Malcolm Turnbull is staring down coalition backbenchers concerned that a proposed clean energy target could push up power prices and undermine coal-fired power.
MPs concerned about the power bill impact of the policy proposed in a report by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel have been emboldened by last week’s Nationals conference passing a motion opposed to a clean energy target and former prime minister Tony Abbott’s push to wind back renewable energy subsidies.
Mr Abbott will double down on his position in delivering a speech, entitled Daring to Doubt, to the London-based Global Warming Policy Foundation on October 9.
It is understood the prime minister and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg are seeking to finalise the design of a new policy by the end of November.
Labor taunted Mr Turnbull in parliament on Wednesday with questions about his commitment to a long-term energy policy, having previously declared: “I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am.”
“What happened to the Member for Wentworth people used to know?” Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek asked.
Mr Turnbull said energy policy had failed Australians “over a very long time”.
“It is a fact that we have to address and we have to redress,” he said.
Answering an earlier question about the clean energy target, the prime minister said the government was “planning for the future of an energy market that will deliver the emissions reductions we need, that will deliver the clean energy Australians expect but will also deliver affordable and reliable power”.
“A clean energy target … (is) not an easy nut to crack,” he said.
“We are going through it very, very carefully.”
The Finkel report’s modelling assumed an intensity of 600kg of CO2 equivalent per megawatt-hour of electricity, however such a level would not favour new “clean coal” technology backed by many coalition MPs as reliable and affordable.
One Liberal MP told AAP the party room was keen to finalise the policy by the end of the year, but the priority was to “get it right” and if that took time then MPs were prepared to be patient.
Australian Industry Group chief Innes Willox, who met with about 25 chief executives on Wednesday, said the “child-like squabbling” among MPs needed to end.
“It’s not unanimous, but there is very broad support around the concept of a clean energy target,” Mr Willox said.
“For most people they see the Finkel report as the way out of a dark tunnel – it’s not the perfect solution … but it gives business something to work.”
Meanwhile, a potential buyer for AGL’s Liddell coal-fired power station rejected a suggestion by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce a formal bid had been lodged.
Delta Electricity company secretary Steve Gurney told AAP the firm had not lodged an expression of interest in the plant which is slated to close in 2022.
AGL’s board is considering either continuing to operate Liddell until 2027, or selling it, or finding enough alternative generation to cover the power it produced.