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The amazingly positive renewable story the Murdoch media won’t write

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If anyone was expecting The Australian to prominently correct Tuesday’s fabricated front page lead story about a Saudi billionaire pocketing $300 million in subsidies from the Moree solar farm, then they would be mistaken.

the nation snippet.Despite the fabrication being pointed out by Reneweconomy and senior figures in the clean energy industry, author David Crowe doubled down on his storyline on Wednesday, with yet another “exclusive”, this time titled “$180 million payday for 15 years of sunshine”.

Oops, the Saudi billionaire appears to have lost $120 million overnight – how careless of him – but Crowe’s newly confected outrage is based on multiplying the expected output with the contracted price sealed with Origin Energy in March 2016, and reported by The Australian at the time.

Perhaps he could have titled the story: “Saudi billionaire delivers cheap solar power to Australian consumers for 15 years.”

The latest article does not admit that its original claim that the Saudi billionaire was making off with $300 million of Australian renewable energy subsidies was “incorrect” until half way down the latest story.

But despite admitting that there was no ongoing subsidy for the solar farm, or indeed that the Saudi billionaire pocketed any subsidy at all, Crowe manages to find a National Senator John Williams, who complained that the Moree project was proof that subsidies were bad.

“They collect these subsidies from customers to sell their electricity cheap and send competitors broke,” the paper quoted Williams as saying.

This is not good enough. The Australian has also failed to correct the original story that Crowe based his article on, or the stream of “analysis” and commentary that was based on the same false premise.

Future-of-Journalism

Crowe’s story was also widely circulated. It got plenty of air-time on ABC’s Radio Sydney, was repeated as fact without question by Radio National’s Patricia Karvellas, was featured by Network 10 in their main TV news bulletin, and was hoorayed and amplified by far-right commentator Andrew Bolt, and quoted in other Murdoch press.

It was based almost entirely on a similar false claim by the paper’s economics writer Adam Creighton, writing about the same solar farm 10 days earlier, and who had earlier written a front page lead – The cost of going green, taxpayers hit with $60 billion bill – based on the same false assumption.

That sparked yet more commentary and analysis and has undoubtedly helped shape the conservative push against the RET and the proposed clean energy target, and it forms the basis of the threat by former prime minister Tony Abbott and others to “cross the floor” if any further subsidy is given to renewables.

Here is an indication of the sort of story that The Australia could write, and could claim an”exclusive” – at least for its own readers. The could title it: “Solar and wind cheaper than fossil fuels, even without subsidies”.

Australia’s stunning $8 billion boom in large scale wind and solar projects will likely be delivered with little or no effective subsidy because of the falling cost of the renewable energy technologies, which makes the wind and solar projects cheaper than the price Australian consumers are paying for coal power.

Almost all the new projects under construction or about to reach financial close have signed long term contracts with energy retailers or large energy consumers that include little or no value to the renewable energy certificates that each plant will generate.

That means that the projects are being delivered by Australian and international developers with little or no subsidy, in direct contrast to some estimates that put the total subsidies of the renewable energy target at $45 billion.

A prime example of these contracts are the sub $55/MWh contract price written by Origin Energy for the 530MW Stockyard Hill wind farm, and the $60/MWh contract written by AGL for the Silerton wind farm.

But nearly all new solar farms are being contracted for around $70/MWh, and because these prices are lower than the current wholesale prices in these markets,  and include the renewable energy certificates, the effective subsidy is zero.

What is also significant is that the solar farms are actually getting paid less money than the coal generators that were built decades ago. New solar and wind is cheaper for consumers than old coal.

Imagine that. Such a story would made a mockery of the paper’s line that renewable energy subsidies are too generous. It may be true that a mechanism is required to encourage wind and solar to be built and contracted by the big retailers, but it is clear that the actual subsidy is already minimal.

Of course, to be able to publish that, the The Australian would have to admit not only that its story about the Saudi prince completely wrong, but also the story that prompted it – and a Murdoch “analysis” that put the total cost of subsidies from the renewable energy target at $45 billion.

Indeed, Crowe’s article draws heavily from an article written by Creighton on September 8, when he wrote:

With a capacity of just under 150,000 megawatt hours a year, the solar farm, up and running, will generate about $12.8m in revenue a year for the next few years, based on the current Large-scale Generation Certificates (LGC) price of $85.

Assuming that price falls to $60 on average between 2020 and 2030, the farm will provide a tidy $9m a year to the Saudi owners.

All up, over the 14 years, the $15.3m investment would have reaped about $140m for the owners, a return of more than 900 per cent, which, by the way, is quite a bit better than the typical super fund.

Like Crowe, Creighton appears to be unaware, or ignored, the fact that Moree signed a power purchase agreement that means its total revenue from Moree is around $85/MWh – so cheaper than the wholesale price of electricity and with zero value for the renewable energy certificates.

The PPA announcement was written up in The Australian itself in March, 2016, when it was announced by the Spanish company which then owned the project, which makes Crowe’s “exclusive” on Wednesday even more bizarre. Crowe and Creighton could have found that story by doing this.

Indeed, if Moree’s solar output had been sold “on market”, then the solar farm would have reaped around $98/MWh so far in 2016/17.

So the contract signed with Origin was actually good for consumers – the $85/MWh is a saving and cheaper than the average wholesale price. At current prices, that would deliver a saving of $41.5 million in energy costs over the life of the contract, and comprises a grand total of $0 for 2.3 million Renewable Energy Certificates.

But it appears that zero subsidy is still too much to acknowledge for the Murdoch media and the conservative agenda it amplifies.

What’s more, the original ARENA grant for Moree was awarded well before the Saudi billionaire bought the company that developed the project, FRV. Which means that the $300 million in subsidies advertised in the original story was completely made up.

But research is not the paper’s strong point. Creighton preceded his story about Moree by multiplying the output of all the wind and solar farms already built, and about to be constructed, by what he assumed would be the market price of LGCs.

He came up with a number of $45 billion for RET subsidies (and then added in the money allocated to the CEFC, ARENA and came up with a figure of $60 billion) which has been repeated in numerous articles in The Australian and elsewhere. But it is complete nonsense, and both Creighton stories stand uncorrected.

  

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  • Tim Buckley

    Thanks Giles for again calling out the fabrications and delusions of the subsidised Murdoch mouthpiece.

  • solarguy

    Shame there isn’t a body that could litigate against media lies and false reporting.

    • Rod

      Yes, even the ABC’s factcheck got the chop from this mob.

    • Joe

      Get ‘Standards Australia’ to do something useful for a change…instead of pissing about with ‘Battery Bunkers’.

      • solarguy

        Battery bunkers almost assured wont happen, so relax. Our biggest threat is bullshit media.

    • neroden

      Looking at it, it looks to me like “The Australian” crossed the line into actual libel. The defamed parties (Origin and the Saudi investor) actually should be able to sue and get damages in court for being defamed by a knowingly false story.

      • solarguy

        Wouldn’t that be lovely if they did manage to siphon off a bit of Rupert’s fortune away.

  • Chris Drongers

    A correction, small and lacking prominence, but there.

  • Ren Stimpy

    Renew Economy – 10
    The Australian – nil

    It was an abysmal effort by The Australian in this match. They threw all their players forward into untenable positions early in the match, leaving nothing in defense for the entire first half. The Australian’s attack was lacklustre and clumsy, including several passes directly to opposition players, and their forward defense was thin and porous.

    Renew Economy found the going all too easy and with nobody at home in The Australian’s goal square apart from the keeper who himself own-goaled twice, the lead quickly blew out to 5-nil in the first 15 minutes and 7-nil by half time.

    The second half saw The Australian at least try to muster some defense, but having just returned from an arduous tour of the continent playing in the Conservative Leagues, poor tactics and tired legs eventually gave way to more errors.

    The referee decided against sending the match in stoppage time, there not being any point, and The Australian was booed off the pitch by their own fans. They are now on the precipice of relegation to the Bog Roll League, and there are serious questions over the future of manager Jose Cannuusee at the club.

    • Joe

      ..The Australian surely scores…MINUS !

      • Ren Stimpy

        Nil in this case denotes that no merits were present, apart from some magnitude of suck…… so I guess a minus is worthy of discussion to attribute.

    • Barri Mundee

      The Australian could not manage to cut through despite the relentless efforts of the IPA cheer squad in the stands, frothing at the mouth and shouting encouragement as loud as they could.

      • Ren Stimpy

        The Australian’s fans were throwing bottles onto the pitch and they very nearly rioted after their team put forward such an indefensible display of Bullshit Football.

  • Peter Mills

    Again The Australian and other Murdoch (true leader of the world – not!) papers/minions fall into the right wing trap, I saw thru this a decade back when I did subscribe but they turned too far right and my sub went away with it. Thats why more and more of us great unwashed are turning away from them. We do want balanced reporting and look for this, The OZ aint delivering.

    • Joe

      Latest reader figures ‘supposedly’ show readership is going up or is a smaller number of readers buying multiple copies !

  • Peter F

    To further compound their lies I excepted some of your story from yesterday and posted in the comments with attribution . Lo and behold it was moderated away, perhaps because I asked a question at the end asking if he was lazy, innumerate or just stupid

    • Rod

      Yeah, the “stupid” bit would have done it.
      Selective censorship is rife on any “News” site promoting FF

    • JIm

      Try wilfully ignorant?

  • Joe

    Yes I read the Creighton’s spiel when he published and then I did a double take after reading the Crowe’s spiel…same story! What is going on here with Rupert and his flagship newsrag. Repeat a lie often enough and the punters just swallow it as the truth?…of course! I’ll just repeat my comment from a few days ago…tomorrows newspaper edition reads…Apology….

  • Nick Thiwerspoon

    The Mordochcracy is toxic sludge. The Australian was –25 years ago– an excellent paper, though even then the editorial was far right. But now it is no more than second-rate, and a mouthpiece for the IPA.

    • juxx0r

      it’s got electrolytes.

      • Carl Raymond S

        ‘Idiocracy’ reference? Good movie. When people say “you couldn’t script this”, I think no, Idiocracy scripted it (while not imagining their satire would come true).

    • Joe

      The Australian should drop the pretence that it is an informative NEWSpaper. It should be be renamed…’The Liberal Party Newsletter’.

      • Barri Mundee

        Or the LNP-IPA Newsletter with IPA denoting “Institute for Propaganda Advancement”

  • brucelee

    Who can we complain to?!

  • Ken Dyer

    Oh Dear, whenever I read about the Australian’s confected energy bullshit (I dont waste my time reading it), I lthink about the source of all our global wind and solar energy.

    I advise that everybody should do it too. Why? Because We have a very nice working nuclear fusion reactor at the safe distance of 150 million km, thank you very much, which delivers a continuous 174 petawatts of energy to Earth free of charge. It has sufficient fuel to continue operation for several billion years and its rate of fuel consumption is completely unaffected by anything we do with the delivered energy at this end.

    You shall then become calm and focussed and realise that the insane rantings of Murdoch, The Australian, the IPA and all those sundry right wing politicians are senseless and an insult to your intelligence.

  • neroden

    Hmmm. I think “The Australian” just committed malicious defamatory libel.

    Both Origin and the Saudi billionaire have standing to sue and recover damages.

    • Carl Raymond S

      We’ve just had a signal from the courts that the fake news has to stop. The Rebel Wilson case was a record payout.

  • John Sheehan

    Courier Mail had a spiel from the Institute for Progress on 22/9 on the same theme. All orchestrated for RWNJ.
    PS
    Love Ren Stimpy’s analysis.