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Australian energy policy: getting the balance 'right'

By Geoff Carmody - posted Thursday, 15 June 2017


What outcomes do we want our energy policy to deliver?

Australia needs reliable and affordable energy, consistent with our emissions reduction commitments.

When balancing reliability, affordability and lower emissions, trade-offs are inevitable.

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Australia's current policy balance between these goals is badly wrong.

Two realities drive the 'right' balance. First, reliability and affordability are goals our governments can and do affect. Second, acting alone, Australia cannot reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

For a fair while, governments have dropped the ball on reliability and affordability. Now we don't have either. This is a big deal. We have huge, diversified, energy resources. They drive our living standards. Without them, we cop lower incomes and fewer jobs. Australia must get reliability and affordability sorted ASAP.

Lowering local emissions has overwhelmed policy debate in the last decade or more. Yet lowering global emissions is beyond our control, no matter what we do. We are 1.4% of global emissions and falling.

We've focussed on a global goal we can't control and ignored goals we can.

Worse, ignore reliability and affordability, and our own puny efforts to turn back any global warming tide themselves become politically unsustainable. Nervous politicians plus preservation of votes equal quick and dirty fixes to unreliable energy supply. The political equation for blackouts is simple:

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Lights out = emissions up.

So moving from older energy supply, to newer, must deliver reliability and affordability on the way.

A comprehensive review of energy policy, carefully balancing all three goals, is needed. Now's our chance.

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About the Author

Geoff Carmody is Director, Geoff Carmody & Associates, a former co-founder of Access Economics, and before that was a senior officer in the Commonwealth Treasury. He favours a national consumption-based climate policy, preferably using a carbon tax to put a price on carbon. He has prepared papers entitled Effective climate change policy: the seven Cs. Paper #1: Some design principles for evaluating greenhouse gas abatement policies. Paper #2: Implementing design principles for effective climate change policy. Paper #3: ETS or carbon tax?

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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