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Coalition makes it up in campaign against renewables, climate action

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The Abbott government has resorted to simply making up numbers in its desperate attempts to maintain a scare campaign against proposals to lift Australia’s renewable energy target and take bolder action on climate change.

On Monday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott claimed Labor’s 50 per cent renewable energy target would cost $60 billion – a number an advisor later admitted had been found in The Australian, which in turn had quoted consultants ACIL Allen, who in turn later admitted it was a “back of the envelope” calculation.

And not a very good one at that. For a start, it assumed that the renewable energy target would be made up only of wind turbines, the sort that have traumatised the PM on his cycling holidays, and Treasurer Joe Hockey on his way to Canberra.

And the ACIL Allen number – apart from being a guess at capital costs rather than consumers costs – was based on old assumptions on the cost of wind energy, and ignored the prospects of solar, which will halve in price over the next five years, and more beyond; and ignored the likely cost savings to consumers from energy efficiency and other technologies such as rooftop solar and battery storage.

boswellOn ABC’s Q&A on Monday night, the number inventions got a lot worse – almost as bad as Alan Jones’ performance on the same program a week before – when Queensland National Party ex-Senator Ron Boswell made the ridiculous claim that electricity prices would jump 50 per cent because of the 50 per cent renewable energy target.

Of course, Boswell was unable to explain how. The Coalition’s own review of the renewables target suggested the higher the target, the cheaper it gets for electricity consumers – at least up to the 30 per cent target it modelled. And by the time 2030 comes around, when coal-fired generators are retiring and new capacity is needed, wind and solar will offer by far the cheapest option, easily beating coal and gas.

By then it may be that subsidies will not be needed. And right now, the biggest pressure on consumers in Queensland is the rise in wholesale prices caused by the increased cost of gas. Which explains why so many of Boswell’s former voters are embracing solar (it’s renewable and it’s cheaper), and why the state is seen as such a prospective market for battery storage.

Indeed, some analysts predict at least 30,000MW of rooftop solar across the nation’s households and businesses by 2030, accounting for a lot of Labor’s target. And that will R-E-D-U-C-E (like Abbott, we are spelling it out for Alan Jones’ listeners) the costs of electricity. Origin Energy, for instance, is offering to install rooftop solar, fully paid, fully maintained, and sell you the output for 11c/kWh – little more than one third the cost of electricity from the grid.

The problem with the current debate around climate and clean energy is that the Coalition gets away with this sort nonsense all the time. Even on Q&A, stand-in host Virginia Trioli did not just fail to challenge Boswell on those remarks, she actually reinforced the errors.

“Ron Boswell is correct when he talks about the price impost,” Trioli said, after Boswell renewed his attack on the cost of renewables. No, he is not. Trioli then proceeded to get the mechanism of the RET completely back to front, suggesting lower wholesale prices in the short term before rising costs to consumers. The opposite is true, and the overall impact – as the Warburton Review found – was for a dampening of prices.

If the 50 per cent claim from Boswell were true, then the reaction from consumers would be a no-brainer – add more solar and battery storage and possibly even leave the grid. The economics on that are already finely balanced as it is, because so much of everyone’s bill goes to support ageing, superfluous and, in some cases, redundant infrastructure.

(Memo Boswell, Hawaii has prices approaching the level he is predicting for Australia, which is why the legislature just voted a mandatory 100 per cent renewable energy target by 2050. They are going forwards, not backwards)

Why the huge gap in knowledge? The answer is simple. Our politicians are lazy and they don’t even read.

Boswell admitted as much, when he criticised the Pope for intervening in the climate debate.

Had he read any of Pope Francis’ encyclical, he was asked by Brisbane Catholic archbishop Mark Coleridge. No, said Boswell, “I didn’t read it”. Not a single page. He’d only ever seen a snippet of a report on TV. The same could be said of so many of his colleagues, and even their advisors.

And when they do read, they find their information from doubtful sources, often obscure web-sites their advisors find on the internet, or from fossil fuel industry talking points – like Boswell’s suggestion that the Pope’s Encyclical would deprive people in India of electricity – and sometimes in the mainstream media.

Graham Lloyd, The Australian’s environmental editor who has campaigned so heavily against wind energy, was at it again on the weekend, in a lengthy piece criticising European subsidies.

It was full of the usual misconceptions and misrepresentations. Then he came up with this pearler, complaining about the “intermittency” of renewables.

“The proof of intermittency in Australia,” Lloyd wrote, “is the extent to which South Australia draws on brown-coal fired generators in Victoria to secure its electricity supply during times of low wind.”

Well, that’s the point of the grid. When one state is short of something, it imports electricity from elsewhere. On any given day, the stuff is flowing about the National Electricity Market in all sorts of directions – across Bass Strait, from Victoria to South Australia and back, and between NSW and Victoria and NSW and Queensland.

But here’s the interesting bit. South Australia – before it began its remarkable transformation into one of the world’s leading markets in wind and solar – drew much more heavily from Victorian brown coal generators when it had virtually no wind and solar than it does now with 40 per cent wind and solar.

These graphs illustrate this. In 2006, when the wind industry started to grow, imports from Victoria (the red line) averaged more than twice what they did in the next five years, when the wind industry grew to nearly 30 per cent of demand.

saddler sa gen

This graph (still above) from Hugh Saddler of Pitt & Sherry shows it is only since the closure of South Australia’s Playford B brown coal generator, and the ramping down of the Northern brown coal generator, that the imports have started to rise again from their historic lows. But they are still below their levels in 2006, and do not come even close to offsetting the loss of output from the local generators.

Now gas generation is also falling, which is good news for South Australia, given the soaring cost of that commodity, the reason that South Australia’s wholesale prices were usually higher than other states. The decline in gas is more likely to have been affected by the huge influence of rooftop solar, which is removing much of the peaks.

Here’s another graph (below), from NEM-Watch’s Paul McArdle. Its shows, in more detail, the pattern of imports (purple line) from the creation of the NEM, back in 1999.

South Australia at that time was hugely reliant on brown coal – about half of it from its own generation and half from imports from Victoria. The total share of coal generation (local and imported) has nearly halved since then. That is the share eaten up by the 40 per cent contribution of wind and rooftop solar.

Once local storage facilities are introduced, a measure that is being pursued by the grid operator at utility-scale, and by homes and businesses behind the meter (as is eagerly encouraged by the South Australian government and the City of Adelaide), then imports from Victoria will be needed even less. (By the way, those imports from Victoria could just as easily be from the wind farms in the west of the state as the coal generators in the east).

south australia nem watch

Lloyd’s claims don’t even pass the most basic fact check. And neither do many of the other claims in The Australian.

gary johnsOn Tuesday, The Australian rolled out Gary Johns, the former ALP politician whose opinions makes Abbott look like a centrist, to repeat another collection of myths about wind energy.

One of them, circulating in other right-wing newspapers such as the UK’s Daily Mail, focused on how wind energy used “electricity” – gasp – for some of the functions of the turbine. This, said Johns, was proof that they were unsustainable without fossil fuels.

Ketan Joshi, an analyst with Infigen Energy, debunked this particular myth in January, producing this graph, to the right, which shows how much electricity is produced, and how much is consumed, by a typical wind turbine over a year. (This one from Lake Bonney in 2014).

Further information, including a month-by-month breakdown, and data showing how much more electricity is consumed as a percentage of output by fossil fuel generators (up to 20 times more) can be found in his explainer here.

Johns went on: “That most modern of new economy inventions, the computing cloud, requires massive amounts of electricity.”

Yep, and how are the global corporate giants – Google, Apple and Hewlett Packard – powering their energy-hungry data centres that power these computing clouds? With not just 50 per cent renewables, but with 100 per cent renewables. Yes, 100 per cent renewables. Why? Because it is C-H-E-A-P-E-R. You can read about that here, here, here and here.

But as we saw with Boswell, peddling myths is easily done and easily repeated, reinforcing misinformation and prejudice against technologies that threaten the business models of some energy incumbents.

How does this happen? Well, Boswell belled the cat himself. You just don’t do any research, and you rely on old prejudices, and taking points from vested interests. What we would want from the ABC – and the media in general – is someone with the presence of mind to challenge those prejudices, not reinforce them.

 

   

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  • Phil Patterson

    I love it. And thankfully, the majority of the world is moving in the right direction (most of it anyway). Giles, I actually had a couple of questions regarding two other trends; coal use and imports in India, and gas use in the US. Recent reports in India are of record coal imports this year at over 200 million tonnes, and yet in over the last year, India’s own energy minister has declared that there will be zero coal imports to India before 2020. Is this current rise an official peak before the crash or is there more problems ahead for India’s emissions? The second question is over the boom in gas use in the US at the expense of coal, which is half the emissions of coal, sure, but has been highlighted as stopping non fossil fuels from getting a dominating foothold into the future, any thoughts on this? Any advice or insight for these two questions would be really appreciated. Cheers.

    • No doubt that India’s emissions will rise, because they will add more coal. But their push to renewables means that they won’t rise as much as otherwise. India looking to develop local coal rather than imported coal, which that much more expensive.
      As for US, gas has pushed out coal, but solar now pushing out gas – investors can lock in investment returns knowing price of fuel (nil), and solar now doing PPAs at less than 4c/kWh. no brainer really.

      • Phil Patterson

        Awesome, thanks for that.

      • johnnewton

        Giles there was much in Don Quijote’s article about Germany retreating et cetera et cetera (I’ve thrown it out) – any point in gainsaying?

        The problem is, of courser, the liars have the biggest say in the Murdoch rags.

        • usual garbage about subsidies declining. No kidding, that’s what they supposed to do as technology costs come down. But their targets remain!. Also, he included some claptrap about imports to germany, but ran out of energy. If i could clone myself, several times over, we could create a new journal called the UnAustralian, taking apart the oz bit by bit.

        • Calamity_Jean

          “The problem is, of course, the liars have the biggest say in the Murdoch rags.”

          This may change, now that Rupert is turning at least part of the business over to one of his sons.

      • Alen T

        Giles, when can we expect you on the Q&A panel? Preferably with Hunt there too.

        • Steve159

          Great idea — what does it take, to make it happen? Giles vs Hunt: what a spectacle that would be, a must-watch show.

          emailing Q & A production team? How many read this site?

          In any event, send a complaint (“errors by Virginia Trioli”)
          http://www.abc.net.au/contact/complain.htm

      • Alastair Leith

        India will also see massive industrial and urban growth +a la+ China which means local cement production and probably steel also. Both these indispensable materials to modernity have green alternative technologies — placed where solar was thirty years ago for now. But they will see emissions rise regardless of RE progress in India. In fact much of the coal power will probably be wanted for industrial estates not for the population’s domestic needs.

    • Ken Dyer
    • Keith

      Hi Phil,

      Re India, while it is really hard to make sense of what is going on, my recent assessment is that the stories about dramatic increase in coal imports may be wishful thinking. See my recent article in SeekingAlpha http://seekingalpha.com/article/3334735-new-china-coal-data-has-serious-implications-for-peabody-energy

      The other extraordinary thing about India is that Adani (yes India’s biggest coal company, which has 10GW of coal power capacity) has just entered into a JV to build 10GW of solar PV….. that means that India’s biggest coal company looks like it is becoming a renewable energy company.

      It looks like imported coal is too expensive and the shift is on to renewables. I think the Govt plan to cease coal imports within 2-3 years is developing credibility.

      • Phil Patterson

        Hi Keith, thanks for that, so essentially what you’re saying is that this year is India “peaking” with coal imports, with a drastic reduction is the likely scenario? I hope you’re right, I really, really do.

        • Keith

          Hi Phil,

          India is really hard to read, but it is clear that the Modi government plans to electrify 300 million people with distributed solar and that the coal propaganda about helping the poor, is just propaganda.

          Their goal is 175 GW reneweables by 2022 and given that their current electric power is currently ~270GW, it is clear that renewables are going to very quickly be a significant part of their power generation.

          They have massive pollution problems and no doubt are looking at China to see what happens when you use coal.

      • Reality Bites

        The Indian Ministry of Coal stated on 15MAY15 “Coal India Limited (CIL), the Maharatna coal mining monolith had unveiled its road map, of strategies to be adopted, to attain the one Billion Tonne (BT) coal production mark by 2019-20. With the projected coal demand of the country hovering around 1,200 Million Tonnes (MTs) by 2019-20, at an envisaged growth rate of 7 per cent, CIL is expected to chip in one BT, of which 908 MTs is the expected contribution from the identified projects.” That is around a doubling of current coal usage. The thing with India is that it comes out with a policy but it never really delivers. India has some of the largest coal reserves in the World, but has been hopeless at mining it. What is more the tenders for the coal reserves, from my monitoring, have been up to USD50pmt. That is in the ground! Extraction and transport will add possibly USD35 to USD50 pmt, so it will be expensive coal and it is typically of low calorific value, full of ash and sulfur. Adani and GVK are working on the basis that India will revert to norm and have a huge shortfall of coal from local production requiring significant import. The solar tenders they are currently conducting are simply to make up the demand shortfall they have and solar was chosen as it has a shorter lead time. If the world is truly wanting to stop further emissions, start with India and China, Australia is nothing but a minnow.

        • Keith

          Hi Reality Bites,

          10GW of solar (which Adani has signed up for) is as much power as they produce with coal currently. It is no small thing. If you look at the number of major international corporations interested in funding renewables in India and the major solar and wind companies getting involved, you have to take renewables seriously.

          Of course there will be a big fight, but introducing/expanding centralised power (coal, nuclear) is more than just building the power plant, you need a grid too and you keep paying for the input fuel. By contrast there is huge interest in distributed power generation as the additional infrastructure costs are minimal and once built the power is essentially free.

          The dramatic reduction in coal imports to China and possibly India too will bite in Australia because it means the end of a major export market. Tony Abbott will never cease to try to keep coal alive, but if it is no longer a product, then that is the end of coal. The sooner Australia wakes up to this the better.

        • George

          I say, start with the minnows

  • lin

    A century back, people of the same mindset as our current government were supporting the 2mph speed limit for motorised vehicles plus a man to walk in front with a red flag to warn the good folks in their honest horse-drawn vehicles of the approaching danger.
    The real question here is how such deliberately ignorant and misinformed individuals end up representing us in parliament. Our current political system seems to concentrate them into the top jobs. I have great difficulty believing that we would do worse with random selection of politicians from the phone book.
    And a pox on our media, for not pointing them out for the ignorant fools they are every time idiocy dribbles from their mouths.

    • Bighead1883

      It`s OK you Greens will cut another lame deal with these Imbecilic cretins

      • Bighead1883

        The Greens did a great RET deal to sign of on the LNP`s Direct Action
        They got NOTHING ZERO ZILCH

        • Alastair Leith

          er, no they didn’t. You are thinking of the right wing cross bench Senators like Madigan, Day, Lambie, Xenophon who hate wind energy and passed the new RET bill. (the RET bill had nothing to do with LNC’s Direct Action bill that was many months previously passed by the Palmer United Party — now less United than it once was). Specifically, they traded Native Forest burning inclusion in the RET (which Labor had already approved despite saying they were opposed to it) for a wind commissioner, more stop these things enquiries and so on.

          Green’s Senator Larisa Waters moved several amendments in the Senate which neither Labor nor LNC supported. They were to remove Section 7c which is there to prevent State based targets using certificates as the mechanism and to remove NF Burning as a source for Renewable Energy Certificates.

          Sorry you went to all that trouble painting over someone else’s meme to make it wrong though. Back to troll-land for you bighead.

      • johnnewton

        Gee Bighead, how did you know Boswell has joined the Greens? It was supposed to be a secret.

      • lin

        WTF?? Disappointing and slightly bewildering troll, dude. I suggest you seek professional help.

        • brickbob

          Í suggest you report back to Peta for further instructions.””””

  • D Hethro

    I saw Boswell on QandA last evening and what a curious and interesting individual he is. Against what the Pope had recently stated on Climate, even though Boswell had not read what the Pope had written (as you stated). Worryingly, individual’s like him, Bishop and Abbott run our Country

    Purportedly renewable energy, in that person’s eyes, as with “Captain Coal Is Good For Humanity” must be a ‘bad and loss of jobs Ogre’ even though every other educated Country is seeing renewable energy as a ‘jobs creator’ as well as being economically, environmentally and ethically sound. Mr Abbott and Co. this is 2015, not 1815. The industrial revolution has been and gone we are now in the technological evolution. Please lead on this or get out of the way and let real Leadership take the reigns. Let’s hope, we Australians, are smart enough to remove these dinosaurs at the next GE

    Regardless of Political affiliations, Monica Bradley on QandA last evening, was both insightful and informative and a breath of fresh air, showing the kind of Leadership qualities needed by the vast majority of the underwhelming Politicians on both / all sides of the Political spectrum

    Living in South Australia I can attest to the rise in rooftop solar and this has no doubt added to the massive reductions in ‘outages’ in our hot summer months. I can not specifically state how much of a reduction there has been but my own experience is that in the last several years, where we would expect several, there have been none. To me this means the renewable sources provide owners with their ‘own power’, not requiring a draw from the Grid and therefore easing the most congested period in every year which will only improve the efficiencies in time

  • While we are talking Q & A – one of the questions which was not properly answered last night was about changing the way our politicians interact with the voters and using technology in a much more sophisticated way. It is quite apparent that the liberals (which they are not) take their tune from big business & Rupert M, and Labor from the unions. Isn’t it time for a new party, one that embraces this, is in tune with voters and allows much more interaction….

  • matt bounds

    A great article, I hope Virginia Trioli and the Q&A team get to read this. It’s kinda scary to think we’re content to allow our politicians to get away with such ignorance.

    • Alastair Leith

      I’m going to be writing to a lot of journalists about this. It’s like the situation was with Climate reporting by hosts/presenters five years ago and longer ago. ‘He says; she says’, ‘oh I don’t know what a fact even is anymore… let’s just say the truth is probably in the middle’ ‘and if both sides are criticising the ABC then we’re probably getting it pretty right’. Mark Scott actually uses that last one in public.

      Note Virginia Trioli also said the price of wind was “contested, highly contested”.

      This is a price that gets signed off on in PPA contracts, reverse auctions in the case of ACT and elsewhere in the world and it’s “highly contested”?!

      Next we’ll be hearing that the theory of evolution is contested because some flat-earth christians in back-block USA can’t accept the science and wont teach it in their schools.

      • lin

        Yes. Claiming wind price is “contested, highly contested” because some conflicted anti-science, anti-fact nutcases dispute the evidence of scientists, engineers, accountants, bankers, economists etc. is not balanced and fair journalism.

  • The pm said $60 billion in a single sound bite. It is wrong a ridiculous made up number that seeks scare the ill informed away from renewable energy. Giles you article does well explaining why it is wrong – but does not provide a more informed figure. Such big ill defined forecast costs are meaningless – but how should we communicate the costs of such policies – did the ALP estimate the costs of the policy? The figure has been out there too long without a measured response.

  • Chris Fraser

    I’m not really sure what Auntie is thinking. Although I suspect the producers of Q&A are panelling ‘entertainers’ to appease some easily miffed personalities. It’s important to read the barometer of real people though, so it would be better to put taxi drivers rather than useless people from the Coalition on the panel.

  • Marcus Gibson

    Grrr! EVERYONE incl. experts who should know better always miss health costs in their modelling. Coal-fired power contributes to asthma, lung disease, heart disease, cancer etc to the tune of more than $10bn a year in Australia. That’s $350 billion by 2050. All other calcs are a pittance. Look it up, Economists. ‘The Australian’ numbers guys are morons. Then consider the ~1,500 deaths from non-transport pollution per year – 52,500 dead by 2050 – that you can’t put a price on. Limiting clean energy is murder.

    • Alastair Leith

      The climate costs outweigh the health costs even according to the Harvard research EV commissioned.

      • Chabo Chook

        Seems to me both health and climate costs are inextricably entwined.

        • Alastair Leith

          in a sense but they are seperate calculations. the climate costs are probably extremely low-ball.

    • Concerned

      $10 billion?As far as I am aware no studies have been carried out. Alll I have seen is opinion and overseas stats.

      • Alastair Leith

        Science is like that, it can cross over international boarders because strange as it may seem to a troll like, Concerned, NOx and SOx, PM, heavy metals and isotopes will effect peoples health in consistent ways no matter what language they speak or nation they call home. A coal mine and power plant in Gippsland will have similar population health effects to one in the Appalachia region.

        Specific mortality and morbidity statistics will depend on the type of coal burnt which determines the levels of each pollutant released by combustion. And the types of scrubbing — if any —USA has tougher pollution controls than Australia and some of our plants would not be legal in the USA. We known very well what the effects of each of those pollutants are, although we are still learning of more effects like PM 2.5 & PM 1. CAHA have much material on this: caha.org.au plus here’s a short film primer on the subject which I worked on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5DIDUB_RyA

        Also EV engaged Harvard researchers who have worked extensively on these questions in USA to determine likely effects in the Victorian coal fields. Full report here: http://environmentvictoria.org.au/media/coal-costing-victorians-billions-health-and-environmental-damage

        Article in the Age here: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/the-hidden-cost-of-the-hazelwood-coal-power-plant-20150418-1mnmdf.html

        • Concerned

          Was talking about Australia.Totally different here,as power stations not close to dense population centres.I am not aware of any research done in this country.
          I would be more concerned about particulates from vehicles, including petrol and gas.
          Alos wher eodes a figure of $10 billion come from? Someone’s opinion.

          • Alastair Leith

            You could try reading the EV Report I linked to if that’s not too much trouble. Opinions supported with rigorous evidence by people who study something for a living are frequently considered valuable in epidemiology and many other areas of medicine. Radiation physics public health standards are all influenced by the study of nuclear accidents outside Australia Do you listen to a doctor’s or specialist’s diagnosis when they come to you with test results?

  • onesecond

    That’s conservatives for you. Lying and making stuff up because they are to scared to do anything new.

  • Alastair Leith

    Good work Giles. How do we get inside the abc and talk to presenters and hosts to help them get up to speed with energy economics and technical basics? It can take a long time to absorb all the background required in the climate let alone the EE/ RE space but they need enough A-grade info that they can be confident calling out BS each and every time.

  • brickbob

    Í think Boswell needs a re boot,right up his right wing backside.”””””

    • Marg1

      Hear hear!

  • Rob

    Absolutely! Time and again journalists from the ABC have not only failed to challenge ridiculous statements by anti-renewables crusaders but have responded in a way that reinforces fabricated and false figures and non-factual anti-renewables rhetoric. Maybe they should be given a fact sheet on the real costs, including how much the Australian taxpayer subsidises the fossil fuel industry.

  • Marg1

    I watched that and couldn’t believe my ears – Virginia Trioli was hopeless.