In June the Prime Minister released his long-awaited plan for Australia’s energy sector. Instead of an energy policy, all he delivered was an election-eve stunt.
A genuine and effective national energy policy must be fully integrated and have amongst its key goals Australia’s international competitiveness. It must deal with all aspects of the sector – from offshore oil and gas through to household lighting. It must also include some tough initiatives designed to address environmental concerns, reduce our run-away enthusiasm for energy consumption and shore-up Australia’s energy self-sufficiency.
Instead, Mr Howard delivered a head-in-the-sand approach to the environment and failed to deal with our most important energy security issues. No commitment to the Kyoto Protocol, no market-based approach to reducing carbon emissions, and no attempt to address our growing dependency on imported oil.
Lacking was any vision to add value to Australia’s vast reserves of natural gas or to wean our economy of its oil dependence in transport fuels. Insulating Australia from the whims of OPEC should be a priority for any Australian government.
There were no initiatives to address the looming crisis in infrastructure investment in the electricity sector, nor were there any attempts to promote a greater diversity of supply and greater competition in the gas sector.
Worse, in a blatant piece of 1950s-style politics, the Prime Minister wants to paint everyone who doesn’t agree with his views on the environment as a rabid greenie. The fact is that as a nation, we have some big environmental issues to face up to.
Meeting the needs of an increasingly energy-hungry world, while at the same time reducing emissions of greenhouse gases is one of the major challenges facing humanity in the 21st century. Rapidly increasing world energy demand will ensure that coal remains a vital energy source for electric power generation and the metallurgical industries for many decades.
It is predicted that by 2020, coal consumption will be 50 per cent higher than it is today. Ending the use of coal and other fossil fuels to cut greenhouse gas emissions is not a realistic option for the foreseeable future, neither in economic nor social terms.
No level of investment in renewables could offset the power lost if we stopped generating electricity from fossil fuel sources in the near future. In Australia, coal accounts for around 85 per cent of domestic power generation. Most estimates suggest that the contribution of renewables is limited to around 15 per cent until power supply reliability issues can be overcome.
So as a country so rich in coal reserves, we must also focus attention on burning our coal more cleanly and more efficiently. Technologies, including those that extract and capture carbon from the coal burning process, already exist but are yet to prove commercial.
Bringing them to commercial viability will require the joint efforts of industry and government. A number of government-funded bodies including the Cooperative Research Centre for Coal in Sustainable Development are well advanced in their research and development, and the Australian Coal Association recently launched its national action plan known as Coal21.
In addition to carbon capture, Coal21 seeks to increase the efficiency of coal use and promotes new initiatives such as coal gasification and technologies that may allow coal to one day provide large amounts of hydrogen gas for a future “hydrogen economy”.
That is why a future Labor Government will retain the Low Emissions Technology Fund in conjunction with the introduction of a market-based emissions trading system. With sensible strategies, we can both grow our economy and retard global warming.
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