Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Zero emissions challenge to Australia's coal minister

Update: There's a great wrap-up of the event at Independent Media Centre Australia.

Tonight saw the launch of the Zero Carbon Australia 2020 Stationary Energy Plan before a packed house at the University of Melbourne. As the Australian Government sets itself to unveil a pre-election climate policy, the plan presents a realistic path to powering Australia with 100 per cent renewable energy by 2020.

Australia's energy and resources minister, Martin Ferguson, was absent, but in the audience was Labor Senator for Victoria, Jacinta Collins, who should be able to deliver some powerful messages to the minister - if he is prepared to listen.

The plan presented viable costings for delivering solar and wind power using proven technologies at an average additional household cost of just eight dollars a week.

Dispelling popular myth, Grattan Institute CEO John Daley pointed out that the cost of doing nothing will not only continue to grow our carbon emissions, but will lead to energy price rises anyway, as finance becomes more difficult with the increasing risk of investment in carbon-intensive generation - especially coal-fired power stations. Fewer plants with increasing demand would push prices up, so why not cut emissions for a modest weekly increase by switching to renewables?
Daley also pointed out that policy support should be offered to help deliver the plan. This should include a strong price on carbon that sets a high minimum price in terms of a base carbon tax that could be topped up with a variable permit price. Without a floor in the price, Daley said that increasing renewables could lead to an excess in available permits that would then fall in price and let emissions-intensive coal-fired generators back in the game.

He also said that efficiency measures and renewable energy targets would not by themselves deliver even the modest targets so far proposed by the Australian Government.

However, a far more obvious take-home message for Martin Ferguson is that proven solutions are available that can deliver baseload power to secure our energy future without destroying the global climate. Wind power and solar thermal with storage do not require "proving up", as the minister is so fond of suggesting.

Nor is it true, as he also likes to suggest, that so-called carbon capture and storage (CCS) is anywhere near the renewable technologies presented in the plan in terms of the maturity and workability of the technology.

As well as providing some clear answers about renewable technologies, the Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan therefore poses a serious additional challenge to the minister: where is the comparable work that shows the viability of CCS in delivering zero emissions?

If the minister, with all the resources of government, can't put that on the table, we will be justified in thinking that CCS is only a stalling tactic to justify the continued gouging of coal from the ground while doing nothing to curb emissions, or the health and environmental impacts of exploiting fossil fuels.

If you'd like to ask the minister for his response, why not send him an email, or give him a call on (+613) 9416 8690.

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