Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM


SABRA LANE: The Government's Renewable Energy Target of generating 33,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy by 2020 will be met. That's about 20 per cent of Australia's energy use. The Clean Energy Regulator which oversees the scheme says it's recently given approvals to new projects ensuring the target will be reached ahead of time. The program was initially put in place by the former Prime Minister John Howard in 2001. The idea then was to source 2 per cent of renewable energy by 2020. It's been adjusted a couple of times since, most notably during the Tony Abbott prime ministership, when some Coalition MPs pushed to scrap it altogether. The Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor joins AM now. Good morning and welcome to the program.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Morning, Sabra. Thanks for having me.

SABRA LANE: What do you make of the milestone, Minister?

ANGUS TAYLOR: It's a great achievement - I mean, we've reached the 2020 large-scale Renewable Energy Target early. As you said, the Clean Energy Regulator has advised that we've had over 6,000 megawatts of large scale generation needed to reach the target. We've also seen very high levels of household solar being installed. In 2018, we were double per capita most other countries around the world in our investment in renewables. That has created a new challenge, which is we've got real reliability and affordability challenges when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow. That's why it's so crucial we invest in Snowy, Snowy 2.0. It’s why we're investing in the Marinus Link and Battery of the Nation in Tasmania. So, these are crucial investments to get the balance in the system and that is the key now.

SABRA LANE: We've got a couple of things to get through in this interview. You wanted the target abolished - you campaigned for that before you were elected to Parliament. Critics might think it's a little hypocritical this morning to claim credit for this?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, look, I took the view in the previous parliaments, when Tony Abbott was Prime Minister that the target at that point was too high, and we've achieved the 33 terawatt hour target and we've achieved it well, and that's a great thing. Now those targets won't be increased, and the reason is very simple, Sabra, it's because the economics of this is working fine now. The cost of energy coming-

SABRA LANE: Yeah, well I was going to say the fact that the target was achieved ahead of time, does that tend to indicate that investing in renewables is very competitive and good policy?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, there's no question the cost of energy coming from solar and wind is now low. You know, we've been on a steep learning curve, particularly for solar in recent years. We've seen those costs really coming down and subsidies are no longer necessary to encourage that investment. So the real challenge now - and I've had this view for many years that this would become a challenge and it is – is to get balance in our system. We need dispatchable power balancing the intermittent power coming from solar and wind. If we don't, Sabra, we will see more blackouts and we will see more affordability challenges. So, the key here is balance and that's always been my view, and it remains my view.

SABRA LANE: Just on that point, the Government has promised to underwrite new electricity generation projects. A number of schemes have been shortlisted already. Can you fund the projects without legislation?

ANGUS TAYLOR: We will fund the projects, there's no problem with that. Look, this is underwriting, let’s be clear-

SABRA LANE: [Interrupts] Without legislative backing?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, look we will fund it and we'll do whatever we need to do that. What's crucial here-

SABRA LANE: [Interrupts] Do you have the power to do it? I mean, that’s the point here.

ANGUS TAYLOR: We absolutely have the power to do it. There's no question about that. What we're seeking to do here is to underwrite dispatchable power into the system, so we have balance in the system. Look, the key here is that you need alongside these intermittent sources of power – which have been attracting record levels of investment, including household solar on people's roofs – you need that balanced with dispatchable power. Power which when you flick the switch, you know it is there. If we don't have that balance, we will face blackouts, and we will face affordability challenges.

SABRA LANE: When will the companies know? Because there is a frustration about the length of time that it's taking the Government to do this.

ANGUS TAYLOR: I haven't actually heard those frustrations, Sabra, but what is clear is that these are big projects, multi, often hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars, so we're going to make sure that we spend taxpayers’ money well. We took the appropriate amount of time to ensure that the Snowy 2.0 project was right before we made the investment, and we have made the investment. We will make the investments – the underwriting investments, not direct investments – in these projects in order to ensure that they are the right ones. Look, I was down in South Australia just a couple of weeks ago, looking at a number of these projects.


ANGUS TAYLOR: There's some very good projects coming through and we're working our way through them quickly.

SABRA LANE: Minister, the latest emissions data was released last Friday, showing year on year, Australia's emissions were going up. When will they come down?

ANGUS TAYLOR: In fact, they've gone down two out of the last three quarters. But we have, and they're trending down-

SABRA LANE: [Interrupts] I'm sorry, I’m looking at the national inventory, and they’ve gone up each quarter for the last five quarters.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well no, that's actually not right, Sabra. They've gone-

SABRA LANE: [Interrupts] Sorry, this is information from the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Let's be clear, they have gone down in two out of the last three quarters, however, they have gone up in the last year, right, by 0.4 per cent, now more than - 0.6 per cent, sorry - more than all of that, is accounted for by growth in gas exports, and they are reducing global emissions. We're playing a very, very important role globally, particularly in China, in South Korea, in Japan, in providing record gas exports up into those countries to help them reduce those emissions. Now we've reached our Kyoto targets-

SABRA LANE: [Interrupts] Minister, I'm sorry but I have to cut you off there, we're out of time.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks, Sabra.