Is Tony Abbott about to appoint IPA to renewables review?

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The renewable energy industry in Australia might be tempted to pack their bags and find another country to conduct their business if the latest talk in Canberra is true: sources say that the Abbott government will name Alan Moran, an anti-renewable zealot from the Institute of Public Affairs, to a new panel that will review the Renewable Energy Target.

According to sources, Moran will be one of three or four business people appointed to an “independent” panel that will get secretarial support from the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet – rather than the department of Environment, or the department of Industry, which includes Energy.

If true, that will ensure that the panel is closely monitored by Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s inner core, who include the climate change contrarion and anti-wind advocate Maurice Newman – his chief business advisor – and others from the conservative hard right who neither accept the science of climate change, nor the attraction of renewable energy.

And if true, it will shape up as a disaster for the renewable energy industry in Australia, which has already ground to a halt because of policy uncertainty, and which could face not just the possibility of the RET being diluted, but removed altogether. The Abbott government is insisting on another review of the supposed health impacts of wind farms, despite not releasing a report from its main medical body, and there is also talk that the government support for rooftop solar will also be removed.

alan moranMoran has famously hard-nosed views about renewables, and wind and solar in particular. In a panel discussion at Clean Energy Week in 2012, even former Senator Nick Minchin, the man who orchestrated Abbott’s rise to power and the scrapping of bipartisan climate policy, said Moran made him “look like a pinko”.

Moran, like others from the IPA, including former head and now WA Energy Minister Mike Nahan, believe wind and solar don’t work, don’t cause abatement, and need like-for-like fossil fuel backup and constant spinning reserve, a myth that is repeated ad nauseum by conservative commentators.

When asked, at Clean Energy Week in 2012, of his vision of the future, Moran’ response was to look 50 years into the past. “We had communism then, we got the Greens now,” he grumbled. He said the energy profile in the 1960s was not much different from today, and “I expect that continue into the future.”

Moran’s appointment would be consistent with recent appointments made by the Abbott government. Another prominent IPA policy analyst, Tim Wilson, was appointed late last year to be a commissioner with the Human Rights Commission, a body he had argued should not exist.

Moran, who is the head of the IPA’s deregulation unit, last year was one of the main speakers at a poorly-attended anti-wind rally in Canberra, which described the RET as a fraud.

He described wind and solar as costly and “low quality”, said their costs were amplified by the need for back up in terms of fast-start conventional businesses, an were “imposing a huge burden on consumers and businesses.”

Abbott has been adopting many of these lines in his recent talking points. As has Newman.

Last week, Moran wrote an opinion piece in the AFR, which was titled “renewable energy sources are just a power failure.” You can find it on the IPA web-site.

He said the support of renewables entails “crippling subsidies paid by consumers and businesses.” He accused the RET of playing a role in the foreshadowed plant closures of Holden, Electrolux and the aluminium smelters at Kurri Kurri and Point Henry.

“Because of our readily available coal and gas Australian electricity costs are intrinsically among the lowest in the world. This was formerly crucial to attracting highly competitive energy-intensive industries like smelting. Australia could once again benefit from low-cost electricity if deregulation freed energy supply from its renewable obligations.”

RenewEconomy sought comment from the government, but was told only that the RET review details would be announced soon. The government was committed to lowering the cost of electricity, a spokesman said.

“The Government is committed to the RET and our policy has not changed,” the spokesman said in an emailed statement.

“Under the current legislation, a review of the RET is required this year. The Government will announce the Terms of Reference shortly.

“We understand the importance of providing certainty for those who’ve made investments in renewable energy and affirm our commitment to the RET.

“The Government is also committed to lowering the cost of living for Australian households, including the cost of electricity.

“The Government will not pre-empt the RET review.  It will be undertaken in a thorough and consultative way giving the opportunity for the public to provide feedback.”

The details of the RET review had been due to be released before Christmas, but appear to have been derailed because it was unable to dissolve the Climate Change Authority, which conducted the last RET review, which found in favour of the renewables industry, and which has a statutory requirement to conduct the next review.

That may have made it difficult for the government to appoint the Productivity Commission, as some in Cabinet had urged. The creation of a panel is a potential way around that, even though the government is not obliged to adopt the CCA recommendations.

Many of Moran’s claims are wrong. South Australia now has more than 31 per cent of its demand sourced from wind and solar, without the need for any new back-up generation. The state’s wholesale cost of electricity, and its emissions profile, have fallen sharply.

There was one very revealing moment in Moran’s comments to the renewables industry in 2012. Moran had predicted that renewables such as wind and solar would account for just 1 per cent of global energy by 2050 – less than they do now. But in what must have been a Freudian slip, he acknowledged that there was a “slim chance” that a global accord to fight climate change could be implemented – in which case, he said, “there would be 60-70 per cent renewables.”  

  • Ben

    I wonder if the PM will also adobt Morans advice in relation to pricing carbon, where he argued that an emissions trading scheme is more effective than direct action in this 2012 submission:

    • Miles Harding

      Can we call Tony the most Moranic prime minister in the country’s history?

      The IPA illustrates what happens if only the dollar is used in setting public policy.

      What the IPA doesn’t contemplate is the future in any way.
      We know that loading the atmosphere and oceans with ever more CO2 will (very very) likely have dire long term consequences, We also know that both coal and oil (especially oil) are finite resources and a transition from the these will be needed some time (soon?) and that transition will be very disruptive if only taken when scarcity forces it.

      • LewSkannen

        “We know that loading the atmosphere and oceans with ever more CO2 will (very very) likely have dire long term consequences”
        That is pure speculation presented as fact. We have no idea what effect our feeble addition to the the planets CO2 will have but if we look at history over the past few million years we see that it is probably irrelevant. CO2 was much higher (7x) durinig the carboniferous and there was not a single desert on the planet. Doesn’t sound so dire to me.

        • Giles

          Ah yes, let’s read up on the carboniferous age. 3ft long cockroaches, a planet of giant swamps. Fun indeed.

          • LewSkannen

            So now rather than dispute the point of what I wrote you go off on some irrelevant tangent. Fine. Shows that my point is made.

          • Alex Grew

            ….or that your point was stupid!

          • Chris Fraser

            Yipes, imagine trying to buy a Carboniferous Roach Bomb. Comes as a 44 gallon drum ?

          • Giles

            I’m guessing you’d need a howitzer. Don’t like what it would do to the furniture

        • wideEyedPupil

          …and the Koch Brother inspired CC trolls finally make it to RenewEconomy.

  • Michael

    Giles, I trust that you trust your sources on this.

    These appointments, if true, clearly point to the agenda that will dictate the outcomes of the review.

    It’s also telling that the current Government doesn’t trust the independent and apolitical Climate Change Authority to tell it what it wants to hear.

    • LewSkannen

      Question: Why do you use the world ‘apolitical’ when it so obviously is not?
      Answer: Because it is biased in the direction you approve of. Simple.

  • wideEyedPupil

    Three more years of this?!! Abbott will be sitting on 10% approval rating by election day if Hockey or Turnbull don’t jump on his back.

  • Mark Duffett

    Moran looking to the 1960s marks him as a renewables optimist, since renewables were a much greater proportion of Australia’s electricity then than they are now:

  • Sean Sweetser

    I’m going to have to stop coming here. Yes it is important to be informed in the industry we work in, but this is depressing.

  • Alen

    Ben, you should know by now Abbott has very selective hearing. Moran’s advice on pricing carbon, as far as Abbott is concerned, never happened and will never again be mentioned in his presence. Oh what a fantastic pM we have!

    • wideEyedPupil

      Just as nobody ever saw Tony throw punches into a wall beside a woman’s head. If it didn’t happen in the Australian it just didn’t happen.

  • coomadoug

    Are they really that bad?

    • xiaoecho

      They’re worse. They havn’t even started

      • wideEyedPupil

        Unfortunately I agree. IPA is the brown shirt HQ in Australia and they have huge influence over Abbott, who has always wanted for the vision thing.

  • coomadoug

    In a couple of years China will strangle our economy if we don’t follow their lead in saving their people from climate change. We won’t be allowed to commit suicide and take others with us.
    But by then we may have a visionary government that will see the money that is just waiting there in renewable energy.

  • Brook123

    Hopefully consumers will still opt for solar/wind power in spite of Abbott & co.

  • adam

    when was this article written? It makes numerous references to “details of the RET review to be announced soon”. I thought the RET review was part of the gov energy whitepaper.

    Or are you saying the government energy white paper doesn’t encompass the RET review? The government issues paper discusses renewable energy and “market mechansism” etc…

    Or will the RET review be something separate – how will they reconcile the differences between the two reviews?

    • Giles

      Adam, this article was written on Tuesday. The RET review is quite separate to the energy white paper. RET is specifically on renewables, EWP is on all things energy. To what extent one takes into account the other remains to be seen. I imagine they will keep reviewing until they get the answer they want!

      • adam

        Thanks. That’s very disappointing though. I thought the whitepaper timeline coincided with some direction on RET policy.

        • KD

          The government has stated that a number of other processes including the design of the Emissions reduction fund and the review of the RET will feed in to the Energy White Paper. The announced timings of the various processes reflect that. But this was based on the RET review kicking off before Xmas, which it didn’t. But better to push back the final White Paper a couple of months if there is delay to these other processes – after all, the previous government shelved its Energy White Paper for 2 years while it sorted out carbon pricing.

          • adam

            Thanks KD. I didn’t know that the RET review fed into the whitepaper.

  • LewSkannen

    At first I thought this was written by a conservative giving us some good news and it cheered me up a bit. I felt OK. Then I realised it was written by a very unhappy follower of the green religion. I felt GREAT!!!
    Finally we will have a sensible energy policy based upon science rather then eco-cultism and the global warming religion.
    Thanks Tony!!

    • adam

      Hey troll.

      • LewSkannen

        Not a troll, just someone who is sick of subsidising other people religion.
        I have no problem with others using whatever energy they like, I just think they should pay for it, not tax me for their whims.

        • wideEyedPupil

          So that’s why you’d be against the billions of dollars in Australia and Trillions worldwide subsidising FF and Nukes? Energy sources with known adverse health issues. Coal alone causes $0.5B annual health bill in Australia (estimated) and Harvard School of Health price the disease contributions of coal in USA at $500B per year. Chinese have a shortened life span of 5-10 years because, largely, burning coal for energy.

          • LewSkannen

            FF are not subsidised they are taxed. Since they are the cheapest sources of energy it is not possible to subsidize them unless you find something cheaper.
            Nukes are worth a bit of subsidy (from FF) because it still produces a net gain and shows promise for the future.
            Renewables have been a failure. They do not produce a net gain and are not really improving.
            The Chinese have the option to clean up their particulate emissions and that is up to them. CO2 is NOT the cause of any health problems.

          • Giles

            You seem to have a shaky grasp of economics, not to mention science. The IEA says FF subsidies amount to $500 bin plus a year. OECD says same. A subsidy is most definitely possible if it serves to reduce the cost below what it would otherwise be.

          • LewSkannen

            No. Solid grasp of both. If you claim that FF are subsidized then all that means is that you have chosen a definition of subsidy that is so rubbery that you will have to admit that I am currently subsidizing your breakfast cereal.
            How about you tell us how FF are subsidised with figures that somehow get around the fact that we pay vast tax on all our fossil fuels?
            This I would love to see.

          • Giles
          • LewSkannen

            Wow. Really impressive graphics!
            References? Not so much.
            So since you are such an expert – can you define any of the ‘subsidies’ used in this document?
            Who is getting the subsidy? Where is the money for the subsidy coming from?

            As I predicted earlier you will not be able to answer these questions without exposing to everyone here that your definition of ‘subsidy’ is so rubbery that it is pointless.

            How about a nice simple question – if we took away all ‘subsidies’ and all taxes would the price of coal/oil/gas go up or down in Australia?

          • Giles

            I’m not the expert, the people at the IEA, ODI, OECD, G20 are. Hence the link. If you bother reading it you will find definition of subsidies.

          • LewSkannen

            Well perhaps you should read the definition before repeating stuff you obviously do not understand.
            You have included ‘subsidies’ to allow poor people in third world countries to afford fuel and tax breaks as ‘subsidies’. Just because the word is the same you then use this to try and tell us that FF are subsidies in the same way that Wind and Solar are. If I thought you had a clue I would say you were being dishonest. I doubt you have a clue however.
            If you are incapable of distinguishing a subsidy to a consumer from a subsidy to a producer then it is hilarious that you accuse me of having a weak grasp of economics.
            FF are TAXED and they provide the real subsidies for pipe dreams like wind and solar.
            FF can survive happily without those two. I would like to see how far renewables get without FF subsidising them.

          • lew skannen

            Sorry. I was not paying full attention. I did not realise you were the author of this piece. Actually that only compounds the problem – you do not understand what subsidies are and yet you have a position as ‘journalist’. Can you come back with any quantitative refutation of what I have written?

          • Giles

            As you pointed out in your previous post, subsidies come in many different forms. Just because one form of subsidy doesn’t suit your argument doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The economists at the IEA, and all the other international bodies provide the “quantitative refutation” you are seeking. A subsidy is a subsidy, and there’s a lot more of it for fossil fuels.

          • lew skannen

            I know different types of subsidies exist but some are completely irrelevant to the point. I complain about having to subsidize ‘renewables’ and so you say that FF are ‘subsidized’ as if that is the same kind of subsidy. It is not. I suspect you do not even know this.

            I am having to pay money to wind and solar farms to make up for the fact that they cannot operate without handouts. That is a subsidy.

            Petrol in crappy countries like Nigeria is subsidized to the consumer at retail by the government. The oil companies get no handouts but because the word ‘subsidy’ appears you are clueless enough to say “A subsidy is a subsidy”.

            You are ‘journalist’ and yet rather than throw some light on a topic you choose to deliberately confuse two concepts to fit your narrative. IN fact you are not a journalist, you are an activist with truth problems.

            If you want to talk subsidies then how about insisting that FF and renewables have the same type. Of course you know that that would not work. Renewables cease to operate as soon as the money scrounged from FF stops flowing.

          • Giles

            I think the economists at the IEA/OECD everywhere make the point that if governments did not subsidise the price of petrol in countries such as Nigeria and Indonesia (it is important to note that the petrol companies get full market price, and the government makes up the difference, sending budgets into massive deficit in case of Indonesia, where the subsidy costs them nearly 4% of GDP) then demand for that product would fall significantly.

            The oil companies get the “market price” for their oil, even though the government is paying half the price. This is the same as in consumer electricity markets in WA and Qld. In WA, the government has said it pays (subsidises, it’s word) 40 per cent of the cost of the bill. If the consumers had to pay full market price then they would probably look to some other technology, like solar and battery. These subsidies are what make up most of the $500 billion estimated by the IEA/OECD.

          • LewSkannen

            OK, If you want to talk about subsidies to consumers and you believe that most of the population is so poor that they need their electricity subsidized then how much subsidy is going to be needed when the electricity is provided by an even more expensive source such as wind or solar?

          • Giles

            Still twisting and turning. It’s not me who thinks they need to be subsidised, it’s the politicians and/or the producers. Without the subsidies, the producers wouldn’t get the same revenues. I think the solar and other renewables industries have argued they would be happy to have all subsidies removed, including those of fossil fuels. It is pretty obvious that renewables will provide the cheapest form of new generation.

          • LewSkannen

            No. Still holding your obfuscation up to scrutiny.
            So now you appear to be backing away from supporting subsidies.
            But then once again you try to imply that subsidies paid to some consumers is somehow equivalent to handouts paid to producers of renewable energy. You are determined never to differentiate between these two very different situations for obvious reasons.
            Well I for one would be very happy to drop all subsidies on energy. It means that wind and solar would disappear.
            You last statement is utterly untrue and you know it so I really wonder what your mission is. You are posing as a journalist and yet putting out stuff you know to be false.
            If renewables are the cheapest forms of energy why do the producers need subsidies from FF?
            Please show me one reference that puts renewables cheaper than FF. Are you even aware that there is tax on petrol, for example??
            Honestly I have to wonder who you are trying to kid. I suspect only yourself.

          • Michel Syna Rahme

            I just hope you don’t fall off your rocking chair before you write to Tony Abbott asking him to drop all subsidies and incentives NOW for ALL FF and renewables. Make sure he includes the ‘subsidy’ for diesel to the mining industry. Personally, I would support governments and nations providing incentives for innovation and investment in energy producing technologies that marry with the unequivocal realities and established facts proven through the method of science. But if you want to go the other way – let’s see what happens!

          • Greg

            That’s great Lew. So when all the subsidies are gone we can stop any approvals for mineral exploration in protected areas and on private land too. We’ll see how the FF industry goes then, after all mineral exploration rights are a kind of subsidy, aren’t they? After all, if the landholder decides if they do not want their land torn up for offshore profits and short term gain, they should be given that right, no? And the industry should be able to withstand this, yes?
            The FF industry has been strangling the planet for centuries, it must stop. You may not believe it, but that’s not the point. You are wrong.
            To me, the debates about Climate change and CO2 are all missing the point. We must stop habitat destruction now. The planet has been around for billions of years, we have been at this game for under 500 years and we’ve almost trashed it.
            Your mindset is for unchecked population growth, exponential growth and corporate profit. All meaningless on a planet that will become a wasteland within the next 500 years. But that’s not your problem, right?

          • wideEyedPupil

            Coal miners are refunded all their taxes on fuels. Frequently smelters are provided cheap or near-free electricity from coal fired power. These are subsidies (moneys paid from central revenues) that provided a financial advantage to fossil fuels in this country that renewable generation methods do not get. It effectively subsidises the price bid into the wholesale energy market and then on to the consumer at a subsidised price. There are other subsidies they are provide like free or cheap transmission and transportation infrastructure. All in the name of jobs, jobs, jobs, but it’s actually multinational corporate profits, profits profits which motivates the whole disgusting corrupt game of back scratching. Give my regards to ex-MInister Fergo. And take an economics class some time you’ll look like less of a fool.

          • LewSkannen

            PS. it is poor form to edit a link an hour after posting.

          • Giles

            Que? which link has been edited?

          • lew skannen

            The link above originally led to a rather bizarre PDF.

          • Giles

            the link was not changed

          • wideEyedPupil

            Renewable energy generation sources are all on cost curves downwards. Most dramatically wind and solarPV but also solarCST, geothermal, energy efficiency tech (eg. heat pumps, LEDs and other new Sulphur flood lighting replacements), wave power, tidal power, battery storage at demand, network and distribution locations.

            Fossil fuels and nuclear energy have cost curves generally curving up (shale gas in USA dropped the price temporarily but as wells plateau and fall off this will be seen to be a blip). As peak oil bites, cost curves will rise dramatically, the USA armed services know this that’s why they are heavily into renewables, despite Republican law makers trying to outlaw it! The nuclear plants just commissioned in the UK are something like four times the price of equivalent wind capacity IIRC.

            Read the Citi Research report on LCOE going into the future called Energy Darwinism.

            Parent corporation Citi work for FF industry and promote it at every opportunity (including writing US legislation on behalf of Members of Congress when they don’t know it!) and even they say wind and solar are going to eat coal and nuclear energy’s lunch in every country in the world, esp developing countries. If renewables don’t continue to grow, then even without a price on carbon, the peak oil decent will see fuel prices break national budgets if they continue to subsidise petrol and diesel.

          • Alen

            Well said, even if they deny GW and CC they cannot (logically) argue that resource deletion is not a fact.

        • wideEyedPupil

          And those subsidies paid to renewables are wound back as the markets mature, unlike FF which lobby for more and more of the government hand-outs despite not altering the way the produce energy or the way they do business for over 50 years.

        • Michel Syna Rahme

          Hi Lew.
          Great to see you voicing your opinion, and great you are here – obviously because you seek facts and real answers, so you ain’t bad at all. Perhaps you are an in the closet ‘cleanie’ and just don’t realise it yet!

          But I have a serious question for you Lew – can you please explain what you mean by the word ‘religion’ that you seem to be throwing around a lot?

          While your at it can you please explain your understanding of subsidies and teach us all here about which industries receive the most direct and indirect subsidies in Australia? And which industries have the most to lose from cutting subsidies?

          • Chris Fraser

            Yes, what religion ? I reckon they can’t label anything a religion in the absence of a deity. Many enthusiasts already have a spiritual background with one or more gods. I bet being ‘green’ does not even rate against that !

    • wideEyedPupil

      If you are so concerned about financing things you don’t like how about you start a Party to advocate against abuse of tax regimes that just handed Uncle Murdoch $889M claimed for expenses that he transferred from profitable oversees operations. Then you could go after the Catholic Church and every other religion (if you know what a recognised religion actually is).

      Just to make yourself a real gem then go after NGO serving the poor and downtrodden for they tax breaks.

  • David Boccabella

    Its akin to assigning the Flat Earth society to assist with global mapping.

    • LewSkannen

      Actually it is more akin to throwing Dracula OUT of the blood bank.
      Energy policy should be determined by science and the market, not a bunch of eco-activists.

      • wideEyedPupil

        Yeah eco-activists have a habit of sneaking into the public service don’t they… what with those phoney degrees and decades of sweating away in the back corridors of administrative departments all to one day launch their attacks on rational minded people like, Lew. That’s one way to see the world I guess.

  • DogzOwn

    Is it not time for Phoney Tony to go back to the seminary, especially in repentance, for having blasphemed, that Roskam and his IPA brown shirts have punched as much above their weight as Jesus and Disciples? Does the rest of Coalition hold any hope for reason or is it to be burned in blind faith fires of inquisition type purge?