Liddell power station's future and what the government reports say

HERE is my contribution to Australia’s energy debate.

People – and I’m mainly addressing politicians here but also sections of the media - must read some of the reports produced by government bodies established to inform us about our energy future, that are readily available and as up-to-date as this week, before saying another word.

Because guess what? Organisations like the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), the Australian Energy Regulator (AER), the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC), the newly-created Energy Security Board (ESB), Energy Consumers Australia (ECA), the Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market (aka the Finkel Review) and the Council of Australian Governments Energy Council (COAGEC), apart from having cornered the market on acronyms and initialisms with the letters A, E and C in them, actually know what they’re talking about.

It appears a lot of politicians – and particularly those behind the Liddell-or-bust campaign – don’t.

Or worse, they have read reports like the AEMC’s Strategic Priorities for the Australian Energy Sector discussion paper, released on Tuesday; the AEMC’s Five Minute Settlement draft determination, released on September 5; the AEMO’s Five Minute Settlement: High Level Design report; the AER’s Wholesale electricity market performance monitoring - Statement of approach report, released on August 31, or AEMO’s Electricity Statement of Opportunities for the National Electricity Market, released on September 5, and despite being well informed about the complex and interconnected issues facing Australia on the energy front, the politicians talk nonsense – hence keeping Muswellbrook’s Liddell power station on life support – which is about the politics of the issue and not the issue itself.

And if it’s not about the issue itself, the public interest is coming a distant second. 

Which brings me to my next point.

Because our so-called energy “debate” for more than a decade has been about the politics of energy, within a climate change framework, fuelled by lobbying and political donations from sectional interests, it’s been about the politics of the issue and not the issue itself.

And the public interest? Please. Take a look at your power bills.

They’re an indictment on successive federal governments and Oppositions. They’re proof of energy and climate change “debate” failure, of government decisions on gas and offloading of infrastructure without the context – that the world is shifting, even if we don’t want it to, to reduce carbon emissions. Of government inaction for years.

And the public interest? Please. Take a look at your power bill. Each and every one of those things is an indictment on successive Federal Governments and Oppositions. They’re proof of energy “debate” and climate change “debate” failure.

Our electricity bills are high, and they’re going to get higher, because for years politicians have fought climate change wars with three-word slogans – “Axe the Tax”, “No Coal Joel”, “No Carbon Tax” – and have failed to respond to a changing world, new technologies, industry and consumer demand, and report after report urging policy direction and political leadership.

Which brings me to my third point.

Every time a politician launches an energy debate by slanging off at the other side for its part in the mess – “Under the Labor Party, electricity prices increased by more than 100 per cent”; “The government has made massive mistakes with energy policy” - can I suggest a silent, environmentally-friendly, carbon-neutral, energy-reducing protest from every Australian? Turn off the TV, phone or radio. Don’t listen or read.

Actually, my fellow Australians, you’re right. We’re already at that point. We have turned off.

And now to my fourth point.

All media should take the pledge – no more reporting on this issue from a “Turnbull Government wins”, “Shorten victory”, “AGL backdown” point of view. In other words, no more making it more of a political winner/loser game than it already is. Our job is to look at credible evidence on one of the most significant issues facing Australia today, and assess how governments and opposition parties respond to that evidence.

How the federal government has approached the Liddell power station issue – by pressuring owner AGL to keep it open until at least 2027, or sell it – should be viewed against reports released in the past few weeks by government agencies tasked with advising governments on our energy future, and not as a face-off between the prime minister and a company executive.

And a resuscitated, hugely expensive, unreliable, emissions-dirty Liddell is a bad fit against all those reports. 

Which brings me to AGL. It’s time to stop being coy. It’s time to provide some detail about what could be done if the federal government announced a clean energy target in line with the Finkel review. It’s time to talk hypotheticals to engage the public with the possibilities of a transition from coal to renewables, backed by a more nimble and 21st century national energy market and the kind of dispatchable energy envisaged by AEMO, Finkel, the AER, the AEMC, the ESB, the COAGEC, the ECA.

Of course the federal government and the prime minister should be doing that sort of talking, but Mr Turnbull’s busy getting quotes for new curtains at old Liddell.

My final point is that our energy future is just that – our energy future, for every Australian. If we simply outsource responsibility to politicians, they’ll make a political football of it. For a general rundown of the issues, I suggest the AEMC’s Strategic priorities for the energy sector discussion paper, released on Tuesday.

Your eyes could glaze over at times, but it shows why reducing the complex issues we face to a single political solution/argument like Liddell would be laughable, if it wasn’t so serious.

This story Some light reading first appeared on Newcastle Herald.