Abbott all over again? Coalition ramps up attack on renewables

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Coalition campaign against state-based renewables targets – and the deployment of its most potent weapon, policy uncertainty – has reached new heights over the past couple of months. Could Turnbull trump Abbott?

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The Coalition attacks against renewable energy in the last few weeks have reached their highest peak since the early days of the Abbott government, when the former prime minister hired a climate denying corporate leader to “review” the renewable energy target and try to have it scrapped.

It managed “only” to reduce the target by around a third, but the uncertainty it created still succeeded in bringing the industry to a halt: so much so that since Abbott’s election in September 2013, only one large-scale project has escaped the snare – the 175MW White Rock wind farm that is being built by the deep-pocketed Chinese turbine manufacturer Goldwind.

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All other projects that have been, or are being built, with finance or grants from institutions that the Coalition has spent much of the past three years trying to dismantle, such as the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, or thanks to state-and territory-based targets (such as the ACT’s) that the federal government is now trying to destroy.

The new campaign against state-based renewable energy targets – and the deployment of its most potent weapon, policy uncertainty – has reached a new intensity since the blackout in South Australia and the release of an independent report into Queensland’s 50 per cent renewable energy target for 2030.

The Murdoch media have dutifully switched into relentless attack mode. The Courier-Mail ran three opinion pieces demonising the renewable target over the weekend, and The Advertiser in Adelaide and other Murdoch media have been full of anti-renewable commentary. The Australian mothership has followed suit, quoting the usual assortment of vested interests and Coalition politicians about what a disaster high levels of renewables would be.

Chief among them is energy and environment minister Josh Frydenberg, who told The Australian there was an “increased chance of blackouts” if the states did not “harmonise” their renewable energy targets – i.e. abandon them and conform to the national target, which expires in a little over three years.

Indeed, Coalition politicians at state and federal level have been in lockstep with vested fossil fuel interests in pushing the line of “reliability and affordability”, despite a Queensland panel’s own findings that the state’s target would actually reduce costs to consumers and would not impact on system security.

Stanwell Corp, the state-owned company that owns coal- and gas-fired generators, blamed renewable energy for shifting Australia from one of the lowest-cost electricity countries to one of the highest.

That’s not the fault of renewables, though, it is the result of a more than doubling in wholesale prices driven largely by the energy oligopolies, huge but avoidable network investments, soaring gas costs, and the bidding patterns of companies such as Stanwell.

Stanwell was joined in The Australian‘s front page story by the usual suspects – former Labor treasurer and coal company chairman Keith de Lacy, who repeated his oft-spoken line that renewables would be the “end of manufacturing” in Australia, and former Business Council of Australia president Graham Bradley, who now chairs EnergyAustralia, the owner of the Yallourn brown coal generator in Victoria.

Bradley said “as we move towards more renewables we are by definition reducing out comparative competitive advantage.”

But Australia’s “comparative advantage” was lost well before the cost of shovelling dirt into a brown coal generator (about $10/MWh) was translated into a consumer end cost of more than $300/MWh. Or, if you live in Queensland and you don’t use much electricity, into an end cost of more than $700/MWh.

That does not leave much to the imagination on the possibilities of rooftop solar (less than $100/MWh now) and battery storage, and of course large-scale renewables that are cleaner than coal and cheaper than gas.

Which is possibly why the Murdoch media is shouting so loudly. In the Courier Mail on Saturday, the paper ran an anti-renewable rant from Peta Credlin (we’ll go into that in more detail later this week), a piece by columnist Des Houghton hooraying the LNG boom and CSG exploitation (“renewables just don’t cut it)”, and another piece by Peter Cameron along the same lines.

The impact of these attacks was revealed on Tuesday by representatives of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, who told a Senate Estimates hearing that uncertainty in the renewable energy sector has led to more than half of their projects becoming focused on energy efficiency rather than renewable energy.

Labor climate spokesman Mark Butler says the country has lost almost 3,000 renewable energy jobs since the Coalition came to power, while renewable jobs globally have grown by almost 65 per cent over the same period.

“Just two weeks ago Malcolm Turnbull attacked state governments’ renewable energy targets saying they are ‘extremely aggressive, and extremely unrealistic’,” he said.

“But today, the CEFC confirmed that when it comes to new investment in renewable energy the main activity is driven by state programs. Investors’ lack of confidence is a mirror of this government’s unwillingness to consider any renewable energy investment post 2020.”

That’s a point that is lost in the current debate but it underscores one big reality, that the Coalition is determined to remove any longer lasting policies that could inspire a concerted re-boot of the renewable energy industry. That wasn’t supposed to happen under Turnbull. But like so much else, nothing much has changed.

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28 Comments
  1. MikeH 3 years ago

    Meanwhile an Essential Poll finds that 59% of Australians approve of Labor’s plans for 50% renewables by 2030 even after being told an “independent report has said this policy would require about $48 billion of new private sector (not Government) investment”

    Only 19% opposed.

    70% of Labor voters, 48% of L/NP voters and 86% of Greens voters approve.

    http://www.essentialvision.com.au/renewable-energy-target-5

  2. howardpatr 3 years ago

    Day by day Turnbull’s sycophantic behavior towards the right wing religious conservatives in the LNP destroys the little credibility he has left.

    • MaxG 3 years ago

      I also did not know Turnbull had credibility… what an oxymoron for the average politician.

    • Ant.. 3 years ago

      He is yet to learn the art that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end.

  3. Alan S 3 years ago

    So it’s up to the rest of us to counter this rubbish at every opportunity: Dispel the wind farm myths re noise and embodied energy. Point out the uptake of domestic PV and give your own experiences. Explain the employment opportunities that waste recycling and biodiesel production bring.
    The more intelligent media is full of stories of falling battery prices, new solar farms, energy efficient building design and innovations in waste reduction and recycling. The anti-renewables reporting in the Murdoch media and the reasons behind it are becoming so blatant that eventually even the dimmest reader will stop swallowing it.

    • Ant.. 3 years ago

      A number of years ago a read a story published by the Rocky Mountains Institute about a renewable energy technology which did not gain any traction simply because the owners of high-rise buildings in parts of the USA were the suppliers/resellers of the heating, cooling and energy and a loss of that income would have a significant impacted on their ROI. A similar fight is going on between coal and renewables including distribution here in Australia. Where money and investment is involved you bring out the worst in people.

  4. Rob G 3 years ago

    Renewables have wide public support, coal does not. Media that speaks against the popular opinion are in danger of losing what remains of their credibility and risk further anger against the government. It’s pretty simple for most people to understand – many have felt immediate benefits of roof top solar and many understand the rapid improvements in battery storage (namely through power tools and vacuum cleaners already in the market). This misleading on renewables is a dangerous game, wrongly assuming the public don’t understand renewables.

    • MaxG 3 years ago

      I wasn’t aware that the media had any credibility left. Media is corporate, as such, it only publishes what does not hurt their revenue stream = advertising. They will not go against the biggest corporations in town — it is simply a fact.
      While people may like or support renewables, they clearly fall short in voting with with their ‘belief’ in mind.

      • Mark Roest 3 years ago

        If that’s all there is to it, you’re lucky. Here in the USA, the dominant media are owned by the corporations they are supposed to expose for doing bad things, just so they won’t (report them, that is), and so they can shift the overall pattern of discussion away from substantive issues and toward Trump’s outbursts, or whatever follows after he goes down in ignominy.

      • Rob G 3 years ago

        The media itself is not beholden to corporate interests and advertising dollars (at least with renewables). What’s more concerning are the owners of these media organisations being connected to political parties and vested interests.

        A survey done for the ABC, about a year ago, studied the trustworthiness of various Australian papers. Fairfax papers scored the highest with about 50% of readers trusting them. The lowest scoring was the Daily Telegraph and The Australian (plus a couple of other Newscorp papers). The study found only 1 in 6 readers trusted them.

        Murdoch’s papers world wide have a reputation for taking sides in politics, Namely the side Rupert likes (conservative and corporate “friendly parties). The problem here is, is that owners interests conflict with public interests (most of us love renewables) so you cannot have a paper go against the public without some consequence – namely trust in this case. And that is bad news in the news industry.

  5. trackdaze 3 years ago

    When the coalition went to the last election with the policy of 28% reduction in emmissions by 2030 it was serious.

    In practical terms this of course means it must curtail, obstruct and white ant renewable energy that would otherwise be greater. Some will of course also come from economic destruction or lost opportunities.

  6. MaxG 3 years ago

    It is simple: the LNP is in power because an Australian majority has put them there. We had a follow-up election, and the Australian majority gave them the nod. There is a difference between polling and electing… and it goes hand in hand with education, thinking for oneself, understanding, and not laziness and wilful ignorance. Until the latter two change, this story of dumb politics will continue.

  7. Ken Dyer 3 years ago

    Perhaps it is best to just ignore the COALition Government and get on with the 20th Century. This do nothing government is going down in the polls, and no amount of hot air on their part is going to retrieve the situation for their coal cronies. Renewable energy is on the move as we all know.

  8. Mark Roest 3 years ago

    So their target expires in 3 years; suppose they succeed in bullying (a la Trump) the State governments into going along with it. The question should be, if that happens, do we need subsidies beyond that time, if we get another 30% to 60% reduction in capital costs for solar and wind, and a 60% to 90% cut in battery costs, by then?
    If the answer is no, then there should be serious strategic discussions about precisely what relatively inexpensive actions could build industry strength between now and then, to a point at which you can tell all the people in a massive cross-industry ad and ‘test drive’ style campaign that you are below the effective price you would have been at with the subsidies, even though they’ve been pulled. No tax dollars went into it, or only ___ program tax dollars went into it, and they worked just like we said they would, and here we are, with no reason to listen to coal-burners screaming bloody murder that they can’t keep extracting ‘rent’ (corruption money) from customers if you sell all the solar and storage that people will want, at those prices. (Think price elasticity!)
    And because of the learning curve, those sales will help you pull the price even further below what the bad guys can survive on. Put the coal-supporting politicos out of office and the coal and oil and gas companies out of business, through price competition and appeals to people’s care for the natural world around us.

  9. Ant.. 3 years ago

    The focus of the discussion has to include how renewables can reduce household energy cost as well as climate change. A reduction in your energy bill is real whereas for some climate change is less personal and perhaps even imaginary.

  10. Mike Ives 3 years ago

    The real lesson to be learned from the likes of the SA blackout surely is the fickle nature of VRE without adequate dispatchable power. Just prior to the storm the turbines were producing 46% of the state’s energy but shutt down automatically when the wind strength got too high. Sure they were back on line after the storm but in between the supply via the Heywood line from Victoria caused it to become overloaded and also shut down. Pylon damage and stupid talk from Turnbull et al aside, shouldn’t this tell us we have to have the RE mix right?

    • Giles 3 years ago

      The AEMO report makes it quite clear that wind strength had nothing to do with it.

      • Mike Ives 3 years ago

        Yes Giles I have a copy of the report too. So why did the Heywood line shut down in your opinion?

        • Giles 3 years ago

          You have a copy of the latest report? It says quite clearly that “intermittency” and wind speeds had nothing to do with it. They are looking at the settings of some wind turbines, which caused them to wind down after multiple faults in a short period of time. When these are rectified, as they have already in most, then there should be no issue. They also looking at the faults which prevented the thermal generators to provide contracted back up power to restart system, and another three diesel generators that failed in Port Lincoln, leaving that area in the dark for an extra day.

          • Mike Dill 3 years ago

            If the ‘black-start’ generators had come on-line as they had been contracted to do, the outage would have been sever, but a lot shorter. Who is going (or is supposed) to fine the generators for not fulfilling their contracts?

          • trackdaze 3 years ago

            9 of 13 dropped out due to network falling over. This totalled 450mw.
            Interconnector couldn’t handle+ 450mega watts?

            And no one could find a lighter at gas generators?

            The question is of course what is an appropriate threshold for a generator to disconnect, is it any different between generator types and are the megawatt scale batteries on the ship?

    • David Osmond 3 years ago

      Hi Mike, it appears you have been mislead by misinformation. The turbines did not shut down when the wind strength got to high – they shut down immediately after faults on the transmission lines removed those lines from service. See the timeline on the AEMO report: https://www.aemo.com.au/Media-Centre/-/media/BE174B1732CB4B3ABB74BD507664B270.ashx

      • Mike Ives 3 years ago

        Thanks David I will take another look but my point remains. If you have large chunks of VRE in the mix and the sun isn’t shining because its night time or something and the wind gets to 100km/hr plus what do we call on for backup? Australia has very limited hydro reserves and the if Geodynamic’s 1MWE Habanero EGS plant cost figures are anything of a guide we won’t have much commercially viable geothermal for a while yet. So where do we turn for dispatchables?

        • David Osmond 3 years ago

          Hi Mike, have a look at the UNSW or AEMO 100% renewable studies, links below. They use existing hydro, biofuels and some storage associated with solar thermal technology to provide electricity during those times when wind and solar production is reduced. As you say, geothermal hasn’t progressed well recently, so you probably want to look at scenario 2 in the AEMO study.

          http://ceem.unsw.edu.au/sites/default/files/documents/LeastCostElectricityScenariosInPress2013.pdf

          https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/d67797b7-d563-427f-84eb-c3bb69e34073/files/100-percent-renewables-study-modelling-outcomes-report.pdf

          • Mike Ives 3 years ago

            David I will check these two references out once again and get back once I have some chores attended to. Meanwhile as helpful as it may be all computer modelling is just that; ‘modelling’. Have we ever put these suggested mixes into real world practice, even on a small scale? I seriously doubt it.
            Has the impact of thousands of tonnes of biomass on Australian land, water and EROI been seriously studied? The three Drax 660Mwe biomass units in the UK would consume far more than the whole UK timber industry so it imports 2.3 million tonnes per year of biomass pellets from North America for each unit. So when all 3 are fired up it will take something like 12,000 sq km of woodland to maintain supply.
            And have you read Roger Andrews’ take on the Spanish CSPs performance record. Even with up to 15% natural gas backup the plants rarely run 24/7 and never 24/7/365.
            Shall we get real about the huge problem we are facing?

    • David McKay 3 years ago

      I agree Mike. Even though I have been involved with building renewable projects for the past 10 years, I do realise the need for a transition plan. This can be executed rapidly, but not rushed. This is a 15 to 20 year programme. I believe optimum would be something like gas (CCGTs) + renewables + improved interconnection across the states.. Unfortunately it seems we are being held to ransom on gas prices.
      When I worked in the US, I saw small GT peakers located in industrial areas. These are back up, & sure you pay a peak rate, but with their fast ramp they can keep the lights on when needed.
      With larger CCGT plants we could be putting solar generated steam across the turbine during the day & running gas combined cycle at night.
      Eventually you build sufficient renewable capacity with low cost storage to power the grid. This takes time & has to be attractive to the proponents.
      Renewables need to be viable without subsidies, however, so does fossil fuel generation.

      • Mike Ives 3 years ago

        Thanks David. You sound like an engineer too. I concur we could take intermediate paths such as CCGT but do we really have time to ponce around? Even if the CCA does a back-flip and reintroduces its suggested 2013 carbon budget to 10.1 Gt CO2 eq by 2050 at the present rate of emissions Australia will be there by 2035

      • Peter G 3 years ago

        I so agree David but the incentives seem to be all wrong.

        Here in WA we are closing down a children’s hospital which has a co-gen gas plant in it. Not only does the replacement hospital have no embedded co-gen (or renewables) the increase in load is now a pretext to spend a half a billion dollars doubling the regional transmission voltages!

        As a result of this policy genius the States now wants to sell the local utility because of too much debt…

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