Energy Minister Angus Taylor (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

The Coalition’s proposed “technology investment roadmap” will retain and expand the role of fossil fuels at the centre of the Australian economy, delivering big wins for major Coalition donors Santos and Origin Energy.

A discussion paper for the roadmap, released this morning by the scandal-plagued Energy Minister Angus Taylor elevates gas to the centre of Australia’s energy strategy, while also endorsing discredited carbon capture and storage technology and nuclear power.

The paper devotes a section to what it calls “the increasing importance of LNG”, where it argues “switching from coal to gas can provide ‘quick wins’ for global emissions reductions and has the potential to reduce electricity sector emissions by 10%”, echoing claims by Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier this year that: “There is no credible energy transition plan for an economy like Australia in particular that does not involve the greater use of gas as an important transition fuel.”

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In fact gas extraction, storage and distribution produces significant climate damage via emissions such as methane that are much more dangerous than CO2.

And Morrison’s claim that gas is central to Australia’s “energy transition plan” (if such a plan exists) has been repeatedly discredited, including by the Australian Energy Market Operator. The role of gas in energy generation has been declining — and fast — in Australia.

Taylor’s paper makes much of South Australia’s use of gas, but South Australia’s Liberal government has said its use of gas will diminish over the next decade as it moves to 100% net renewable energy.

However, gas companies Santos and Origin Energy have given more than $1 million and $486,000 respectively to Coalition branches over the past decade, and have maintained strong links with Coalition governments via exchanges of staff members and executives. Despite a flat start to the trading day for the ASX200, Santos and Origin both opened strongly in the wake of Taylor’s paper. Near noon, Santos was up 3.6% and Origin just 2.2%.

Earlier this week Taylor announced the government was accepting most  recommendations from a review of its failed emissions reduction fund by Grant King, former head of Origin Energy and the Business Council of Australia.

The BCA, of which Origin and a number of global fossil-fuel companies are members, has also strongly pushed for policies to reverse gas’s declining role in Australian energy production. King’s review recommended that carbon capture and storage, which has been pushed by Santos, Origin and other fossil-fuel companies, be funded as an emissions reduction technology despite requiring greater energy production.

Taylor’s discussion paper also embraces carbon capture and storage, not merely in energy generation but as part of the future of Australian manufacturing. CCS, Taylor says falsely, “is a proven technology”, but then contradicts that elsewhere by noting “government will need to make strategic investments in R&D and demonstration activities” for it.

The Australia Institute calculates more than $1.3 billion has been spent trying and failing to prove CCS in Australia in the past 17 years. As Malcolm Turnbull said yesterday, CCS has also proven to be highly expensive, much more so than renewables combined with storage.

Taylor also opens the way for nuclear power — a proven technology subject to prohibitive delays and cost blowouts that is uncommercial in Australia without a carbon price, according to a major report commissioned by the Howard government.

Taylor pushed for an inquiry into nuclear power last year and says: “Small modular reactors … have potential but require R&D and identified deployment pathways.” Small reactors have been pushed by the nuclear industry for decades to address the inherent problems of larger reactors, but have yet to be proven commercially viable.

The paper also does a U-turn on the Coalition’s demonisation of electric vehicles during last year’s election campaign. Taylor led the attacks on electric vehicles, including posting a notoriously faked Top Gear segment.

Now his discussion paper says: “In the transport sector, hybrids, alternative fuels and electric vehicles present opportunities to improve road transport efficiency and reduce emissions.” Indeed Taylor now claims electric vehicles are a “key technology”.

Outside the context of attacking former opposition leader Bill Shorten, the Coalition has been relatively neutral, even occasionally supportive, of electric vehicles. Its re-embrace reflects the government’s need to be doing something about its lack of serious climate action.

But as the central arguments of the paper show, the Coalition’s primary agenda is to protect and reward major fossil-fuel donors.

What do you make of the relationship between the Coalition’s energy plan and its donors? Let us know your thoughts by writing to [email protected]. Please include your full name to be considered for publication in Crikey’s Your Say column.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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