Angus Taylor: a minister at war with himself
Angus Taylor’s main job is to develop a national energy plan. By necessity, this must be a plan that assumes priority over the multiplicity of state plans that have proliferated in recent years.
These plans are all driven by the fact that state governments want to appear virtuous on emission reduction. Angus Taylor is also the minister for emission reduction, and as such, he is under pressure to produce a plan to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The ingredients for a national energy plan were set out by the CEO of the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), Audrey Zibelman:
"We are at an inflection point at this industry. We need to either reform the market and regulations to allow for efficient market responses or decide that we can’t and that we need to go towards a more regulated and local market.
"What we can’t afford to do any more is not make a decision and continue to whinge to each other about not making a decision.”
The need for a plan to give certainty to investors is a current refrain from the renewable energy lobby. This usually means that they want subsidies for renewable energy and preferably taxes on fossil fuels.
While paying lip service to the idea of an open energy market that is agnostic on sources of power, the renewables lobby strongly supports reports like the recent one produced by the International Energy Agency that says fossil fuel generators must be closed by the 2030s if the world is to get to zero emissions by 2050.
Angus Taylor has mandated an eclectic energy mix going into the future. He is a strong supporter of the Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro support for renewables but has also backed the construction of a 600 Megawatt gas-fired power station at Kurri Kurri in the HunterValley.
Overlaid on this is the government’s plan for a technology roadmap. This takes account of the fact that Angus Taylor is sceptical of the capacity of renewables alone to achieve emission reduction goals. This is a view promoted by the former chief scientist Alan Finkel, who believes that hydrogen fuel cells and carbon capture and storage have a significant role to play in future energy generation.
The progressive side of Australian politics only supports hydrogen produced by renewable energy. They are opposed to carbon capture and storage and particularly opposed to nuclear energy.
When the prime minister and the energy minister go to the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in November, they will probably take the ‘technology roadmap’ and a plan to achieve zero emissions by 2050 with them. The next part of Mr Taylor’s bifurcated responsibilities will be to integrate the roadmap into the national energy plan without disrupting the national energy market.
This will not be easy because it will mean overriding eight state and territory plans. The states will resist but the government can claim that it is bound by its international commitment to proceed with its plan.
In the end, the interventionist Mr Angus (Hyde) Taylor will prevail over the benign Dr Angus (Jekyll) Taylor, but it may be a grim tale as it unfolds.