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21 May 2020

Australia embraces results of fossil fuel addict emissions review

The Morrison government in Australia has completely sabotaged all clean energy efforts there, by endorsing the “King Review” which will open up its key green energy funding mechanisms, its Emissions Reduction Fund (EMF), to fossil fuel CCUS projects. It will also “force” spending by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Arena) and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to become technology neutral – code for allowing it to be spent on research for fossil fuel majors.

Multiple Australian governments have backed Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS), spending A$1.3 billion in the process, with zero practical results. By now offering EMF monies to CCUS, it will deplete the fund overnight and kill off any official support for renewables, which are already winning the war with fossil fuels, but no thanks to the government.

In a ghastly parody of the US Trump administration The King Review was set up quietly by Morrison last year, placing known fossil fuel adherents in charge of creating emissions reductions – and guess what its recommendations are? To spend more government money chasing pipe dreams like CCUS, and gas abatement. Trump’s government put fossil fuel addicts in charge of all major government agencies, including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Environment Protection Agency, while the government stripped back pollution regulations.

Here at Rethink Energy we are vehemently opposed to CCUS, simply because it does not work. In theory it is entirely possible to extract all carbon dioxide out of flue gases from coal and gas plants, it just cannot be done economically. It was research in Australia which virtually proved this funded by multiple previous administrations starting almost 20 years ago.

This poacher turned game-keeper approach of appointing corporate lobbyists and former gas executives and getting them to “review” climate policy, is simply asking for weaker regulations as obstacles for major emitters and gifting of public funds for failed clean-up technologies. Grant King, who the review is named after, was a former Origin Energy CEO. Origin Energy is a particularly pernicious emitter.

The key findings of this review came out this week, and allow for the A$2 billion CSF Fund, plus Arena and CEFC funding to be opened up to “re-examine” CCUS.

A lot of the Arena and CEFC funds have been used for renewables projects, but will now be equally applicable to fund CCUS research and also gas abatement. Gas abatement is of course a genuinely serious topic, and in many parts of the world, especially where environmental efforts are currently poorly policed, fossil fuel companies simply burn off methane or just let it emit freely into the atmosphere. The best practice is to police it and fine emitters – a stick rather than a carrot. Now the plan seems to be to offer abatement permits as a carrot to emitters so that emitters can sell abatement efforts to the federal government in return for taxpayer funds.

None of the recommendations of the King Review mention renewables at all, but instead focus entirely on things like energy efficiency in homes, putting forward the introduction of a mandatory energy performance disclosure for residential homes. Also it has some recommendations about farming and carbon in the soil.

Another recommendation will enable industrial emitters to get paid for being below a particular emissions baseline, this difference can then be sold to the government through the Climate Solutions Fund, or used to offset more emissions elsewhere in a large industrial business.

While none of the commendations have been definitively embraced by the Government, it has also not kicked any into touch – and some will need a full government vote, while others can be brought in via the backdoor, through government controlled agencies.

Successive governments have been seduced by the promise of CCUS, and went through the motions in setting up “safe” CO2 storage in most Australian territories, often under the sea. These are now no longer being used.

Prior government CCUS initiatives include the CO2CRC, the Low Emission Technology Demonstration Fund, funding for the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, National Low Emissions Coal Initiative, Global CCS Institute, Carbon Capture and Storage Flagships, the Carbon Capture and Storage Research Development and Demonstration Fund and the National CO2 Infrastructure Plan. So far none of them have produced a project that could be implemented widely in an economical manner.