IN opting for an energy plan that avoids any direct mention of a price on carbon, the Labor opposition is trying very hard to take the heat out of the energy debate, while still making progress on an issue that has dogged Australian politics like no other in the past decade.
But for Labor’s new energy policy to succeed, it must do so on two levels. It must succeed politically, but just as importantly, it must succeed at a technological and engineering level. Indeed, it is the sheer technological complexity of a modern, renewables-based electricity grid that is likely to prove as much of a barrier to smooth progress as the political difficulties that have brought us to this point in the debate.
As beneficial as wind and solar are in reducing our carbon footprint and in providing cheap, fuel-free electricity, the grid into which they feed was never built to cope with their type of decentralised input.
While the political debate has been about which imperative is most important – reducing household power prices or cutting carbon emissions to counter global warming – the reality is that both of these aims must be addressed if Australia’s energy situation is to improve. But this is proving hard to do.
At first glance, the Labor policy looks to have enough arms, stretching in enough directions, to ensure most choke points along the road to power progress are addressed.
Although the federal government has – predictably enough – reacted negatively to the plan, the energy industry as represented by the Australian Energy Council has endorsed it on a number of fronts.
There is one aspect, however, that neither the energy council nor its member companies wanted to address on Thursday, and that is the “Just Transitions” policy that Labor has announced to protect the jobs of redundant power workers.
Under this aspect of the plan, Labor says that in the event of a coal-fired power station closure, nearby power stations would be compelled to offer voluntary redundancies to their own employees to provide vacancies for any workers from the closing station who might want to remain in the industry.
As laudable as this might be from the workers’ point of view, it does appear to be a new level of government intervention in a privatised system. Call it Labor’s version of the big stick that Prime Minister Scott Morrison threatened to wield against power companies when it came to prices.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.