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Energy scientists call for transparency ahead of NEG decision

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South Australian energy scientists have warned the State Government it shouldn’t sign up to the National Energy Guarantee before independent analysis of the model is completed.

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A group of 23 energy researchers from 11 universities across Australia – including three from the University of South Australia – penned an open letter to all state energy ministers last week calling for the release of all modelling and documents relating to the Federal Government’s National Energy Guarantee (NEG).

In the letter, the researchers expressed concern that the carbon accounting and reliability mechanisms of the NEG were “poorly understood” and had not received adequate independent review by energy experts.

The researchers have called on the Federal Government to release all modelling documents so they can complete a comprehensive independent analysis of the NEG before state ministers sign off on the deal at Friday’s CoAG meeting.

“The proposed National Energy Guarantee is the most significant change to the National Electricity Market since the implementation of the National Electricity Laws in 1996,” the letter reads.

“The Energy Security Board’s Final Decision Paper refers to an ACIL Allen study which purports to validate the NEG design. The paper provides insufficient detail on the assumptions, methodology and results of the study and indeed it is difficult to reconcile the claims with our own understanding of energy market dynamics and the Australian Energy Market Operator’s Integrated System Plan.”

Signatories from the University of South Australia have expressed concern that Premier Steven Marshall has repeatedly voiced his desire to sign South Australia up to the deal before independent analysis of the guarantee had been completed.

Marshall previously told InDaily that the Federal Government must “end states going off on frolics on their own” by signing all states up to a guarantee that he said would provide more affordable and reliable power.

But University of South Australia research fellow Dr Steven Berry said South Australian energy minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan “shouldn’t sign on the dotted line until we know what we’re buying.”

“The Government is right to say we need to have a nationally agreed mechanism but I think it’s also racing ahead of getting the data, the model,” Berry said.

“We have to be extremely careful that we seize the detail, that we analyse the detail and I would hope that the South Australian Government would call upon the very brilliant people that we have in our universities to have a look at the National Energy Guarantee and making sure we’re getting something that’s a benefit for the people of South Australia.”

Berry said since the open letter was published, the group of scientists had received additional information about the guarantee, however the scientists believe they are still missing some information.

He said the Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg had been quick to condemn the scientists for “interfering” in the political process after the letter was published.

“We know we haven’t got all the information because there’s still assumptions that we can’t test,” Berry said.

“We have an obligation to give back to society and we try to do that as much as possible, so if the government would provide the full model, I don’t think any of the experts would be asking for a cent to analyse it.

“This is for the benefit of people of Australia and this is a framework they think we would want to have for a long time in the future.”

Fellow signatory and University of South Australia professor of environmental mathematics Professor John Boland said the scientists’ call was about ensuring the NEG was transparent.

“It’s more from my point of view as a mathematician to be able to see all that’s assumed in the modelling and to be able to test it,” he said.

“If we can’t do the testing it makes you less confident that everything is done properly – you don’t know unless you can sort of test it to see if the assumptions lead to the conclusions they have come to and also how decent the assumptions are in the first place.

“If the document’s not good, why sign up to it?”

Berry said the analysis work was voluntary and emails between the scientists had been sent “from six in the morning to midnight” to ensure the scientists’ conclusions could be published before Friday’s CoAG meeting.

He said he wasn’t willing to comment on the scientists’ findings yet, but from the documents the group had received, the scientists had “pretty deep concerns” about some aspects of the model.

“It appears from what we’ve seen in the documentation that there’s a bit of haste, a bit of rush to try to get this National Energy Guarantee across the line, rather than spend and invest in the nation in making sure we get a better outcome.”

Berry said it was “unfortunate” that the State Government was yet to consult with the scientists about their findings.

A State Government spokesperson said in a statement that it had conducted its own modelling on the impact of the NEG and its decision would be based on transitioning to renewable energy in an affordable and reliable manner.

InDaily contacted Federal Minister Josh Frydenberg’s office for comment, but it didn’t respond before deadline.

The Australian Conservation Foundation today called on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to lift what it described as a “weak” pollution target currently proposed for the NEG and include it in regulation, not legislation.

“Targets should be reviewed every three years and only made stronger as a result. And state governments should be able to meet their clean energy ambitions in addition to the NEG,” ACF CEO Kelly O’Shanassy said.

“We need a workable compromise. There will be no certainty in energy and climate policy until pollution cuts are comparable with the action needed to halt global warming.”

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