PM should listen to, not lecture, energy industry

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has convened power company managers for the second time in three weeks to urge them to alert customers that they might be paying too much.

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That might cut power bills for some households and businesses; it should indeed be easier for customers to compare offerings and switch to cheaper options. But jawboning businesses is not going to have more than a marginal effect.

The government, spooked by recalcitrants in its ranks, appears unable to confront the central issue. A clean energy target is a substitute for an emissions trading scheme, which puts a price on carbon and was the industry’s preferred mechanism for the transition to renewables, but political machinations within the Coalition and the ALP precluded it.

The lack of such a target is the biggest impediment to our necessary and inevitable transition from a reliance on coal-fired power stations, one of the worst polluters, to the renewable energy sources that will help limit dangerous global warming and tumultuous climate change.

This is not an ideological statement – it is based on scientific consensus about an existential issue. It is not an outlandish claim by environmental extremists. It’s not an opportunistic tactic by a political grouping. It is what the electricity industry has long been telling the federal government is the leading cause of the lack of investment in power generation in the past decade.

And it is what the electricity industry is now actually imploring the government to introduce. Of the 50 recent recommendations on energy by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, the only one not adopted by the government was a clean energy target.

A sizeable and stable such target is a crucial prerequisite if Australia is to have a reliable, affordable supply of power while meeting its international commitment to cutting greenhouse emissions. Again, it is understandable the government is wary of introducing a target and has bought some time by asking the Australian Energy Market Operator to make a recommendation.

But the government will face even greater political peril should it not heed the power industry, investors and Dr Finkel. A number of Australia’s coal-fired power stations have come to the end of their functionality, and others are set for decommissioning.

The cost of renewable power is becoming competitive and would be driven down by investment in capacity. Storage technology is evolving rapidly. It is a propitious time to act by creating a simple incentive that will encourage market forces. That would boost supply and could ultimately cut prices. Summoning executives will not fix anything. A note from the editor – Subscribers can get Age editor Alex Lavelle’s exclusive weekly newsletter delivered to their inbox by signing up here: 苏州美甲学校论坛theage苏州美甲学校苏州美甲学校论坛/editornote

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