Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg has his work cut out to convince climate sceptics among all his Coalition colleagues of the merits of a proposed clean energy target (CET) as several publicly raise concerns about its impact on coal.
Mr Frydenberg has been at pains to point out the recommendations from Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s review of electricity market security would neither punish existing coal-fired power stations nor rule out new ones.
That assurance has fallen on deaf ears among coal backers within the government, who wasted no time speaking out within 24 hours of the report’s release on Friday.
Western Sydney Liberal MP Craig Kelly says he would not support a benchmark emission target of 0.6 tonnes per megawatt hour, the level used by Dr Finkel to model economic effects.
Former cabinet member and arch-conservative Tasmania’s Senator Eric Abetz also joined the chorus of critics, slamming what he labelled Dr Finkel’s “creative assumptions”.
Ousted prime minister Tony Abbott has also been outspoken, saying before the report’s release a key test was whether it allowed coal to continue.
Some observers are seeing the issue as a rallying cry that could further widen a bitter division within the party – a catalyst that could bring to the boil the long-simmering resentment of Abbott loyalists for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, perhaps even prompting moves to replace him as leader.
But Mr Frydenberg noted Dr Finkel didn’t recommend any prohibitions on coal power, instead suggesting incentives and subsidies to encourage sources with lower emissions.
Critics of renewable energy have long asserted it is those subsidies to wind and solar that have distorted the electricity market and pushed Australian prices to some of the world’s highest.
“The market will determine it and that’s the key point,” Mr Frydenberg told ABC TV on Sunday.
“We don’t want to punish the existing coal generators because we want them to remain an important part of the energy mix going forward.”
The review recommended a new clean energy target (CET), which would require a proportion of electricity each year come from generation below a set emissions level.
It would save households an average $90 a year on power bills compared with doing nothing, acording to Dr Finkel’s estimates.
Modelling in the report suggests coal would still make up more than half electricity generation by 2030, although it would drop to about a quarter of the energy mix by 2050.
Mr Frydenberg said it was “totally conceivable” there could be new coal-fired power stations or existing ones retrofitted with the newest technology if energy companies saw fit.
Extending an olive branch to colleagues who reject the scientific consensus on climate change, Mr Frydenberg said all were valued members of the party and he remained confident a policy could be found that everyone would support.
“I’m talking to all my colleagues and taking them through the challenges we face, taking them through the Finkel recommendations and then, as a government, with the prime minister’s strong input, we will land a position,” he said.
“Business-as-usual is not an option for us because we are dealing with a less stable, higher-priced system.”
Labor’s Ed Husic said the country needed to be looking at the best ways to generate energy more efficiently and with lower emissions.
“A clean energy target that would envisage more not less coal-fired power generation seems to be a bit of an oxymoron,” he told Sky News.
But the Opposition will give the Finkel recommendations and the government’s response “full and fair consideration”, he said.
– with AAP