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‘Huge uncertainty’: Scientists blast ‘dirty’ gas plan

Lucy Dean
·3-min read
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 4: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a media conference at Parliament House on September 4, 2020 in Canberra, Australia. State and Territory leaders met today for the National Cabinet Meeting to discuss alternatives for state border closures and caps on international arrivals in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
Climate advocates have blasted the gas plan. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)

Australian climate advocates have blasted the Government’s plan to build a gas powered plant in New South Wales’ Hunter Valley, warning it threatens any chance of the country meeting its climate change mitigation goals.

The Morrison Government has revealed a plan to underwrite the construction of a gas power plant in NSW should Australia’s power giants fail to deliver an extra 1,000 megawatts of power ahead of the 2023 closure of the Liddell coal-fired station.

The plan is at the centre of Australia’s “gas-fired recovery”, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, saying it will shore up the 850,000 jobs in the manufacturing centre and further developments will deliver another 5,000.

However, while Morrison also described the plan as key in ensuring Australians had access to affordable and reliable energy, Climate Councillor and former BP Australasia president Greg Bourne said the plan won’t work.

“The Federal Government is trying to shore up the gas industry which is in a poor financial state. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is decarbonising,” Bourne said on Tuesday.

“This announcement delivers no jobs in the short-term, and will only deliver huge uncertainty into the energy market.”

Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie echoed his words, saying the key to cheap and clean energy is renewable energy.

The Climate Council in July released a report finding investments in clean energy would deliver 76,000 jobs.

“To reduce emissions, reduce power prices, create jobs, and reboot Australia’s economy, we need investment in clean, affordable, reliable renewable energy and storage technologies,” McKenzie said.

The plan also puts at risk Australia’s hopes of meeting its Paris Agreement goals of limiting global warming to below 2 degrees, the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) said.

And using all of Australia’s gas resources could emit three times the entire planet’s annual carbon emissions, according to a report from the Australian Conservation Foundation released earlier this month.

“The Covid-19 pandemic's massive disruption to our industries and jobs has deeply upset Australians, but it won't compare to the economic disruption we will experience if our governments back dirty fossil fuels like gas over clean, renewable energy and technology,” ACF's chief Kelly O'Shanassy said.

Australia is the world’s biggest liquefied natural gas exporter, but ACCR director of climate and environment Dan Gocher said that if the country is to have any hope of meeting the Paris Agreement, no more gas fields can be developed.

Australia’s chief scientist from 2008 to 2011, Penny Sackett, in late August said gas can not be used to transition away from coal and to renewable energy. She noted that while in the last 30 years the US and UK have successfully used gas to transition away from coal, Australia would be better off switching to non-fossil fuel sources.

Morrison recognised the role of renewables in delivering reliable and clean energy and said the Government had already funnelled $30 billion to the sector between 2017 and today, but added that the sector needed more integration into the electricity grid, rather than subsidies.

Opposition energy spokesperson Mark Butler said the Government failed to incorporate renewable energy into its economic recovery plan, dubbing new gas power as “the most expensive way to build new energy”.

“[Renewable energy] is the cheapest new energy in the system and it's continuing to drop in price every single year," he said.

The Australian Greens has also been staunch in its opposition to integration of gas into the energy sector, warning further investment in gas will “trash the environment, threaten our water and air and lock us in for even more dangerous global heating”.

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