Alternative Fuels Australia

Analysis: which party has the policies to make a difference?

Posted by Car Geek on November 21, 2007

//flickr.com/photos/cogdog/1684658447/, licenced under CC 2.0.

With the federal election less than a week away, the contending parties have made most of their election promises (and with any luck, they might even keep a few of them), so what better time is there to compare and contrast to find out which party will have the biggest effect on alternative fuels in Australia? This is a bit of a long one, so read on after the jump.

Liberal/National coalition will:

  • Continue to uphold their aspirational target of 350 ML of biofuels annually by 2010.
  • Commit a further $8 million to the Ethanol Distribution Programme, which provides assistance to petrol stations in converting to ethanol blends.
  • Put $5 million towards a cellulosic ethanol plant in NSW.
  • Put a further $5 million towards a public information campaign for biofuels.
  • Investigate the viability of B20 biodiesel blends in heavy vehicles.
  • Continue to encourage the uptake of LPG through its Alternative Fuels Conversion Programme.

(Full details available here [pdf file]).

Analysis: the Coalition has one of the most detailed plans of any of the parties currently, and due to its incumbency, has the ability to bankroll it. The restriction it placed on ethanol blends above 10 per cent seems to have been quietly lifted in the wake of increasing pressure about climate change and fuel prices. It is, however, very much biased towards one specific form of alternative fuel. Biofuels are bound to play a vital part in reducing dependence on oil, but there’s something to be said for energy diversity. Biofuels serve the dual purposes of reducing petrol prices and assisting farmers, both of which are key issues for the Coalition going into the election, despite their disadvantages. The advocacy of biofuels, particularly while they remain crop-based, could prove a point of contention between the Coalition and minor parties that could hold the balance of power in parliament.

Labor will:

  • Focus on cars rather than fuels, with a “Green Car Innovation Fund” worth $2 billion. The fund will promote industry research into low-emission vehicles built in Australia, such as hybrids and diesel vehicles.
  • Remain committed to its Green Car Challenge, where it would purchase environmentally friendly vehicles for the Commonwealth fleet if they were purchased in Australia.

(Full details available here.)

Analysis: the ALP seems to be taking a different approach to alternative fuels, putting the emphasis on Australian-made cars that can accept alternative fuels, rather than the fuel itself. Unfortunately…well, that’s about the extent of the plan. The ALP plans to commit $500 million to the fund, with industry kicking in the other $1.5 billion, but currently the public details of the plan are rather vague. It’s a good approach and one that focuses on getting a result rather than favouring any one (potentially flawed) method, but without the detail, there is a danger of the funds being wasted.

Greens will:

  • Phase in “stringent fuel efficiency standards”.
  • Campaign to to invest in public transport and the design of Australian cities for reduced vehicle dependence.
  • Use government procurement policies to promote efficient passenger vehicles.
  • Support the research, development and commercialisation of sustainable alternative fuels and their distribution networks.

(Full details available here.)

Analysis: combined with their ambitious emissions reductions targets, the Greens are predictably aiming high in terms of clean transportation. As with the ALP, though, there isn’t much in the way of details, only that they will “support” the development of alternative fuels. The Greens do boast the only US-style fuel economy standards policy, which could go a long way to reducing emissions in a country that has never had legislative pressure and very little market pressure to create economical vehicles.

Democrats will:

  • Remove any excise on alternative fuels until targets have been met.
  • Provide tax incentives for fuel efficient and low emission vehicles, to be funded from higher taxes on inefficient vehicles.
  • Remove the bans on blends higher than E10 and B20, and mandate the availability of ethanol (E10 or E85) at all petrol stations.
  • Switch all government vehicles to alternative fuel or efficient vehicles.
  • Provide grants for alternative fuel infrastructure, such as for hydrogen and natural gas.
  • Provide automotive industry subsidies that are conditional on the production of high-efficiency vehicles such as hybrids.

(Full details available here [pdf file].)

Analysis: like the Liberals, the Democrats have made specific goals for biofuels, but go one step further by insisting that the automotive industry step up to the plate as well as the fuel industry. The policies put forwards are arguably the most proactive of any of the major parties, but given that the Democrats are only likely to hold a few seats, these policies would have to be filtered through the government in power. Some people might not agree to the extent of government intervention that the Democrats advocate, but it could be argued that very little is being done currently without a guiding hand.

Family First will:

  • Encourage higher fuel efficiency standards such as the 2010 European efficiency standards.
  • Encourage investment in public transport for outer suburbs.
  • Ensure that the use of crop-based renewable fuels does not increase the price of food.

(Full details available here [pdf file].)

 Analysis: “sparse” is probably the best word for Family First’s policies on alternative fuels. More efficient cars are a good thing, to be sure, but FF seem more interested in the savings to families rather than any environmental benefits, given that they also advocate reducing the fuel excise. In short, any policies on alternative or renewable fuels seem incidental to other goals they have set for themselves.

Conclusion? The Democrats appear to have the best policies for growing a diverse alternative fuels industry in Australia, but as they’re likely to only hold a balance of power at best, the full details of their policy are unlikely to make it through parliament. If you’re into biofuels, the Coalition would seem to be the best bet, though it is not a big step from the current status quo. The ALP puts the onus for more efficient cars on industry…which may or may not turn out to be a good idea, given that efficient Australian-made vehicles are currently few and far between.

As always, vote for who you think will run the country best, but if you were at all confused about where the various parties stood on altfuel-related policies, hopefully this has cleared things up for you a little.

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