Old Mate Barnaby Joyce attempts to hijack CEFC with ‘tedious proposals’ 


Ever a man for involving himself in affairs above his emotional and intellectual pay-grade, Joyce wants the publicly funded emissions reduction corporation to invest in new fossil fuel projects while warning Prime Minister Scott Morrison against committing to mid-century emissions targets. 

The legislation in question would see the government establish the $1 billion Grid Reliability Fund to increase new energy generation, energy storage and transmission infrastructure. However, Joyce seems to think such funds should be available to fossil fuels as well, particularly coal. 

In a speech, Joyce “warned the Parliament was falling victim to the ‘quasi religion’ of not being allowed to mention coal.” Joyce attempted to rationalise his amendment through laissez-faire principals, arguing that it should be the market’s decision as to whether new fossil fuel power stations should be built. 

Although Joyce conceded the transition to clean energy was “logical”, the real irony of his amendment, described as “tedious” and “an unnecessary distraction” by the Clean Energy Council (CEC), is that the market already has decided to stop building new fossil fuel power stations, indeed, not only that, but the market has decided to accelerate the closure of fossil fuel plants with technical life left in them. 

Take the coal-fired Bluewaters Power Plant (Bluewaters) in Western Australia, the state’s newest coal-fired power plant. In November 2020, Bluewaters’ Japanese owners, the Sumitomo Corporation, reported a stunning US$251 million loss on their investment. Meanwhile, Australia’s biggest energy companies are accelerating the retirements of their coal-fired assets and simultaneously accelerating their investment in energy storage, typically on the same sites. Origin Energy announced plans last month for a 700 MW megabattery at the site of its Eraring coal generator in the New South Wales (NSW) Hunter region. Eraring is Australia’s largest coal generator and set to retire in 2032, a date that could very well be brought forward. 

What Joyce is doing is not advocating for the free market at all. He is merely exacerbating the Coalition’s policy vacuum, an inaction which is itself a significant action and serves to deter investment. Moreover, another irony exposed inadvertently in Joyce’s speech was his simultaneous affectation to support coal and coal exports, while declaring that the “biggest issue for our nation” is “not climate change” but “the preeminence of China as a growing superpower”. Somehow, by some wangle of cognitive dissonance, Joyce fails to recognise that the growing power of China is a product of the coal exports. 

The real “quasi religion” is not one, as Joyce seems to think, where coal cannot be mentioned, but rather, one where believers feel the mention of coal is necessary almost everywhere, like a priest corralling every conversation back to Jesus. Religion, as evidenced by Joyce’s zealousness, is what people turn to when they’ve got nothing left.

The CEC has met Joyce’s amendment with a strong demand to keep the CEFC clean as the name suggests, and laments that debate over the Grid Reliability Fund “has been hijacked by tedious proposals that promote the use of fossil fuels.” 

“It’s time to get on with the job and focus on what’s important – targeted government funding to kick-start urgent investment in the future-ready network,” argues CEC Chief Executive, Kane Thornton. 

“A 21st-century economy needs a modern electricity network that supports reliability, security and lower emissions technologies, and delivers low-cost energy to consumers, ” Thornton continued. “A lack of transmission investment is now one of the most critical challenges facing the industry. This underinvestment is stifling new generation investment, constraining existing generation and resulting in increased energy security and reliability risks as well as higher power prices.” 

The CEC urges Parliament to throw out proposed changes to the definition of”low-emission technology,” which would allow the CEFC to support high-emissions generation. 

“There is no such thing as clean goal and gas is not a low-emissions technology,” Thornton said finally. “The best way to manage the declining reliability of the ageing coal fleet and scheduled plant closures is through timely investment in transmission, renewable energy generation and storage.” 

Of course, Federal Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister, Angus Taylor, who has already proven himself a fellow saboteur of the CEFC, believes the proposed amendment deserves consideration. 

Shadow Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen described Joyce’s proposal and recent scrutiny of signs the Coalition was easing towards setting mid-century emissions targets as “humiliating”. 

According to the ABC, Bowen said blamed antics like those perpetrated by Joyce as the reason “this bill has been languishing in the parliament for over six months” and “proves it was never about grid stability, but was about giving the embattled Minister Taylor unprecedented power to direct clean energy funds into fossil fuels.” 

Stagnation on the Grid Reliability Fund is yet another continuation of embarrassing behaviour at the Federal level, perhaps best evidenced by the contrasting efforts of State governments, particularly NSW. That the Coalition is still dragging its political tail on the related issues of climate and energy policy after the decade-long Climate Wars is evidence their own “quasi religion”, much like the “quasi religion” of detached Japanese soldiers fighting on decades after the Japanese surrender in WWII because they didn’t know the war was over.

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