David Alexander is chief of policy and advocacy at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry


The Australian government has announced ambitious emissions reduction targets over coming years and decades, a 43 per cent reduction by 2030 and net zero by 2050.

The rationale is that every country needs to do its fair share if we want to address the problem.

The government believes that the emissions reduction targets can be met while keeping energy prices affordable but this outcome is inherently uncertain. Energy markets have always exhibited enormous volatility, they continue to do so, and no-one really knows the future.

There are two possible outcomes as we move through the decades – the goal of affordably achieving the targets is met or it isn’t.

At the moment there are a number of worrying signs that the task could end up being beyond the government. Electricity prices are high and have been rising, while the abatement task is looking more challenging.

The head of the Australian Energy Market Operator, Daniel Westerman, has warned the level of investment in renewables is not nearly enough to meet future targets.

The head of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Ian Learmonth, has also said that investment in renewables is well behind what’s needed.

Former Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, says what we have now in renewables infrastructure “has to be scaled up by a factor of 20”.

It will take “untold miles” of highvoltage transmission lines to service the new dispersed networks.

“Think forests of wind farms carpeting hills and cliffs from sea to sky. Think endless arrays of solar panels disappearing like a mirage into the desert.”

This Finkel vision will be disconcerting and disquieting to many people. It is possible that community concerns about these developments will result in lower investment approvals than have been envisaged in meeting overall targets.

If investment levels continue to track below what is necessary, the result will be upward pressure on prices. Higher electricity prices would be of great concern to consumers and businesses. It could be the case that prices rise to the point where the government is forced to abandon its targets. The government may not want to think that such an outcome is possible but the assessments being issued by respected figures behoves a serious contemplation of these challenging scenarios.

So what should the government do about it? Here is one important thing: the government should rethink the ban on nuclear energy.

The availability of nuclear energy may end up being the difference between Australia meeting its emissions reduction targets in an affordable way, or failing those aims.

It may be that nuclear energy is not commercially viable right now, but it’s possible that future price rises from other electricity sources make it viable in the future.

Rather than be potentially caught out with a diabolical problem down the track, either failing the emissions reductions targets or making conditions intolerably painful for businesses and consumers in meeting them, the government should look at removing the ban on nuclear energy to mitigate that possibility.

Rather than making an assumption that nuclear energy in the future will be economically uncompetitive, why not remove the ban and allow the market to decide the commercial viability?

Given the stakes involved, accepting that nuclear could become commercially viable seems like a very simple but obvious way to prepare for uncertain futures.

Published in The Daily Telegraph, The Courier-Mail and The Advertiser (Adelaide) on August 17, 2023

Ashley Gardiner

Director - Media and Communications

P: 0262708020
E: media@acci.com.au

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