The federal government’s attempt to invest taxpayer money in new gas projects faces stiff opposition in parliament.
It comes as a new competition watchdog report warns of a looming shortfall of gas on Australia’s east coast.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission report shows that while local prices dropped during the pandemic, overseas customers are still paying less for liquefied natural gas compared to local users.
“LNG producers have not provided an adequate explanation as to why this is the case, or why we should accept it,” ACCC boss Rod Sims said.
“It is concerning that the risk of a gas supply shortfall in Australia’s southern states continues, despite this having been a looming issue for some time.
“It is crucial that investment decisions are made now to ensure there’s enough supply, and to provide downward pressure on future price rises.”
The federal government is pushing ahead with its Underwriting New Generation Investments scheme to fill the gas gap, which would put taxpayer funds towards projects.
The scheme is on the auditor-general’s list of potential audits for this year.
Companies were asked to submit expressions of interest before details of the scheme were created.
Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor is attempting to set up a $1 billion fund which would then give the Clean Energy Finance Corporation money to support the projects, which he says will make the electricity grid more reliable.
Federal parliament is currently debating the planned changes, with Labor and independent MPs introducing their own tweaks to the bill.
The opposition doesn’t want the green bank to invest in fossil fuels, for there to be a return on investment, and for the CEFC to decide which projects get funds instead of the minister.
Labor’s energy spokesman Chris Bowen says gas will play a role in Australia’s energy system for the foreseeable future until other options are available to support renewables.
“It has a role to play and it’s important, but it is not a low-emissions technology, and the government is engaging in sophistry by suggesting that it is.
“Changing the definition to allow investment in gas flies directly in the face of the CEFC’s mission, which is to support renewables generation.”
Independent MP for Indi Helen Haines has introduced changes to ensure projects benefit their local communities.
She shares Labor concerns projects handed money through the new fund don’t need a return on investment.
“The government is trying to change the rules to allow investments into fossil fuels that lose money, that lose all our money,” Ms Haines told parliament.
Mr Taylor says gas is key to Australia’s economic recovery from the pandemic.
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