Australia’s chief scientist, Alan Finkel, has defended his review into the electricity market against accusations its content was politically motivated.
Speaking to the press club in Canberra on Wednesday, Finkel said also if the federal government incentivised a new coal-fired power plant to be built, it would not have long-term impacts on the electricity market.
In response to questions from journalists on the political nature of the report, Finkel insisted his review was independent.
“I don’t feel that I brought any political element to this,” he said. “It’s been an independent review that is run independently.”
On Tuesday the Coalition announced the joint party room had agreed to endorse all of the review’s recommendations except the aspect Finkel said was key to lowering energy prices and increasing security: the recommendation of a clean energy target.
In his speech Finkel said he “warmly welcomed” news that the Coalition said it would support 49 of the 50 recommendations.
“I regard it as quite remarkable, that 12 days after we reported to Coag, the government has publicly announced its broad support, consistent with the broad support from the community of users and market participants, for the vast majority of the recommendations in the report.”
Referring to the key recommendation of a clean energy target, Finkel said: “I acknowledge not all recommendations were created equal and some were more significant than others.”
But Finkel warned that the CET had not been rejected but was “quite legitimately being further evaluated by the government”.
After lobbying from the Minerals Council of Australia, some MPs who opposed a clean energy target suggested the government adopt a reverse auction to bring more generation online as coal-fired power stations closed.
The prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, announced he would ask the Australian Energy Market Operator to advise the government how to proceed, and said a reverse auction might be one of their suggestions.
Finkel said if the government created such a mechanism and incentivised a new coal-power generator to be built, it wouldn’t have long-term effects on the electricity market.
“So my personal opinion, the panel’s opinion, the review, it’s all about the long-term,” Finkel said. “It’s not going to be decadal impact.”
His comments came as Andy Vesey, boss of the energy provider AGL, said that new coal-fired power stations would not be able to compete with renewables in the future.
The falling cost of solar and wind power meant that renewables would become the baseload, or backbone, of the electricity generation market in Australia, he told an energy conference in Melbourne.
“Technology is driving this – we don’t see any baseload other than renewables,” said Vesey, who has said AGL will shut al its coal plants by 2050.
“You’ll hear people say, ‘no coal can compete’,” Vesey said. “But I’ve looked at the numbers and come to decisions [that] are going to direct billions of dollars of investment. I’ve looked at it pretty hard.”