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Turnbull leads attack on wind as Coalition readies carbon price backflip

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Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition government appears ready to throw the medium and long-term future of Australia’s large-scale renewable energy market under a bus, as the price to be paid for a back-flip on a carbon price for the electricity sector.

Turnbull joined with The Australian and right-wing climate denying bloggers Andrew Bolt and Jo Nova on Friday in somehow connecting last week’s network fault in Victoria with the growth of renewable energy. Turnbull told a local radio station that the outage was the “fault” of the South Australian government.

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On Monday, a clearer picture of what the Coalition is up to emerged with the release of the terms of reference for the climate policy review in 2017. Importantly, this review is no longer a “sit rep” – situation report – flagged by energy minister Josh Frydenberg when he first took office.

It will, in fact, consider a range of new policy mechanisms, such as an emissions intensity baseline and credit scheme for the electricity sector (effectively a carbon price), a sure sign that the Coalition now realises what Turnbull knew all along – that Direct Action is a fraud and a fig leaf for serious action on climate change.

But to try to dance its way through internal politics, the demands of the fossil fuel lobby and comparisons with Labor’s own proposals, Turnbull and Frydenberg appear to have concluded that the best way to appease the far-right rump of the Coalition is to abandon direct support for renewables, help open up the Galilee Basin coal resource and push for more coal seam gas.

Reports emerged on the weekend that the Coalition is considering offering a $1 billion concessional loan to help build a rail link between the Galilee Basin coal projects and the port at Abbot’s Point. The idea has appalled environment groups.

It also comes as emergency talks are held in Melbourne about the “gas supply crisis”, and as the Coalition readies to receive the Finkel review of the National Electricity Market and prepares to again badger the states on the individual renewable targets at the COAG conference this Friday.

The conflicting strategies comes as yet another report highlights the parlous state of the country’s climate efforts, noting that Australia is on track to use up its entire “carbon budget” under the Paris agreement in little more than a decade.

The federal government is seeking to project its problems on to state-based renewable and emissions targets, but it is a situation entirely of its own making.

The states have been forced to step up because the federal government has no climate policy, it has no renewable energy policy that looks beyond 2020, and it has tried to scupper the schemes that encourage new technologies.

Its long-term energy policy framework, the energy white paper, is based on the assumption that climate goals are not met. It’s a reference still being used by its most prominent climate sceptic minister, Matt Canavan, who is pushing for the entire Galilee Basin coal province to be dug up on the basis that India will need the coal.

Again, that is an assumption made on the basis of no action being taken on climate change – an assumption that was deemed risky even by the International Energy Agency in its World Energy Outlook issued last month.

The large-scale renewable energy sector in Australia can look forward to a busy three or four years, as a rapid build up is conducted to make up for three years of policy uncertainty and a capital strike by the major retailers, and complete disinterest from the corporate sector.

The industry is hopeful that the Coalition will finally put in place a longer-term signal for large-scale renewables, but they shouldn’t get too hopeful.

Turnbull’s continued attack on wind and solar is extraordinary. He used the failure of a network conductor in Victoria to resume his attack on the renewable energy policies of South Australia and other Labor states.

He was joined by The Weekend Australian, which described renewables as “ruinous;” climate denial propaganda website Jo Nova, which decided that wind energy was at fault (when a major transmission line fails, things happen); and, of course, Andrew Blot from the Herald Sun, who had another go at blaming wind energy.

“Australia is on the brink of an electricity disaster thanks to its global warming madness,” Bolt wrote. “In South Australia, the wind farms failed again and helped to cause huge blackouts.” Bolt reckoned that the cause was “too little wind”.

In a fact-free world of hysterical right-wing bloggers, it matters not that South Australia has always relied on the interconnector – Victorian coal has long been cheaper than gas – and the outage would have occurred whatever the mix.

But any thoughts that Turnbull would lift the tone of the conversation were dashed on Friday, when he ignored the advice of the grid owner and the market operator, and used the same line as Bolt and Nova, saying of the latest outage “there is not enough back up power in South Australia to cope with that contingency.”

Actually, there is more than enough back up power in South Australia. About three times more than is needed to meet that demand last Wednesday morning. It is just too slow to respond to the loss of the link without forcing some load losses to balance supply and demand.

But Turnbull wasn’t done yet. “The clear responsibility for this is the government of South Australia,” Turnbull said of a conductor that fell off a transmission line in western Victoria.

Turnbull described Labor’s pursuit of 50 per cent renewable energy targets at state and federal level as “ideological,” and then pretended: “I am totally non-ideological about renewables versus fossil fuels.” But he does have to jump through hoops to satisfy the ideologues in his own party.

On Monday, Frydenberg was making it clear that any change to the renewable energy target – lifting the target or making it longer dated – was not on the agenda. He described it on ABC’s AM program as an expensive way to change the energy mix and cut emissions. “It’s not at the top of our list,” he said.

That makes it clear that the only mechanism for large-scale renewables will be state-based targets, and even these are likely to be heavily dependent on Labor states remaining in power. The federal scheme effectively comes to a halt in 2020, requiring no new projects if the target is met by that time. But at least it has bipartisan support.

The fossil fuel industry will want to support a baseline and credit scheme, because its structure will favour gas over wind and solar – at least until the rapid price fall in those technologies force a redesign of the energy markets.

BHP Billiton issued a statement last week saying that the solution to clean energy had to be “more than renewables.” RenewEconomy sought clarification on what this meant; if BHP was favouring carbon capture and storage, or nuclear energy, as the Institute of Public Affairs suggested last week.

We didn’t get much of a reply. We were referred to the company’s sustainability report and some recent blogs by its economist Huw McKay. When we pointed out that we had already seen them, and noted that, like the federal government, they rely on the assumption that climate targets are not met, we got short shrift.

RE was then told that BHP “expects that the contribution of renewable energy will increase over time”, including as stand-alone opportunities for its own operations, but that “we need to ensure that this transition is well managed” and balanced by price, security of supply and emissions intensity. Almost exactly the answer of Frydenberg and Turnbull.  

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  • phred01

    What a carbon tax the Captain must be liveried! Just think of it tax on a tax and coal/ gas generators will just pass it on. Similar to Gillard’s but with no compensation for those on the bottom of the pile that will actually paying for it. All brought to you by a govn’t of low mentality. So what will be the rate 5, 10, 20% who knows cos the budget needs plugging

  • DevMac

    Malcolm is on the campaign trail for the SA Libs. Nothing but a politician. Doesn’t listen when the expert advice is contrary to his own interests. Get Abbott back leading the Libs as soon as possible. At least everyone knows Abbott’s a nutjob and won’t vote him in again.

  • Ken Dyer

    Minister Canavan and the Federal Government ought to take note of this article in The Australian who actually got something right for a change
    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/latest/india-to-stop-coal-imports-possibly-within-3-years/news-story/25254f2700c34da9c709a6e7feb22c5d
    Even Aurizon have written off tens of millions of dollars on the rail link from the Galilee Basin.
    Nobody, and I mean nobody should be stupid enough to realise that NO more COAL is needed, and any decision by Governments to GIFT money to polluters is WASTING taxpayer dollars.

  • JohnOz

    BHP prefers Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and Nuclear Power.

    Duuuuh! CCS was scotched in 2009 by a 160 page report to the Global CCS Institute by WorleyParsons – BHP should try reading it and saving both tits breath and its money. Nuclear Power I agree with. In case anyone hasn’t noticed there is a massive fusion reactor a convenient 8.25 light minutes from earth that supplies its own fuel and recycles its own waste and provides energy via solar, wind and hydroelectricity.

    • trackdaze

      Yes but it sheds light on the dark ages that bernadi et al and those that vote for them do.

      Also fades curtains too.

      • john

        Oh yes i so do remember those who came out with the daylight saving argument.
        Just remember some of the mob also bleated “these solar panels will never pay for them selves in a million years”
        In the commercial setting for small business about 5 years would be the payback time.

    • john

      Very true John.
      BHP is a very large miner in many countries and conservative as shown.
      Some of its latest efforts with investments have proven bad plays.

  • Alan S

    He has absolutely no idea of how to constrain emissions to meet Australia’s international obligations. We’ve apparently ‘spent’ 20% of our allowance that was supposed to take us to 2050.
    However, like all conservatives he’s afraid of change and focusses on what he doesn’t like rather than coming up with realistic ideas.
    BTW, there’s yet another proposal being floated to reopen the Northern power station at Port Augusta.

  • Andrew Howard

    Idiots. Costly and it will only increase the rate that folks abandon the grid as battery storage and solar come down in cost. They should end fossil fuel subsidies and then *allow* renewables to take their place in the market.
    Gone are the days when renewable generation and distributed grid is “futuristic”. the established players are now scrambling to be protected from the market by government. Good old Libs…their abandonment of free markets and less government is morbidly fascinating, but ultimately it will strip them of any legitimacy and expose their corrupt cronyism.

  • Rob G

    I hope this helps to confirm to those voters, that placing faith in Malcolm Turnbull to step up to climate change was misguided. Labor will need to make up a lot of ground in 2019.

  • Cooma Doug

    Im worried. On Sunday we got a special deal at the farm beach market, a leg of lamb 6 dollars.
    Then solar cooked. Total cost 6 dollars.
    I remember those carbon tax 100 dollar roasts. Looks like we are heading into a tax nightmare again.
    Im thinking 7 dollars to grind 200grams of coffee.

    • Rod

      I vividly remember Stratco putting up the price of a 8.5kg gas bottle by $1 using the Carbon tax an an excuse. Funny, it never came down.

      Thumbs up for the solar cooked lamb bargain.
      Reminds me our solar oven needs a bit of TLC for Summer.

  • howardpatr

    Direct Action is not unlike Cayman Turnbull – a farce.

  • Colin Edwards

    Robert Manne was right. Turnbull, the true barrister at heart, will espouse totally contradictory positions on climate and energy within a space of a couple of years. Anything to keep himself at the helm until next election, and after if possible.

  • Mark Roest

    One approach could be a highly public campaign that turns “balanced by price, security of supply and emissions intensity” back by detailing for the public, on the Net as well as via any half-way responsible media, just how each of those 3 factors works, how they interact in an energy efficiency, renewable energy and battery approach, and some repetition of the total cost comparisons.

    • Richard

      Sorry, the electorate only votes for the best three word slogan. Can you condense that into three catchy words that sums it up precisely.

      • neroden

        Solar Is Cheaper

        • Richard

          If we just repeat that over and over on every com channel for the next couple of years it will sink in. Trouble is the powers that be won’t let it be heard. All we will get is “coal is good”

      • Coley

        We’re buggered mate.
        Catchy enough?

  • your local firefighter

    Silly country people; They keep the Nationals in power which props up the LNP and their Double Bay / Toorak ambitions’. The Liberals have never won power in their own right and yet my peers (country people / out in “Station Land”) are the ones suffering the physical impacts of Climate Change (41°C today) and still try to tell me that it (Climate Change) is a Government conspiracy to tax the people!

    Would that be the same as Medicare is a Government Conspiracy to “heal the people” ?

  • Richard

    Look, fossil is cooked and they know it.
    This is the last thrashings of a dying beast. You can tell because the Libs and their cronies are going hysterical about it.
    The delicious irony is that it will be the market that kills fossil nothing government can do.
    I am going to take huge pleasure in watching the Libs and Bolt go beserk as their beloved beast slowly dies an agonizing death:)

  • MaxG

    I am glad I am on the path I am… more and more self-reliant… and slowly removing myself from all this nonsense. It has become unbearable… I do not watch TV, and stopped listening to the news… give me a few weeks and forums like this I may not frequent any more… next, building a 400m2 greenhouse for my Aquaponics system… 🙂

    • Rod

      Please stay Max. We need some positivity among all this madness.
      Yes, it feels like Armageddon is coming.
      Move to higher ground, become self sufficient in everything you can.
      Now where can I get me an Adler shotgun.

      • MaxG

        Yes, working on the higher ground… almost there… once I have the greenhouse, I will be set. The only bills: land tax, car and trailer rego, Internet, one mobile (@ $15/yr)…

        • Rod

          Yes, amazing how living sustainably can be financially rewarding.
          I can’t understand why more people don’t see the value.

    • Alan S

      This is one of the forums worth frequenting and practical people such as yourself are what are needed on it.

      • MaxG

        Thank you…
        It crystallises more and more it is a lost cause… it starts with the under-educated wilfully ignorant people in this country, and ends with the pollies we have got… the only out: remove yourself… what I am doing.

  • Gregory Gange

    Our ever lovable prime minister. His head up his arse, his balls in someone else’s very tight grip, and his mouth available to the highest bidder.
    He sold us out with the Republic, and now he is doing it again with Renewables.
    You know though, The most offensive thing of all of it is that he and hs wanker mates think Australians per se are stupid, because with this one, and the next, and then come the 2019ish election he will stand up in front of us with his ”perfect” smile, and lie to us all again as if we haven’t heard it all before.
    What was that naughty word whiny pyney used in Parliament ? That’s our pm too.

  • Radbug

    Canavan says India will need the coal. Has he seen the latest Indian Purchasing Managers’ Index, since the demonetisation fiasco began? It has taken a swan dive! Lesson: whatever India will need, it won’t be able to afford it! Politically, India is now in a state of chaos. I seriously think that we are witnessing, after 65 years of decay, the last gasp of the institutions of the Raj, the most obvious of which is the concept of India itself. Ask yourself, would YOU sink 21 biggies into a project that is dependent on an entity that will, in all likelihood, break up into half a dozen pieces, or else, go to war with Pakistan (to rally around the flag!), a war that could very well go nuclear? Canavan’s been taking crazy pills!