Australia rejects chief scientist's clean energy proposal

Solar panels Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Australian government has been criticised over its commitment to renewables

The Australian government has rejected a Clean Energy Target (CET) recommended by the nation's chief scientist, opting for a plan focusing on energy security.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the alternative would still lower emissions and ensure Australia met its obligations under the Paris agreement.

The National Energy Guarantee (NEG) will reduce power prices and prevent a repeat of crippling blackouts, he said.

The move has been criticised as turning away from renewable energy.

Last year, the entire state of South Australia lost power on one night, triggering a bitter feud between state and federal governments over blame.

Chief scientist Alan Finkel had recommended the CET in a landmark review of Australia's electricity market in June.

It would have forced electricity companies to source a percentage of power from low-emission technologies, such as renewables and efficient gas.

But the government backed away from the target after a protracted debate over the reliability of renewables, and fears that it would drive up consumer prices.

"[The new plan means] we keep the lights on and we can afford to keep them on, and that we meet our international commitments under the Paris agreement to cut our emissions," Mr Turnbull said.

Under the NEG, a percentage of electricity must come from sources described as "dispatchable" - coal and gas, batteries or pumped hydro.

Retailers will ensure those sources are efficient enough for Australia to fulfil its promise of reducing emissions by between 26% and 28% below 2005 levels by 2030, the government said.

This would be monitored through an energy intensity calculator and enforced by a regulator, it said.

'Destroying renewables'

Subsidies and incentives for renewable energy will also be scrapped under the government's new plan. It argues those technologies are competitive enough in the free market.

The opposition Labor party accused the government of being "hell-bent on destroying renewable energy" and potentially restricting its growth in Australia for decades.

"Australia should have at least 50% of its electricity delivered by renewable energy by 2030," opposition spokesman Mark Butler said.

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill called it a "complete victory for the coal industry".

Mr Turnbull's government accepted the other recommendations from Dr Finkel's review.