2016 Article: Departing green finance chief Oliver Yates says Australia must improve on climate

Outgoing green finance chief Oliver Yates has fired several parting shots at the Turnbull government, stating its carbon goal is too weak and that coal's share of the electricity sector must dive to make way for renewable energy even with the recent SA blackout.

Mr Yates told Fairfax Media that Australia's goal of cutting emissions 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030 "will need to be strengthened" if the country is to move along with other nations to prevent global temperatures rising by 2 degrees.

Renewable energy's share of the power sector will to have rise sharply, the chief executive said, citing a Climate Change Authority study that was largely ignored but modelled the shrinkage of coal's share to just 20 per cent by 2030 from 75 per cent now if Australia's contribution to a 2 degree warming target is to be met.

In the wake of the axing of the carbon tax by the Abbott government in mid-2014, power sector emissions have risen by 4.8 per cent on an annualised rate to the end of September, consultants Pitt & Sherry say.

Yates' comments after four years in the job are likely to annoy Coalition MPs, some of whom had described the CEFC as a "giant green slush fund" or "Bob Brown's bank" because it could lend as much as $10 billion to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency. It's mandate has been altered by the Turnbull government to include Great Barrier Reef and other relatively unrelated projects.

A spokesman for Josh Frydenberg, the environment and energy minister, wished Mr Yates well in his next role but stressed Australia would "make an important contribution to the global effort on climate change".

"We successfully met our first Kyoto [climate treaty] target by 128 million tonnes and we are on track to beat our 2020 target by 78 million tonnes," the spokesman said.

Mr Yates, who was grilled this week in Senate estimates, said he was choosing now as the ideal time to make way for a new CEO ahead of the government's plan to review its climate goals next year.

The 51-year old also weighed into the blame game for who was responsible for a failure of SA's power supply last month as a huge storm swept across the country's south.

The Australian Energy Market Operator updated its preliminary findings on Wednesday, and again provided fodder for proponents and opponents of renewable energy to blame each other.

While more wind power than earlier estimated dropped offline after transmission were blown down in the powerful storm, AEMO noted two gas-fired plants failed to respond as designed by the system.

Mr Yates said some wind farms had failed because of software rather than problems with the turbines. Settings that tripped the drop off of wind farms will need to be reviewed.

Regulation "needs to keep up with the technology", Mr Yates said, adding that the so-called black system event should be used to ensure renewable energy's share of the sector can continue to grow.

The Turnbull government is yet to set a goal of clean energy in 2030, sticking only with the 2020 renewable energy target of about 23 per cent of the power sector by 2020.

Even that target could be out of range given a lack of power purchase agreements (PPA), a gap that the Clean Energy Finance Corp was vital in helping to fill, he said.

The Turnbull government is on the back foot again over its climate polices just weeks before the Paris Climate agreement comes into force on November 4. On Tuesday, officials told Senate estimates that on current projects, the centrepiece Direct Action plan would only deliver 92 million tonnes of abatement by 2020 – a fraction of the 2 billion tonnes Australia is likely to emit between now and 2020.

Mr Yates said he had come from a political family and said that his organisation had "got on with" the job, despite years of opposition from the Coalition.

He hopes to serve until a replacement is made, and intends to continue to work on Australia's transition to a low-carbon future.

The CEFC has invested $2.3 billion in projects that, with partners, have a value of $5.7 billion.


Sydney Morning Herald By Peter Hannam
Updated October 19, 2016


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