I never thought I’d be feeling sorry for the big energy companies but the Morrison government’s policy of painting them as villains looks likely to backfire very noisily.

That’s assuming the Coalition is still in power after this weekend, which seems less than a 50-50 possibility.

My gas industry spies say that the electric power providers of the scale of Energy Australia have basically decided not to invest any money in gas-powered electricity generation until they get a bit more certainty. It sounds weird but they appear to be expecting to have a better relationship with a Labor government.

And as the power generation picture stands at the moment, there is a big enough time gap looming at the moment, say around 20 years, between the time we really start to phase out coal, and can bring in fully despatchable renewable power, such that gas fired “peaking” power can still play a role.

Gas turbines are much quicker to fire up than coal-fired boilers and can step in when demand is strong and until we get battery storage completely sorted, renewables can’t make up the difference.

Yes, gas produces CO2 emissions but they are one third as much as the equivalent emissions from coal-fired generation.

There are a myriad reasons for this caution among the energy companies but you could start by looking at a couple of proposals from the Morrison government that smack more of the Fidel Castro model of government than anything more evolved.

To whit, two serious attacks of interventionism, and we’re not even going near the “big stick” threats aimed at supposed price gouging by the major suppliers.

One is the proposal to spend many billions of taxpayer dollars on 4,000 megawatts’ worth of new power generation, source so far unspecified, in a bid to bring power prices down. That’s the equivalent of about one and a half coal-fired power stations.

You might remember the phrase “fair dinkum power” that Scott Morrison coined and has been the subject of some satire since.

Bear in mind that in the face of clear evidence that the cheapest new source of electric generation in Australia will be solar, there are Coalition supporters in Queensland demanding a new coal-fired power station.

They are pretty much led by Liberal National Party Senator, Matt Canavan, who if you don’t mind is a mineral economist.

The second proposal, introduced last week, is to introduce a “wholesale price target” aimed at making sure major users of electricity don’t let the bulk price of electricity exceed $70 per megawatt hour by the end of 2021.

The Coalition’s Federal Energy Minister, Angus Taylor, again is a person who should know better than to say some of the things he’s said, such as about CO2 emissions not having risen, when in fact they have.

Last week he told a NSW Business Chamber meeting that the 4,000 megawatt proposal will “put the big energy companies on notice” and that they will know “you either get us to that price of below $70 per megawatt hour or we will use those (policy) levers to get us there.”

The good news for consumers is that the wholesale price is expected to go down slightly in the coming years.

Mr Taylor’s opposite number, Mark Butler, noted that even without the dumped National Energy Guarantee (NEG), the government’s modelling had projected wholesale prices of around $48 per megawatt hour anyway.

The irony of all this is that according to experts, Liberal icon John Howard had a good Emissions Trading Scheme proposal in 2007 which, had it been adopted, would have been better than anything we’ve seen in the 12 years (yes 12) since.

Kevin Rudd, the Greens and then Tony Abbott ended up jinxing that proposal before it came to life.

Once elected in the Ruddslide of 2007, Rudd was apparently more interested in politics than policy, which meant tormenting his then opponent Malcolm Turnbull. The Greens meanwhile voted it down because they said it didn’t go far enough, proving that the perfect can indeed be the enemy of the good.

You don’t need an explanation of Tony Abbott’s views.

So what’s actually happening now in terms of gas-powered electricity?

Just looking at the major markets of the East Coast and South Australia, it’s a case of “not dead, only sleeping.”

In terms of drilling, it’s depressing. Queensland is exporting most of its conventional gas as LNG, via the various Curtis island trains near Gladstone, leaving overseas processors to make more of the profits.

New South Wales has a marked gas deficit but, because of protests, the only live exploration project is the Santos operation near Narrabri. Pretty well all others have been banned but Santos at least is selling gas forward now, which is a promising sign. AGL is talking about importing natural gas, which ought to be laughable if they weren’t serious. It’s widely believed there’s enough gas under Eastern Australia to keep us all going for at least 200 years.

And in Victoria, onshore gas drilling of any sort, never mind fracking, is banned.

What about new gas-fired power? Energy Australia had been looking in NSW to expand its Tallawarrah plant near Port Kembla, as well as planning a new plant at Marulan, half way between Sydney and Canberra.

But apparently it has spiked the Marulan project for the time being and notes that if the Federal Government forces AGL to keep its old Liddell coal-fired station past its planned closure date of 2022, the investment case for gas expansion would collapse.

Gas consultancy Energy Quest notes that over the last three years gas-powered electricity generation has grown by 19.7% in South Australia and 61.8% in Victoria, while at the same time production has dropped sharply in Queensland (down 68.6%) and New South Wales (down 73%).

Energy Quest also notes that if Liddell closes in 2022 as AGL has planned, that would turn things around sharply for gas-powered generation in New South Wales.

As you can see, there are a lot of moving parts to the gas-fired electricity caper but one of the biggest obstacles to its expansion would be building a new coal fired station, thus emitting more than twice as much CO2 per unit of electricity generated, or keeping Liddell open past 2022.

It doesn’t look as though logic gets much of a look-in in Government thinking at the moment.