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Tony Abbott warns against ‘unconscionable’ renewable target

The Guardian/20 September 2017

Tony Abbott is reportedly threatening to cross the floor to vote against a clean energy target, warning Malcolm Turnbull it would be “unconscionable” for the government to do anything to further encourage investment in renewable energy.

Abbott told Sky News on Tuesday evening the government had to address market failure by providing base-load power and building coal-fired power stations.

“If we can have Snowy 2.0, let’s have Hazelwood 2.0, and get on with it,” he said, drawing a comparison between the prime minister’s support for pumped hydro power and calls within the Coalition for a new coal-fired power station.

Abbott said there was “no chance” that the Coalition party room would support a significant increase in the amount of renewables in the system, warning that Liberal MPs had “extremely serious reservations” about a clean energy target.

Asked whether he would support a CET, he replied: “It would be unconscionable, I underline that word unconscionable, for a government that was originally elected promising to abolish the carbon tax and end Labor’s climate change obsessions to go further down the renewables path.”

Abbott has been ratcheting up pressure on the government not to adopt the clean energy target recommended by the chief scientist, Alan Finkel.

His latest comments are the clearest signal that he would cross the floor over the issue, joining the Nationals MP George Christensen in leading a potential backbench revolt – although the government could still pass the policy if it reached a bipartisan agreement with Labor.

The Liberal MP Craig Kelly, who chairs the backbench committee on environment and energy, said his position on a CET would depend on how it was structured but he did not rule out crossing the floor.

“There is a real concern amongst a considerable number of us that if we adopted a CET in a specific format, it would put pressure on electricity prices,” he said. “That is something we couldn’t accept.”

Kelly believes the renewable energy target should be frozen for a number of years and increased more steeply closer to 2030 to meet Paris agreement commitments.

Energy analysts and power companies have said that high-efficiency low-emissions coal power stations are not commercially viable and may not be until 2030 and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation has called it a “risky investment” the government should steer clear of.

But in an opinion piece on Wednesday Abbott claimed the unviability of coal power stations was not an instance of market failure but “government failure” because coal had to compete against $3bn a year of subsidies that give the renewables sector an “unfair advantage”.

On Tuesday Turnbull shot back at Abbott’s earlier comments that policy encouraging renewables risked “de-industrialising” Australia.

“I won’t comment on that other than to say we have a renewable energy target that was actually put in place by Tony Abbott in 2015, it is legislated,” Turnbull told 4BC Radio. “And that is in place until 2020. What we’re looking at is the future policy after 2020 to 2030.”

Abbott said that “green religion” had been allowed to trump common sense “for the best part of a decade and a half”, including his two years as prime minister when the RET was legislated. “Knowing what we know now we should’ve gone a lot further than we did.”

He appeared to blame his colleagues for his decision not to scrap the RET, saying that when he was party leader he did not have “the luxury of a personal view” but he had “never been a true believer in this stuff”.

Asked if he would scrap the RET immediately, Abbott said the government had to respect investments made under the existing system owing to sovereign risk, but there should be “no further subsidies, no additional renewables”.

In the opinion piece he explained the government should try to legislate a freeze in the RET, even if it was blocked by the Senate, because it would help the Coalition have a “legislative fight” with Labor, not just a rhetorical one.

Abbott said climate change was “significant” but “by no means the greatest moral challenge of our time”, as it was described by Kevin Rudd.

Turnbull wants to keep AGL’s coal power station Liddell open beyond its planned 2022 closure but has shown less enthusiasm for building new coal power stations.

On Tuesday he said a HELE coal-power station could be built in north Queensland if the LNP’s Tim Nicholls were elected “and the state decides to build one”. Such a project would qualify for funds from the northern Australia infrastructure facility, he said.

AGL has warned that keeping Liddell open for an extra decade could cost $900m.

Labor has focused on lowering energy prices through increased intervention in the gas market, calling on the Turnbull government to increase transparency to help manufacturers facing rising prices and tight supply.


News Source: The Guardian

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