Professor calls for grid renationalisation

A publicly owned national electricity grid is the logical solution to Australia’s energy crisis, according to University of Queensland economist Professor John Quiggin.

In his report, “Grid Renationalisation – a discussion paper”, Professor Quiggin said electricity reform in Australia has been a comprehensive failure since the creation of the National Electricity Market (NEM) in the 1990s.

“We’re past the point of tinkering; energy instability is compromising our growth and economic progress,” Professor Quiggin said.

“Tweaks to the system, such as those being considered in the Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market, will not resolve the fundamental failings of a privatised and fragmented system subject to multiple regulators.

“The price increases of the past decades and the series of recent breakdowns reflect systemic design flaws, exacerbated by the failure to take appropriate account of the implications of climate change.

“The appropriate policy solution is a unified, publicly owned national grid encompassing the ownership of physical transmission networks in each state and interconnectors between states.

“It would be responsible for maintaining security of supply and planning the transition to a sustainable, zero emissions, electricity supply industry.”

Professor Quiggin said that some would describe a publicly owned national grid as “unthinkable”.

However he said it was the only coherent response to the failure of neoliberal electricity reform, just as the establishment of a publicly owned National Broadband Network was the only feasible response to the failure of telecommunications reform.

“And, in the light of the political upheavals of 2016, the idea that any political possibility should be dismissed as unthinkable appears obsolete,” Professor Quiggin said.

AITI Director Professor John Spoehr said the paper lays down a challenge to governments of all persuasions to set aside politics and pursue policy that is in Australia’s national interests.

“It is clear that the current system is unreliable and untenable,” Professor Spoehr said.

“That’s not because of renewables as has been spuriously claimed, but because the private market has failed to deliver on any front – lower prices, greater system reliability or environmental sustainability.

“As the paper states, the core aim of policy should be a genuine National Electricity Grid, driven by the goal of providing secure, affordable electricity to Australian households and businesses while reducing and ultimately eliminating emissions of carbon dioxide.

“This is a discussion we have to have, as a catalyst for genuine, nation building reform.”

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