificate prices.

Alternatives such as reverse auctions linked to long-term contracts focus on competitive bidding as the “market” dimension of the subsidies. The successful bidders would also face market forces as they bid their output into the competitive wholesale market.

Reverse auctions potentially provide long term stability for service providers and consumers. These could be traditional Power Purchase Agreements, or the ACT government’s “contract for difference” approach. These approaches could be applied to energy efficiency measures and demand-side options.


Read more: The National Electricity Market has served its purpose – it’s time to move on


Extra features, such as local job creation and grid stabilisation, can be included in long-term contracts, as we have seen in state government programs in the ACT and, recently, Victoria.

An advantage of the reverse auction approach for a government is that it can be tweaked in response to changes in technologies, cost trends, demand and market rules, as we have seen with the Emission Reduction Fund.

Where to for coal?

As I look at the future of coal, I can’t help but be reminded of the famous comment by a Saudi sheikh in the 1970s: the stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stones.

In a DRET model, new coal plant proposals could bid like other generators. But they would confront their own challenges to provide comprehensive services and meet potential extra requirements built into auctions, such as employment in a wide range of sectors and across broad geographical areas.

Coal plant is not “fast response”, so it may also need storage to meet response requirements. Also, each coal generation unit is large, so a failure at a critical time might not meet dispatchability and reliability criteria without support from other generators, demand response, storage or other solutions.

The climate elephant

A DRET would not actively address climate policy: this exclusion seems to be necessary for any energy policy to survive the Coalition party room. However, it is still likely to help to cut emissions. Future auctions could incorporate a carbon intensity or other climate dimension. And it would provide some certainty for investors in energy solutions.

The ConversationA DRET would operate in a complex environment, where state and local governments, businesses, communities and individuals, and even the Commonwealth government, will continue to act to achieve their own objectives, including climate response.

Alan Pears, Senior Industry Fellow, RMIT University

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

Baffled by baseload? Dumbfounded by dispatchables? Here’s a glossary of the energy debate



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High-voltage power lines stand near an electricity substation on the outskirts of Sydney.
Reuters

Ariel Liebman, Monash University and Ross Gawler, Monash University

Australia’s energy market is a prominent fixture in our daily news cycle. Amid the endless ideology and politics swirling around the sector, technical terms such as “baseload power” and “dispatchable generation” are thrown around so often that there is a danger the meaning of these terms can get lost in the public debate.

The term “energy crisis” is bandied around quite loosely with some confusion around whether the crisis is about prices or security of supply. The politics of this are infernal and largely avoidable if all sides of politics had paid consistent and principled attention to energy policy over the 20 years since the formation of the National Energy Market.

It’s worth setting the record straight on the meaning of some of these terms and how they relate to climate policies, new technologies and the progression of market reform and regulation in Australia.

This glossary, which is by no means exhaustive, is a first step.

Baseload power

Baseload power refers to generation resources that generally run continuously throughout the year and operate at stable output levels. The continuous operation of baseload resources makes economic sense because they have low running costs relative to other sources of power. The value of baseload plants is mostly economic, and not related to their ability to follow the constantly varying system demand.

Baseload plants include coal-fired and gas-fired combined-cycle power plants. However, Australia’s international commitment to reduce carbon emissions is curtailing the economic viability of traditional baseload sources.

Coal-fired power stations like this one at Loy Yang are being gradually retired.

Wholesale market (the “National Energy Market”)

The term National Energy Market is confusing because it refers to a competitive market for wholesale energy mostly on the east cost of Australia. It doesn’t include Western Australia or the Northern Territory and also includes the gas system. The National Energy Market allows all kinds of utility-scale power resources to connect to transmission system to meet large-scale power requirements.

However, industry talk about the “energy market” or even the “NEM” can also refer to the entire supply chain that includes the networks for voltage transmission, and medium- and low-voltage distribution as well as the retailing to the end consumer. The prices consumers see include all these aspects of the supply chain. This can add significantly to confusion.

The wholesale market is referred to as a “market” because there is competition between generators. Each generator places daily price “bids” to sell power and adjusts quantities in up to 10 price bands every five minutes. In this way, the sale of power is matched to the available energy and performance of the generating unit.

The market works to efficiently dispatch all variable and “dispatchable” resources to minimise the cost of electricity. The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) co-ordinates the National Energy Market.

Wholesale price

The wholesale “spot” price at which power is traded in the NEM is based on the highest accepted generator offers to balance supply and demand in each region. This is intended to encourage efficient behaviour by generators, as well as to co-ordinate efficient directing of resources.

Storage

Storage refers to energy captured for later use, typically in a battery. Electricity has been expensive to store in the past, but the cost of storage is expected to continue to fall with the improvement of battery technologies. For example, lithium-ion batteries were developed for mobile communications and laptops but now are being upscaled for electric vehicles and utility-scale energy storage.

Lithium-ion batteries were developed for mobile phones, but are now being used as part of electric vehicles such as Tesla Inc’s Model S and Model X.
Reuters

Due to traditionally low storage levels in the system, electricity has to be mostly generated within seconds of when it is needed, otherwise the stability of the system can be put at risk. Storage technology will become more valuable as the market penetration of wind and solar power increases. With declining costs of various battery technologies, this will become easier to deliver.

Demand (and peak demand)

Demand refers to the amount of electricity required to meet consumption levels at any given moment. Power refers to the rate of energy consumption in megawatts (millions of Watts, or MW), whereas energy in megawatt-hours (MWh) refers to the total consumption over a period, such as a day, month or year.

Peak demand is the highest rate of energy consumption required in a particular season, such as heating in winter or cooling in summer. It is a vital measure because it determines how much generation equipment is needed to cover for unexpected outages and maintain reliable supply.

Dispatchable generation

Dispatchable generation refers to a type of generation based on fossil fuels or hydro power that can be controlled to balance electricity supply and demand. More flexible power plants based on natural gas firing (such as open-cycle gas turbines or hydro power plants) can operate at partial loading and respond to short-term changes in supply and demand.

Flexibility is the key here. Storage can provide flexibility as well, either from batteries or pumped-hydro storage. The need for such resources is becoming more urgent due to retirement of the older baseload plants and the growing amount of less emissions-intensive energy sources.

Frequency control

Synchronous generators in power stations spin at around 50 cycles per second. This speed is referred to as “frequency” (denoted Hertz, symbol Hz). Controlling this constant frequency is essential for maintaining reliability.

If there is loss of generation somewhere, extra power is drawn through the electricity network from other plants. This causes these generators’ rotors to slow down and the system frequency to fall. A key parameter is the so-called “maximum rate of change of frequency”. The faster the frequency changes, the less time is available to take corrective action.

Inertia

Inertia refers to the ability of a system to maintain a steady frequency after a significant imbalance between generation and load. The higher the inertia, the slower the rate of change of frequency after a disturbance.

One critical concern is that inertia must almost always be sufficient to enable stable power. Given many coal-fired power plants are being retired, the amount of inertia is falling markedly.

Eventually power systems will need to provide inertia explicitly by adding synchronous rotors (operating independently of power generation) or by providing other power system controls that are able to respond very quickly to deviations in power system frequency. These can be based on a combination
of storage and advanced power electronics already available today.

Regional markets within the National Energy Market

The National Energy Market operates as five interconnected regional markets in the eastern states: Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. This reflects the way the power systems were originally set up under state authorities.

The National Energy Market cannot operate as a single market with a single price due to two important factors. It is not cost-effective to completely remove power transmission constraints between the state regions, and electrical losses in power transmission mean that each location requires a different price to efficiently reflect the impact of these losses.

When there are large power flows between regions, the prices can vary by up to 30% between regions due to losses. High prices occur when there is a power shortage relative to demand. Negative prices occur when load is less than the minimum stable generation committed. During periods of high prices (usually due to high demand or, less frequently, due to lower capacity) greater price differences can occur when the interconnectors reach their limits, causing very high-priced generation in the importing region to be dispatched.

The National Energy Market operates across Australia’s east coast.

Interconnectors

In view of the long distances in the National Energy Market (4000km from end to end, the longest synchronous power system in the world), there are significant constraints in transmission capacity between the state-based regions. These constraints are given special treatment called “interconnectors”.

The marginal power losses across these interconnectors are calculated every five minutes to support efficient dispatch of resources and to ensure that the spot prices in each region are efficient and consistent with prevailing supply and demand. These interconnectors have limited capacity (due to overheating and other factors), however, and AEMO carefully manages their use to ensure balancing and inertia can be provided across regions.

Ancillary services and spinning reserve

Ancillary services refer to a variety of methods the market requires for consistent frequency and voltage control. They maintain the quality of supply and support the stability of the power system against disturbances. This frequency control is required during normal operation to maintain the continuous balance of energy supply and demand. For this purpose some generation capacity is held in reserve in order to vary its output up and down to adjust the total system generation level.

This difference between the maximum power output and the lower operating level is called “spinning reserve”. Spinning reserve is also required for output reduction to cover sudden disconnection of load or sudden increase in solar or wind power.

Transmission upgrades

The upgrading of the transmission system, including the interconnectors, is a complex regulatory process. Transmission has a significant value across the whole electricity supply chain from producers to consumers.

This value is easy to measure given electricity market conditions at any given moment. But it’s difficult to predict when these interconnectors need to be built or replaced because some transmission assets can operate for up to 80 years. Significant co-ordination is required in planning new investments as the location and deployment timing of new renewable generation capacity is uncertain and variable.

30-minute price settlement windows (and five-minute ones)

Generators are paid the spot price for all their output, and consumers (via retailers) are charged at the spot price for their consumption by AEMO. This “trading” price is calculated every 30 minutes for the purpose of transacting the cash flows (as an average of the five-minute dispatch price). This process is called “settlement”.

The ConversationThere is a plan in place to move to five-minute settlement over the next three years. This would help reward more flexible resources (including batteries) as they respond more efficiently to the impact of sudden changes in output.

Ariel Liebman, Deputy Director, Monash Energy Materials and Systems Instutute, and Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Information Technology, Monash University and Ross Gawler, Senior Research Fellow, Monash University

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

Want energy storage? Here are 22,000 sites for pumped hydro across Australia


Andrew Blakers, Australian National University; Bin Lu, Australian National University, and Matthew Stocks, Australian National University

The race is on for storage solutions that can help provide secure, reliable electricity supply as more renewables enter Australia’s electricity grid.

With the support of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), we have identified 22,000 potential pumped hydro energy storage (PHES) sites across all states and territories of Australia. PHES can readily be developed to balance the grid with any amount of solar and wind power, all the way up to 100%, as ageing coal-fired power stations close.

Solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind are now the leading two generation technologies in terms of new capacity installed worldwide each year, with coal in third spot (see below). PV and wind are likely to accelerate away from other generation technologies because of their lower cost, large economies of scale, low greenhouse emissions, and the vast availability of sunshine and wind.

New generation capacity installed worldwide in 2016.
ANU/ARENA, Author provided

Although PV and wind are variable energy resources, the approaches to support them to achieve a reliable 100% renewable electricity grid are straightforward:

  • Energy storage in the form of pumped hydro energy storage (PHES) and batteries, coupled with demand management; and

  • Strong interconnection of the electricity grid between states using high-voltage power lines spanning long distances (in the case of the National Electricity Market, from North Queensland to South Australia). This allows wind and PV generation to access a wide range of weather, climate and demand patterns, greatly reducing the amount of storage needed.

PHES accounts for 97% of energy storage worldwide because it is the cheapest form of large-scale energy storage, with an operational lifetime of 50 years or more. Most existing PHES systems require dams located in river valleys. However, off-river PHES has vast potential.


Read more: How pushing water uphill can solve our renewable energy issues.


Off-river PHES requires pairs of modestly sized reservoirs at different altitudes, typically with an area of 10 to 100 hectares. The reservoirs are joined by a pipe with a pump and turbine. Water is pumped uphill when electricity generation is plentiful; then, when generation tails off, electricity can be dispatched on demand by releasing the stored water downhill through the turbine. Off-river PHES typically delivers maximum power for between five and 25 hours, depending on the size of the reservoirs.

Most of the potential PHES sites we have identified in Australia are off-river. All 22,000 of them are outside national parks and urban areas.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/fXKQ3/1/

The locations of these sites are shown below. Each site has between 1 gigawatt-hour (GWh) and 300GWh of storage potential. To put this in perspective, our earlier research showed that Australia needs just 450GWh of storage capacity (and 20GW of generation power) spread across a few dozen sites to support a 100% renewable electricity system.

In other words, Australia has so many good sites for PHES that only the best 0.1% of them will be needed. Developers can afford to be choosy with this significant oversupply of sites.

Pumped hydro sites in Australia.
ANU/ARENA, Author provided

Here is a state-by-state breakdown of sites (detailed maps of sites, images and information can be found here):

NSW/ACT: Thousands of sites scattered over the eastern third of the state

Victoria: Thousands of sites scattered over the eastern half of the state

Tasmania: Thousands of sites scattered throughout the state outside national parks

Queensland: Thousands of sites along the Great Dividing Range within 200km of the coast, including hundreds in the vicinity of the many wind and PV farms currently being constructed in the state

South Australia: Moderate number of sites, mostly in the hills east of Port Pirie and Port Augusta

Western Australia: Concentrations of sites in the east Kimberley (around Lake Argyle), the Pilbara and the Southwest; some are near mining sites including Kalgoorlie. Fewer large hills than other states, and so the minimum height difference has been set at 200m rather than 300m.

Northern Territory: Many sites about 300km south-southwest of Darwin; a few sites within 200km of Darwin; many good sites in the vicinity of Alice Springs. Minimum height difference also set at 200m.

The maps below show synthetic Google Earth images for potential upper reservoirs in two site-rich regions (more details on the site search are available here). There are many similarly site-rich regions across Australia. The larger reservoirs shown in each image are of such a scale that only about a dozen of similar size distributed across the populated regions of Australia would be required to stabilise a 100% renewable electricity system.

Araluen Valley near Canberra. At most, one of the sites shown would be developed.
ANU/ARENA, Author provided
Townsville, Queensland. At most, one of the sites shown would be developed.
ANU/ARENA, Author provided

The chart below shows the largest identified off-river PHES site in each state in terms of energy storage potential. Also shown for comparison are the Tesla battery and the solar thermal systems to be installed in South Australia, and the proposed Snowy 2.0 system.

Largest identified off-river PHES sites in each state, together with other storage systems for comparison.
ANU/ARENA, Author provided

The map below shows the location of PHES sites in Queensland together with PV and wind farms currently in an advanced stage of development, as well as the location of the Galilee coal prospect. It is clear that developers of PV and wind farms will be able to find a PHES site close by if needed for grid balancing.

Solar PV (yellow) and wind (green) farms currently in an advanced stage of development in Queensland, together with the Galilee coal prospect (black) and potential PHES sites (blue).
ANU/ARENA, Author provided

Annual water requirements of a PHES-supported 100% renewable electricity grid would be less than one-third that of the current fossil fuel system, because wind and PV do not require cooling water. About 3,600ha of PHES reservoir is required to support a 100% renewable electricity grid for Australia, which is 0.0005% of Australia’s land area, and far smaller than the area of existing water storages.

PHES, batteries and demand management are all likely to have prominent roles as the grid transitions to 50-100% renewable energy. Currently, about 3GW per year of wind and PV are being installed. If this continued until 2030 it would be enough to supply half of Australia’s electricity consumption. If this rate is doubled then Australia will reach 100% renewable electricity in about 2033.

The ConversationFast-track development of a few excellent PHES sites can be completed in 2022 to balance the grid when Liddell and other coal-fired power stations close.

Andrew Blakers, Professor of Engineering, Australian National University; Bin Lu, PhD Candidate, Australian National University, and Matthew Stocks, Research Fellow, ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science, Australian National University

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

The true cost of keeping the Liddell power plant open


Frank Jotzo, Australian National University and Zeba Anjum, Australian National University

For a long time, Australian governments have believed that the private sector should run the electricity sector. And successive governments have used market instruments to incentivise reducing emissions, by supporting renewables, discouraging coal use, or both.

Now things seem inside out: uncertainty about energy policy mechanisms is pervasive, and the federal government is attempting to broker a deal for the ageing Liddell coal plant to stay open past its planned decommissioning date. It’s possible the plan will require government payments – amounting to a carbon subsidy.


Read more: AGL rejects Turnbull call to keep operating Liddell coal-fired power station


Fear of supply shortages and an appetite for coal have combined with an inability to resolve the political side of energy and climate policy.

Power companies see coal as a technology of the past, but the government seems unready to accept that wind and solar technologies (already the cheapest option for new capacity in Australia) are the future of Australia’s power.


Read more: The day Australia was put on blackout alert


The latest suggestion amounts to deferring serious investment in renewables for a while, fixing up some of the old coal plants up so they can run a few more years, and buying time in the hope of keeping power prices down. Chief Scientist Alan Finkel has backed the idea, at least in principle.

The cost of delaying the inevitable

Commissioned in 1972, the Liddell power plant is the oldest of Australia’s large coal-fired stations (after the closure of the Hazelwood station). The New South Wales government sold it to AGL in 2014, at an effective price of zero dollars.

AGL announced some time ago that it will close the plant in 2022 and has considerable financial incentive to do so. This week AGL reiterated this. The latest suggestion is that Delta Electricity might buy and continue to operate Liddell.

What might be the benefits and costs of keeping Liddell running for, say, another decade? We do not know the plant-level technical and economic parameters, but let’s look at the principles and rough magnitudes.

Keeping the plant running longer will require refurbishments, defer the investment costs in renewables, and result in additional emissions, both in carbon dioxide and local air pollutants.

Refurbishment is costly. Finkel put refurbishment costs at A$500-600 million for a 10-year extension. Such refurbishment might achieve an increase in efficiency – as GE, a maker of power station equipment, recently argued – but perhaps not by much for a very old plant like Liddell.


Read more: Coal and the Coalition: the policy knot that still won’t untie


And refurbishment might not work so well, as the experience with the Muja plant in Western Australia shows: A$300 million was spent on refurbishment that ultimately failed. Spending big money on outdated equipment is not a particularly attractive option for energy companies, as AGL’s CEO recently pointed out.

Liddell’s power output during 2015-16 was around 8 terawatt hours – about 10% of present NSW power supply (it was more in 2016-17, and less in previous years). It might well be lower as the plant ages.

Ironically, the reduction in the Renewable Energy Target, from 41 to 33 terawatt hours per year, almost exactly matches Liddell’s present power output. With the original RET target, new renewables would have covered Liddell’s output by 2020.

Liddell emitted around 7.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year in 2015-2016. With the assumed reduction in output and some improvement in CO₂ emissions intensity, the carbon dioxide output might be in the order of 5-6 million tonnes per year, or 50-60 million tonnes over ten years.

If the government were to pay for the refurbishment, as has been suggested, this would equate to subsidising CO₂ emissions at a rate of perhaps $10 per tonne, compared to the alternative of replacing Liddell with renewable power.


Read more: FactCheck Q&A: is coal still cheaper than renewables as an energy source?


At the same time, the government is paying for projects to reduce emissions, at average prices of around $12 per tonne of carbon dioxide, under the Emissions Reduction Fund. The contradiction is self-evident. Furthermore, keeping more coal plants operational deters commercial investment in any kind of new plants.

Of course this needs to be seen in the context of supply security, any subsidies that might be paid in future to renewable energy generators, and the possibility that a Clean Energy Target will determine overall emissions from electricity production irrespective of whether Liddell operates or not. It’s complicated. But the fundamental point is clear: paying for an old coal plant to operate for longer means spending money to lock things in, and delay the needed transition to clean power.

A possible compromise might be to mothball the Liddell plant, to use if supply shortages loom, for example, on hot summer days. But such a “reserve” model could mean very high costs per unit of electricity produced.

It is not clear that it would be cheaper than a combination of energy storage and flexible demand-side responses. And it may be unreliable, especially as the plant ages further. During the NSW heatwave last summer Liddell was not able to run full tilt because of technical problems.

A market model to pay for reserve capacity would surely do better than government direction.

Australia’s energy companies have been calling for a mechanism to support new clean investment, such as the Clean Energy Target. And many would no doubt be content to simply see a broad-based, long-term carbon price, which remains the best economic option. If the policy framework was stable, private companies would go ahead with required investment in new capacity.


Read more: Finkel’s Clean Energy Target plan ‘better than nothing’: economists poll


The ConversationMeanwhile, federal and state governments are intervening ad-hoc in the market – making a deal to keep an old plant open here, building and owning new equipment there. It is the worst of all worlds: a market-based system but with extensive and unpredictable intervention by governments that tend to undermine investor confidence.

Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate Economics and Policy, Australian National University and Zeba Anjum, PhD student, Australian National University

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

Grattan on Friday: Turnbull’s rush for an energy ‘announceable’ sows confusion


File 20170907 9549 1w60zja
Malcolm Turnbull has tried to focus on energy policy while the opposition has been preoccupied with the eligibility of Barnaby Joyce.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Barnaby Joyce looks like he’s doing it tough. Day after day, he sits behind Malcolm Turnbull in Question Time, facing Labor’s unrelenting attack on his right to be on the frontbench.

There’s the occasional laugh, to keep up appearances, but mostly he has the face of a man who’s whipping himself.

What’s most personally painful for Joyce, who as leader has been very focused on maintaining the Nationals’ sense of loyalty to the team, is that he has let the team down.

A check would have revealed he needed to address his dual New Zealand citizenship. He regularly warns the Coalition partyroom against distractions and he is embarrassed that he’s caused a big one.

But what’s done – or wasn’t done – is now in the past. Turnbull might be confident the High Court will uphold his position but Joyce is already preparing for a byelection if things go badly.

The government can accuse the opposition of neglecting mainstream issues in its preoccupation with Joyce.

Its tactic, however, does serve to further unsettle him. Also, if the court were to find against him Labor, with its argument that he should have stood aside from the front bench at the start, would have laid the groundwork for some of its byelection campaigning. But if Joyce is vindicated Labor will have misplayed.

The court outcome on Joyce – to be considered among the swathe of MPs’ citizenship cases – is harder to predict than was the result in the challenges to the same-sex marriage postal ballot. On Thursday the court declared that ballot constitutional, as always seemed more likely than not.

There are still hurdles ahead for Turnbull on same-sex marriage – notably, he needs the “Yes” case to win. But at least he’s over a major one. Having the ballot struck down would have brought a crisis for him.

If the court does uphold the eligibility of Joyce and those with similar circumstances, it will surely mean it is effectively rewriting the constitutional provision that makes dual citizens ineligible for parliament. It would be saying that many dual citizens, born in Australia of foreign-born parentage, can be properly elected.

Amid the various distractions and the continuing bad polls, Turnbull’s strategy has become to focus, laser-like, on what is currently the biggest bread-and-butter issue in the community – the state of energy prices and the future of energy policy.

Turnbull faces multiple separate but related pressures: to get people some early relief with their bills; to deal with the circumstances of coming summers; and to craft a long-term clean energy policy that can survive a partyroom where the forces of the right have loud voices and a deep commitment to coal.

This week, against the background of a report from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) highlighting the risks to the reliability of the electricity supply in the next few years, Turnbull was looking in particular to the medium term.

While at times he has encouraged the idea of supporting the building of new clean coal power stations, the AEMO report pointed to keeping some existing generators operating longer as a more practical course.

Thus on Tuesday Turnbull told parliament he and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg were in discussions to extend the life of AGL’s Liddell coal-fired power station, in the Hunter region of New South Wales, for at least five years beyond its scheduled 2022 closure.

But then Andy Vesey, chief executive of AGL, which has made much of its long-term intention to move out of coal, reaffirmed via Twitter the Liddell closure schedule.

Later Turnbull told reporters AGL was willing to sell Liddell to “a responsible party”. In a statement to the ASX the following morning, however, AGL seemed less than keen on a sale, although it was unclear whether this was a substantive or holding position.

The government has since said Vesey made the comment that he would consider selling to a responsible party a month back, when Turnbull and several ministers met electricity retailers.

It has all looked pretty messy. Turnbull should have been more precise in his remarks to parliament, or waited to make them until the position was clearer.

AGL copped a vitriolic spray from Matt Canavan, the former resources minister who will be back in the job if the High Court clears his citizenship issue. Canavan called AGL “the biggest hypocrite walking around Australia at the moment” for making money from producing coal-fired power while advertising its exit from coal – but not until 2050.

It makes a somewhat fractious backdrop to the meeting Turnbull and Frydenberg will have with Vesey on Monday to discuss a possible sale.

After all that’s been said, the stakes seem high for both the government and Vesey. On the other hand, the government believes that in the public mind the power companies are about as unpopular as the banks, so going after them wins rather than loses points.

The government is confident a buyer will be available for Liddell, although it doesn’t want to be the purchaser. Any buyer almost certainly would demand some sort of government financial support.

The AGL affair is another example of the extraordinary amount of intervention in the market and the manhandling of business that the Coalition is willing to resort to as it grapples with the energy conundrum.

Retailers have been summoned twice to be told to ensure customers can get the best deals available. The government not only plans to expand the Snowy but wants to buy out the whole enterprise. Then there is its willingness to use export controls to get more gas available for the local market.

As one government man puts it, “extraordinary problems create extraordinary interventions”. And ironies too, now that ministers have taken to labelling Bill Shorten a socialist leading New “Red” Labor. It would make as much sense – which is not much – for Labor to throw similar rhetoric back at the Coalition.

Whether from all this, and the still-to-be-joined battle over a clean energy target, will emerge a policy framework sufficient to convince voters that the government is getting on top of the challenges remains to be seen.

The ConversationIn trying to grapple with energy Turnbull is playing on the right field, but being able to kick the goals is another matter.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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