Turnbull government claims win on energy policy at ministers' meeting

The Turnbull government has avoided an all-out brawl with the states and territories over its signature power policy, securing agreement from most energy ministers that more work will be done on the proposed national energy guarantee.

But South Australia's Labor government says coal is not part of Australia's future and the federal government is "clinging to the past".

The national energy guarantee forces energy companies to meet mandated standards of reliability and emissions reduction, but critics say it thwarts growth in renewable energy, props up ageing coal-fired power plants and will fail to sufficiently drive down dangerous carbon emissions.

The federal government needs the support of the states and territories to implement the guarantee. Rather than reject the policy entirely, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania - along with the Commonwealth - voted in favour of the Energy Security Board conducting more analysis of how it would operate. South Australia and the ACT opposed the move. Queensland is in caretaker mode ahead of the state election and did not cast a vote.

The COAG energy council will meet again in April to consider the national energy guarantee once further work is completed.

South Australia moved amendments for more work to also be carried out on a clean energy target and emissions intensity scheme,to prove that the national energy guarantee was indeed the best policy.However only the ACT supported the move.

The state and territory later announced they would conduct their own modelling on the two alternatives.

The mood inside the Hobart meeting was described as "fraught".

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull later said South Australia "tried to stand in the way" of the guarantee but was outvoted.

He said the national energy guarantee was a "responsible plan to deliver affordable reliable energy and of course meet our emissions reduction obligations".

"I want to congratulate Josh [Frydenberg] and congratulate the energy ministers. They've resisted the temptation to play politics with this ... This is a plan that is built on engineering and economics," he said.

"The days of picking winners, the days of ideology and idiocy, which we've seen in past energy policies, particularly I'm afraid to say in South Australia under the Weatherill government, that should be put behind us."

South Australian Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis said the meeting was disappointing and "the coal-dependent states are sticking together".

"Coal is not the future of this country. Coal represents the past. It seems that this Commonwealth government is addicted to clinging to the past," he said.

"Whenever you refuse to do open testing and comparisons so we can choose the best model to go forward, [that] gives me great concern about what they are really attempting to do."

Mr Koutsantonis said South Australia and the ACT will conduct their own modelling on an emissions trading scheme and clean energy target, and compare it to the government's policy.

"Quite frankly what I think it will find is the [federal government policy] comes third ... because it has a reliability requirement that keeps in old, clunky, expensive coal-fired generation at the expense of new, cleaner cheaper renewable technology," he said.

ACT Energy Minister Shane Rattenbury said he was disappointed the other jurisdictions did not back the push for modelling of other potential energy policies.

"You have to ask why [the Turnbull government] doesn't have confidence to test the others," he said.

Mr Rattenbury noted the Commonwealth "stepped away two weeks ago" from its original aim to secure in-principle agreement at Friday's meeting after gauging the lack of support. He said every jurisdiction had questions about the plan and "there was no love in the room for the [national energy guarantee]".

NSW Energy Minister Don Harwin said exploring options ruled out by the federal government would "just slow things down".

But both the reliability and emissions components of the guarantee needed to be "fleshed out quite a bit", he said, adding that the effects on competition in the sector would be important in determining whether lower prices result from the plan.

This story Turnbull government claims win on energy policy at ministers' meeting first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.