Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel has endorsed the Turnbull government’s new energy policy, despite its decision not to embrace his plan.
The government on Tuesday revealed it would pursue a National Energy Guarantee, which asks retailers to meet separate reliability and emissions requirements, rather than Dr Finkel’s Clean Energy Target (CET) recommendation.
However, fronting the media after the announcement, Dr Finkel said he welcomed the new mechanism, which he described as “logical”.
“What we now have, and for the first time, is a strategy,” he said.
“We’ve previously had some tactical responses, we’ve had some policies to try and bring all these together.
“We’re finally taking Australia’s electricity future, backed up by gas and other aspects of the energy system, into a strategic zone. That’s a great thing to see.”
After handing down his report in June, Dr Finkel became the public face of the CET proposal, which briefly appeared to have bipartisan support.
Industry and experts had suggested his blueprint on national energy policy might bring an end to the so-called ‘climate wars’.
Asked on Tuesday if the now-dumped Clean Energy Target had also been a worthy “strategy”, Dr Finkel said: “I think we’ve got a strategy now that’s been adopted. What we had was a strategy that had been recommended.
“There’s always more than one way to skin a cat.”
The Chief Scientist noted that 49 out of 50 recommendations were “rapidly agreed to”, but the CET had been “awkward for various reasons”.
The CET was aimed at providing the market with certainty in order to stimulate investment in order to bring down prices.
Dr Finkel, who was consulted about the new policy “only in the later stages”, said it would “bring back confidence” in the market.
He was “absolutely confident” it would enable Australia to meet its Paris accord climate change commitment and was “optimistic” power prices would also fall.
The government shifted away from the CET amid public criticism of the proposal from Coalition backbenchers including former prime minister Tony Abbott.
The new policy, which still drew some criticism from Mr Abbott, won the support of the overwhelming majority of government MPs at a party room meeting on Tuesday morning.
Under the plan, retailers will have to provide a minimum amount of baseload power from coal, gas or hydro, while also providing a specified level of low emissions energy.
Watch Dr Finkel discuss his submission to the government:
Mr Turnbull said on Tuesday prices would be lower under the National Energy Guarantee compared with the Clean Energy Target.
Describing the policy as a “game-changer”, the government spruiked a projection from the Energy Security Board (ESB) that said households would save an average of $110-$115 a year between 2020-2030.
However, other savings estimates from the ESB were reportedly as low as $25 a year or 50 cents a week.
Labor, which had said it would support a CET, was sceptical that the new mechanism could lower prices and allow Australia to meet its Paris commitments.
Opposition energy spokesman Mark Butler did not completely rule out supporting the proposal, though he wanted to see “genuine modelling”.
“We’ve got to have some detail, some meat on the bones, because all the Prime Minister has really announced today was a bunch of bones,” he said.
Crucially, the policy will require the support of the states and territories through the COAG process.
Two Labor premiers, Victoria’s Daniel Andrews and South Australian leader Jay Weatherill, both attacked the proposal on Tuesday.
“What we’ve seen today is a Prime Minister who is … utterly beholden to the vested interests that have a stranglehold on his party room,” Mr Weatherill said.