Gas-ping for policy
In a climate emergency, more public money for fossil fuels
The Morrison and Berejiklian Coalition governments have delivered a dud of a bilateral energy deal today that, if it is a template for the deals minister Angus Taylor plans to do with other states, confirms this summer’s ongoing climate emergency has taught neither government a thing. Almost laughably, it appears to revolve around finally getting the Narrabri coal-seam gas project up and running. If ever there was a dubious CSG project, it is the one that energy company Santos has been trying to foist on Narrabri for so many years, after buying it in a fit of stupidity from Eastern Star Gas (chaired by former Nationals leader John Anderson) umpteen years ago. Ever since, Santos has been trying to persuade the NSW government to approve it, with a succession of flimsy arguments that ignore two basic facts: it will not lower gas prices soon, if ever, and the locals don’t want it. As a pretext for supporting an unspecified investment in renewables some time down the track, investing massive public subsidies in gas (and possibly coal [$]) right now is so poor it scarcely qualifies as a pea-and-thimble trick.
The time for using gas as a transitional fuel to renewables is gone, as RenewEconomy’s editor Giles Parkinson wrote yesterday. There are better options, including for firming up intermittent renewables. If we want to get back on the Paris path to no more than 1.5 degrees of warming – and we really do – then there is no more time for stuffing around with the incremental cuts involved in moving from coal to gas. Yet the federal funding under the deal is conditional on NSW boosting gas supply by 70 petajoules, and NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said it could come from Narrabri or a gas import terminal. There may have been some pursed lips at Santos today when the prime minister said that boosting supply would drive gas prices down. Santos prefers to say it would exert “downward pressure” on gas prices. That’s because its original strategy on the eastern seaboard, as was admitted by former MD David Knox, was to jack up the value of its reserves by hooking Australia up to the export market.
Renewables plus storage is evidently the future – for power and electrified transport – and there is no time like the present. Complicated subsidised byways via fossil-fuel projects, whether gas at Narrabri or coal-fired power at Collinsville, are only going to delay the inevitable, and cost the taxpayer through subsidies, the cost of dealing with all the climate emergencies that fossil fuels create, and the cost of compensation the owners will demand when we have to shut them down in a decade. The South Australian Liberal government of Steven Marshall has got the idea: go for broke. It’s an opportunity, not a threat, and one that should be grasped right now. Nationally, the spike in investment in renewables during the lead-up to achieving the 2020 renewable energy target (which the Coalition tried to abolish) has collapsed, as shadow climate minister Mark Butler pointed out today, “as a result of Scott Morrison’s inability to deliver a national energy policy”.
Australia’s gas supply problem could be solved with a stroke of a pen. More of the gas we export as the world’s largest LNG producer should simply be reserved for domestic use – as it is already in Western Australia, and as is done in the United States. As former WA premier Colin Barnett told [$] The Australian Financial Review today, the amount we export is four times the amount we use at home. Australia has plenty of gas, our brave politicians just need to work up the courage to ask for some of it back. All today’s deal will achieve is set up more protracted fights with farmers round Narrabri over fracking, and we’ve all seen that movie.
The Greens today were rightly apopleptic, calling the deal “climate criminality”. Australian Energy Daily describes it as a “divide and rule” strategy, with Canberra playing the states against each other. I’d describe it as divide and fool strategy – the fools are us taxpayers, handing our money over to fossil-fuel companies to keep emitting carbon dioxide for longer, even while the country is burning.
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Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
The Morrison and Berejiklian Coalition governments have delivered a dud of a bilateral energy deal today that, if it is a template for the deals minister Angus Taylor plans to do with other states, confirms this summer’s ongoing climate emergency has taught neither government a thing. Almost laughably, it appears to revolve around finally getting the Narrabri coal-seam gas project up and running. If ever there was a dubious CSG project, it is the one that energy company Santos has been trying to foist on Narrabri for so many years, after buying it in a fit of stupidity from Eastern Star Gas (chaired by former Nationals leader John Anderson) umpteen years ago. Ever since, Santos has been trying to persuade the NSW government to approve it, with a succession of flimsy arguments...