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Why the Murdoch media hates renewable energy so much

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Here is an admission. For more than two years, over two stints, I wrote a weekly column on green energy for The Australian newspaper, called Greenchip.

It appeared prominently on the business pages, and on no occasion was I ever instructed by any editor to take a certain angle, and my copy was never changed to convey another meaning – although one sub-editor did choose the word “seaweed” in a story about algae fuels.

That’s the way it should be. And possibly the way it still is. But I make mention of it now because the position of the Murdoch media towards renewable energy has become a major issue: It appears designed to bring a multi-billion dollar industry to a halt, and apart from ideological reasons, or sympathy with vested interests, it is not clear why.

Certainly, it is not based on the facts.

newsSome of the reporting on renewables from the Murdoch global network has been laughable, such as the assertion by one Fox News reporter that solar could never work in the US because it didn’t have as much sun as Germany.

Most of it, though, has simply been unbalanced, and ill-informed, such as its numerous stories about the supposed costs of wind energy, its supposed health impacts, and the repetition of the myth that it serves no useful purpose and does not reduce emissions – claims I had debunked in one of my last Greenchip columns.

(Just for the record, for new build generation, wind is already cheaper than coal and gas in most countries, including Australia, and solar is quickly catching up. Even the government’s own economic forecaster accepts that, and so do utilities in Europe, and the US. Wind and solar energy is deemed too expensive because it is sometimes compared with wholesale electricity market prices which have been forced down by massive overcapacity. Renewable energy mechanisms are designed to force out dirty generation, put a value on its environmental benefits, and facilitate a technology with a high capital cost, but zero fuel cost. Incumbent markets have historically favoured low capital cost, high fuel cost sources).

And some of the commentary from Murdoch media is just insistent, unsubstantiated, and plain wrong – such as the air time given to right wing commentators such as Alan Moran, Judith Sloan, Terry McCrann, and Henry Ergas, just to name a few, who give inflated costs of both renewable energy and the renewable energy target, and refuse to believe that wind or solar can have a role to play.

Now, there is no doubt that this position has become the Murdoch media’s official line. On Friday, not for the first time, The Australian ‘s main editorial railed against the renewable energy target. This time, though, it relied exclusively on hotly contested figures provided by the mining lobby group in its submission to the RET review panel.

There is growing despair in Australia about the RET review process, which seems clearly conflicted. As we reported last month, the work of the panel’s modeler, ACIL Allen, has been used by the most vocal opponents of the RET, EnergyAustralia, as has the work of panel member Brian Fisher in submissions from the oil and gas industry. Even the appointment of a vocal climate skeptic to head a panel reviewing a mechanism that is designed to assign a value to the environment is a conflict of interest.

The Australian editorial also relies on long-time renewable critic Keith Delacy, a mining company director, who says it is “plain crazy” to have renewable energy schemes. Delacy also argues, absurdly, that renewables have “no place” in a modern economy. One wonders, then, why the major economies – US, China, Japan, Germany, France, and numerous countries in Latin America, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, the rest of Europe and even small islands – are pushing so hard to lift their share of renewables.

But The Australian did not have to look far to find some common sense about the issue.

In its own print edition, about 10cm to the left as the crow flies, was an important opinion piece by Innes Willox, the CEO of the Australian Industry Group, which served to dispel some of the most common myths about the RET.

He identified the fact that the biggest contributors to rising prices are the network costs and soaring gas prices (the full effect of which Australian consumers have not experienced yet) – and dropping the renewable energy target would deliver no benefits apart, maybe, to some coal fired generators.

“Reducing the RET would certainly ease difficult conditions for other generators,” Willox writes. “But there doesn’t seem to be much in it for most energy users.”

Willox’s position is typical of many technology-neutral business leaders, who now understand that renewables are keeping wholesale prices much lower than they would otherwise be, that lower wholesale prices are offsetting the costs of the program, and that renewables – be they the wind and rooftop solar being deployed now, or the emerging technologies encouraged by the likes of ARENA and the CEFC – are a critical launch-pad for Australia’s inevitable transition to a low-carbon economy. And they work.

And they realise that locking the country into a fossil fuel future includes huge price risks, as Ross Garnaut pointed out last week, and as Climate Change Authority chairman Bernie Fraser has lamented before. Moves to delay that transition are simply a move to hold the rest of the economy to ransom for the benefit of a powerful few. Newspapers should rise above that narrow self interest. Or at least get properly informed.

For that reason, it is worth reading Willox’s piece in full.

THE costs, benefits and future of the renewable energy target are the issues of the moment in Australia’s energy price debate.

Australian industry, jobseekers and consumers are feeling real pain from high energy costs, and reducing these pressures should be a high priority. Should the RET be cut?

There are no simple answers. The RET is a complex beast, legislated to achieve bipartisan aspirations on renewables. Investment certainty, sunk costs, transfer costs and the costs of alternatives all have to be factored in. What is good for some sectors is disastrous for others.

As we have argued after wide consultation across industry, current evidence suggest energy users would lose as much as they gain from deep reductions in the RET.

But the RET is just one element of many energy debates and reviews this year. Underneath it all are a few simple realities: retail ­prices for electricity and gas keep going up; domestic demand is dropping, partly because major energy users are simply closing down; the future for energy investment is high risk.

Because we were close to rich resources, Australia once had a competitive advantage in competitive energy. We have blown it. How do we get it back?

Whatever your view about the RET, two other factors are responsible for most of the energy price pressure we face today.

First is a massive recent rise in electricity network costs. This was driven in part by real investment needs, but also by flawed regulations and excessive demand forecasts. As a result, retail electricity prices have soared even as weak demand has depressed wholesale prices.

Second is the ongoing tripling in wholesale gas prices driven by liquefied natural gas exports and the willingness of key state governments to leave gas in the ground and turn their back on development opportunities.

More can be found here.

 

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  • johnnewton

    Giles, you didn’t answer the question that you posed in the headline. Why?

    Is it that Murdoch has skin in the fossil fuel game?

    • david_fta

      “Is it that Murdoch has skin in the fossil fuel game?” – not as far as I know.

      Elsewhere, however, we are informed that Murdoch is 2nd best friends with petrochemical billionaire brothers Charles & David Koch, owners of Koch Industries and donors to conservative activist groups (aka “Think Tanks”).

      Now, you and I might see averting climate change as about as conservative as you can get – James Hansen certainly recognises this – but the trouble for the world is that the first time conservatives like Murdoch and the Kochs heard of climate change was when Western Socialists and associated fellow-travellers of Soviet Russia decided to “adopt” environmental causes in order to persist with their “critique” of Western capitalism.

      Meanwhile, Western capitalism has become indistinguishable from corporate cronyism – hence the Hockey Budget we’ve about to endure.

    • Murphy

      Coz I’m the curious type, can operate a search engine I can type, murdoch israel oil.

      This one caught my eye,

      Israel approves drilling for oil in Golan Heights – http://www.jpost.com/Enviro-Tech/Israel-approves-drilling-for-oil-in-Golan-Heights

      • johnnewton

        What a cabal of villains. Good work Murphy. So Mr M does have skin in the game. and that’s only one project…

        • Murphy

          Yes john, up to his rodent master armpits in oil and not a secret apparently, outside oZ msm that is.

  • Jennifer Gow

    Since I utterly refuse to contribute a single cent to News Limited i did not read Wilcox in full and you didn’t answer the headline question.

  • Guest

    John is right, the promise in the headline is isn’t delivered.
    The obvious explanation for News Corpse hating renewables is ‘my enemies enemy is my friend’. Rupert & his orcs promote the same fundamentalist neoliberal dogma & mouthpieces as the megapolluters (eg. IPA, CIS, AEI, Heartland etc). None of them really want true laisse fair capitalism, but its a convenient facade for the corporate cronyism we really live under, small & weak government makes looting the commons and us peasants so much easier.

  • Guest

    Yep, the promise in the headline isn’t delivered.

    The
    obvious explanation for News Corpse hating renewables is ‘my enemies
    enemy is my friend’. Rupert & his orcs promote the same neoliberal dogma & mouthpieces as the megapolluters
    (eg. IPA, CIS, AEI, Heartland etc). None of them really want true laisse
    fair capitalism, but its a convenient facade for the corporate cronyism
    we really live under, small & weak government makes looting the
    commons and us peasants so much easier.

  • Guest

    John is right, the promise in the headline is isn’t delivered. Interesting to read that Willox of AIG can occasionally speak the truth, so he’ll be publicly lobbying the LNP to end the fraudulent RET review? Didn’t think so.

    The obvious explanation for News Corpse hating renewables is ‘my enemies
    enemy is my friend’. Rupert & his orcs promote the same
    fundamentalist neoliberal dogma & mouthpieces as the megapolluters
    (eg. IPA, CIS, AEI, Heartland etc). None of them really want true laisse
    fair capitalism, but its a convenient facade for the corporate cronyism
    we really live under, small & weak government makes looting the
    commons and us peasants so much easier.

  • Dark green

    John is right, the promise in the headline isn’t delivered. Interesting to read that Willox of AIG can admit the truth re renewables effect on elec prices, his conscience must be troubling him, enough to make a real stand? We’ll see.

    The
    obvious explanation for News Corpse hating renewables is ‘my enemies
    enemy is my friend’. Rupert & his orcs promote the same
    fundamentalist neoliberal dogma & mouthpieces as the megapolluters
    (eg. IPA, CIS, AEI, Heartland etc). None of them really want true laisse
    fair capitalism, but its a convenient facade for the corporate cronyism
    we really live under, small & weak government makes looting the
    commons and us peasants so much easier.

  • tsport100

    Seriously…. does anything Murdoch media says really mater? It seems old school media are over impressed with it’s own importance! Fox is continuously ridiculed… as is an ever increasing amount of other News Corp output.

    Murdoch sells his media propaganda machine to which-ever government he thinks serves his vested interest best.. (as he does have skin in the game – Google Murdoch and Jacob Rothschild interests in Genie Energy)

    Obviously this anti-renewable line pandas to the current idiots. But if Murdoch is claiming credit for his influence getting them into power I think he’s believing his own PR.. It wasn’t Liberal that won… it was Labor that lost!

    • Miles Harding

      You beat me to it ! :)

      The reason that Pox News or its News Corpse kin matters is because it’s the soylent green feeding the minds of the masses.

    • Bandwidth Bandito

      If you’re here reading and commenting then it probably (anything Murdoch media says) does not matter. However I would bet there are many who still read or watch MM and think it is representative of the facts and is reporting the “News”. Don’t mistake your own greater understanding for that of your country. There is a strong anti intellectual current in Australia and the media feeds the beast. These people don’t want knowledge and facts, they believe what they believe and want to crush those who disagree. Other seek to profit from this ignorance and therefore don’t want open debate. Hopefully the downfall of traditional media will break this cycle, but it will not happen overnight in my opinion.

  • Chris Fraser

    It wouldn’t seem impossible for any reasonable Generator/Retailer to understand that
    technology has an impact (mainly the effect of speeding) on deregulation – or even liberalisation – of industry. Why do so-called leaders have a narrow view of what deregulation should be ? They appear merely as those who have made a wrong investment call, and now only have to act like spoiled brats. They only encourage this plebian curiosity about what it’s like to be so in control of our energy. There are many things to do in response.

  • Motorshack

    Murdoch apparently does have serious skin in the game. I ran across the following quote about ten days ago. I think in some article on Guardian.com, but I did not save the link, only the quote in an email to a friend. Anyway, here it is.

    “As for Rupert Murdoch, it’s no secret that he has significant interests in the fossil fuel industry. Murdoch is a major equity share-holder in Genie Energy, where he is also a strategic advisory board member. Genie is a major investor in US and Israeli shale oil and gas projects.”

    I have not yet followed the links in this quote, but perhaps there is more detail to be had.

    And now that I have posted this comment, I see that the links did not survive in the quoted text. Apparently Disqus filtered them out. Oh, well.

  • Zvyozdochka

    This is my theory. It LOOKS like bias and ideology, but it’s simply about creating controversy. Outrage at their manufactured controversy gets clicks and eyeballs.

    This explains Ltd News sometimes contradictory positions in different countries.

    This explains why targetting his advertisers has been so devastatingly effective. Complaining about Ltd News itself (or Fox etc) has no effect at all. It powers the beast.

    Michael Lewis book on Murdoch basically confirms this.

    Information is the casualty in this parlor game.

  • Alan Baird

    It is quite simple if you put yourself into their mindset. Anything that generates money or assists those who wants MORE to fend off anybody that employs the frontal lobe concerned with the”hang on, let’s think about this” is wholesome and good, in other words, anybody who has not gone past teen brain development and is long on, ” Let’s go for it and stuff the consequences”. They find anybody that has a bilateral brain intensely irritating. That’s why News (VERY) Ltd is always enraged. They also inherently find sharing largesse around the polity REALLY irritating and feel that anybody that promotes a view even approaching this should be opposed, denigrated, sneered at etc etc. There are plenty of people who are willing to act as “base hirelings” and who will spend hours furrowing their brow to come up with attempts to pose a logical opinion, but only if you want to be gulled, and there are plenty of those, some who will even be disadvantaged by the Murdoch-LCP-Macquarie Radio axis. The current budget for example is making their brains ache. They are desperately trying to find anything, ANYTHING that will distract the 2GB-Tele-Oz imbiber. Where is Osama Bin Laden when you need him? Osama ANYONE already.

  • caffdan

    Back in 2007 about the time that “An Inconvenient Truth” came out, Murdoch was of the belief that climate change was a very serious issue, which needed to be addressed. It is not unimaginable that a few of the oil and coal industry “good ol boys” said to him “Righto Rupert. If you don’t get your facts right, then we will have to stop buying your advertising space.” Better men than Rupert would have gone weak at the knees at the thought.

  • Monica

    We are looking for employees in Germany; http://www.tta-personal.de

  • Chris Fraser

    Solar Panels may be Draining the Sun ! Potential Disaster. Read about this allegedly Dick Cheney-sponsored study from the University of Wyoming. The satirists are starting to beat the wowsers to the punch aren’t they ?
    http://nationalreport.net/solar-panels-drain-suns-energy-experts-say/

  • Christina Macpherson

    Why aren’t we paying more attention to the RET Review? Dick Warburton was a director of NPA at the time when it was bribing everybody across Asia, including Saddam Hussein. But hey – the article in The Age was at pains to point out that Warburton “was not involved” and apparently was not “approving” of the bribery.

    How very convenient it is, to be a Director of something, and safely not know what the company is doing! . Why should we have a person like that running the RET review?

  • Ray Del Colle

    “Is it too hard to go to the moon, eradicate smallpox or end apartheid? Is it too hard to build a computer that fits in your pocket? No? Then it’s not too hard to build a clean energy future, either.” http://clmtr.lt/c/HIk0fz0cMJ