Australia's renewable future in hands of policy fringe dwellers | RenewEconomy

Australia’s renewable future in hands of policy fringe dwellers

The climate skeptic brigade is now in full control of climate and renewable energy policy in this country. Say goodbye to carbon pricing and the renewable energy target as we know it. There’s still a glimmer of hope for the CEFC and ARENA.


So, it’s come down to this. The defence of Australia’s renewable energy industry has been entrusted to the hands of a man who thinks carbon pollution is caused by nature, not people, and another who is openly hostile to wind farms.

wind-150x150The re-run of the Senate election in Western Australia this weekend provides some interesting fodder for the psephologists: Labor’s continued electoral implosion, the Scott Ludlum-inspired revival of the Greens, and the outstanding success of Clive Palmer’s expensive electioneering.

But for the key policies that will affect Australia’s renewable energy industry – and the decarbonisation of the Australian economy – the equation is essentially unchanged. The numbers in the new Senate, to site from July 1 means that the carbon price – despite whatever hoops that Palmer may try and get the Abbott conservative government to jump through – is effectively dead and buried.

Any changes to the renewable energy target – or even its ditching – will likely go unimpeded through parliament. At best, Labor and the Greens would need support for the RET from Nick Xenophon, not a fan of wind farms, and the DLP’s John Madigan, who has been celebrating what he is sure is the impending demise of the RET.

“The wind industry is panicking in Australia with the likely death of the Renewable Energy Target and this is another example of its peddling influence and money to manipulate the truth,” Senator Madigan told The Australian last week.

At worst, Labor and the Greens would need support from the Palmer United Party to support the renewables target. Good luck with that; Palmer, who now has three of his own Senators and a fourth from the Motoring Party tied up in an unspecified “alliance,” says renewable energy targets should not be compulsory.

“We don’t intend to legislate to make people do something they may not want to do,” Palmer told ABC’s Lateline program last week. This, as economist Ross Garnaut pointed out on the same program, would be about as effective as making taxes voluntary.

What’s not clear is the future of the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation, or likely budget cuts to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, both of which would require legislative approval.

The CEFC was actually supported by Xenophon and Madigan in a repeal vote earlier this year because, while they are not supporters of wind energy, they see the upside of bringing in new renewable technologies. Xenophon, in particular is a fan of what he calls “baseload” renewables, meaning geothermal and ocean energy – even those these are years away from commercial deployment. The CEFC has been largely focused on energy efficiency, waste-to-energy, and some emerging solar technologies. ARENA is similarly focused on techologies that do not yet match wind energy on cost.

If Labor can somehow grab the sixth seat in the WA Senate, then Xenophon and Madigan could protect the CEFC, and allow it to continue beyond early July. If not, and the sixth seat falls to the Liberals, then the fate of the CEFC lies in the hands of Palmer.

Quite what he makes of the CEFC is anyone’s guess. The fact that it brings in private money at a ratio of nearly $3 for every $1 in loans may be appealing, so might its ability to develop a profit to the government, and abatement at a “net benefit.”

The abatement equation, however, may just fall on deaf ears. Palmer, it seems, appears to believe that any sort of abatement is a waste of time. Quoting material from what must be one of the more extreme climate denier websites, Palmer told Lateline last week:

“Now we know that 97 per cent of the world’s carbon comes from natural sources. Why don’t we have money to look at how we can reduce the overall carbon signature by reducing it from nature, not just from industry. It’s entirely wrong-focused.”

And there’s more. Check out the transcript, it gets feisty in part but it is as though Palmer is channeling the thoughts of Tony Abbott’s main business advisor, Maurice Newman, and those of Dick Warburton, the head of the RET review panel. The climate skeptic brigade is now in full control of climate and renewable energy policy in this country.

Of course, it did not need to have come to this. Climate change and renewable energy policies were supposed to be bipartisan, and for a brief moment in time they were, before the relentless and pig-headed push by the Rudd government to make climate change a wedge issue for the conservatives saw Malcolm Turnbull’s reign at the head of the Coalition ended abruptly, the Liberal Party swerve dramatically to the far right with his replacement by Abbott, and the Greens reject the then CPRS after Rudd refused to even talk to them.

The renewable energy target was also supposed to be bipartisan, and Labor had the opportunity to put this issue to rest if it had the conviction to accept the Climate Change Authority’s recommendation to provide certainty for the industry and push the next review out to 2016.

In the end, Labor backed off. It was the only one of the CCA’s key recommendations that Labor refused to implement.

Not only did that decision make the rest of the CCA’s recommendations and endorsement of the RET irrelevant (because of lingering uncertainty about the future of the policy), it left the way open for the Abbott government to conduct its own review, and justify it as a legislative requirement.

And so it appointed a special panel comprising a climate change sceptic, a fossil fuel lobbyist and the former head of one of Australia’s most emissions intensive generation companies to consider the merits of wind and solar.

Now, the renewables industry has to rely, possibly beyond hope, on the support of politicians who think that human-caused climate change is a myth, and that renewables should not be mandated, probably cause health problems, are expensive and unreliable.

It should never have come to this. But it has.

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  1. Keith 7 years ago

    …and the rest of the world is shaking it’s head. How embarrassing, but unfortunately it won’t just be embarrassment that we shall reap from this lunatic posturing. There is serious intent internationally to do something about climate change.

  2. Miles Harding 7 years ago

    It’s amazing how stupid people can be when they think there’s a short term buck in it.
    (They elected Palmer in the WA senate rerun!)

    It makes me more determined to go completely off-grid

  3. Grant Boxer 7 years ago

    Only about 877 days to go to the next Fed Election – let’s continue the pressure on the government and get the message out to the voters. I support the Greens and maybe a united push is required.

  4. Stan Hlegeris 7 years ago

    The right wing nut cases are right on that one narrow point: 97% of all carbon dioxide emissions DO come from natural sources. In a world protected from human damage, every bit of that production would be consumed and the atmosphere would be in balance.

    But this very point makes the case that the extra 3% can throw the entire system dangerously out of balance. Clive Palmer is a physical manifestation of this.

    A man of Mr. Palmer’s size, at normal weight, would need to eat about 10,000 kilojoules per day. Exceeding this budget by just 3% can lead to catastrophe and has done so in his case.

    An extra 300kJ per day (just a little snack) over 45 years delivers an extra 4.9 million kJ. For a person of normal metabolism, that would produce about 133 kilograms of extra body fat. Mr. Palmer is a physical manifestation of the result of forcing a natural system just slightly out of balance.

    Do we want an atmosphere which is healthy, strong, and fit, or do we want one in the same awful condition as Mr. Palmer’s body? We’re on track for the latter.

    • MrMauricio 7 years ago

      That 3ppm is cumulative!! Atmospheric CO2 levels have risen from 250 ppm to 400ppm in the last 150 years.The CO2 level is the highest in 400,000 years(Ice core CO2 records go back 800,000years). The additional greenhouse energy impact of this at current levels is 4 Hiroshima bombs per second-going to the oceans and the atmosphere in varying proportions depending on ocean currents and upwellings.Sea levels are rising and ice sheets(Greenland,the Arctic and West Antarctic) are melting at a rate faster than the end of the last Ice Age. Anthropogenic emissions of GHGs could bring the climate to a state where it reverts to the highly unstable climate of the pre-ice age period.

      • Stan Hlegeris 7 years ago

        I concur. Is there something about which we disagree?

      • RobS 7 years ago

        His entire post made the point that it is cumulative…

  5. Linda Eggington 7 years ago

    Every single one of us can help change this situation – simply by moving our superannuation out of fossil fuels and into portfolios that focus on the growing renewables sector around the world. Also, choosing non-fossil fuel power. There are a number of companies that can help you do this. What’s more, you may be surprised at how competitive they are with the status quo.

    • Gongite 7 years ago

      Very true Linda, that would make some difference. Shifting away from the big four banks that lend so much to fossil fuel extraction ventures would help too, as would installing renewable energy and consuming less

      Unfortunately some people do not get a choice of superannuation provider. Anyone working in a university is stuck with UniSuper, whose pathetic concession recently was to do some due diligence on fossil fuel exploration and extraction companies before putting in funds that members allocate to the ‘socially responsible shares’ investment option. Still fine to invest in utilities etc. And socially responsible shares is a high risk investment option, not for everyone…

    • RobS 7 years ago

      The reality is, despite the tiresome doom and gloom of the industry and renewable energy media, that people are choosing to go clean tech at a faster and faster rate and a slew of subsidy reductions and cessations have failed to stop that. When Queensland cut their solar FiT to 8c this website and a skew of others wrote the obituary of further solar installations in Qld, they declared it could not survive, well we now see that despite an initial drop (significantly smaller than the pre reduction surge) installation are growing again and have now surpassed the rate of installations prior to the reduction.

      In the last three years the RET STC subsidy available for rooftop solar has been cut by over $2 per watt yet installation rates have continued to grow, the entire remaining STC subsidy amounts to ~$0.60 per watt and once again the Media and industry would have us believe cutting it will kill solar in Australia.

      I love renewable energy, I generate ~80% of my power needs on my rooftop and plan on adding more in 4 years along with some storage when my current FiT contract expires to become fully self sufficient. I believe that the externalities of fossil fuel use (perfectly demonstrated recently with the near evacuation of an entire town due to a coal mine fire) more than justify ongoing government support. However I don’t think for a second that if that support ends the industry will see anything but a short term dip in sales before the rate of growth continues on unabated.

      • Alen 7 years ago

        In regards to externalities, some people may claim Morwell mine was an accident and therefore should be excluded, but recently GDF Suez was orderd in Italy to shutdown two of its coal-fired generators for serious health concerns in the adjoining town

        • RobS 7 years ago

          Those people would be wrong because the impact of the accidents associated with various technologies are one of the most fundamental type of externality. I’m not even vaguely suggesting these are the only ones, it is the constant insidious almost invisible ones which are the most damaging ones, but ironically it is the brief but highly visible ones that often result in action. The real externalities of concern are the hundreds of millions of dollars in respiratory and cardiovascular mortality and morbidity that result from exposure to fossil fuel particulate emissions. The coal industry costs this country far more than its value to this country

  6. Alen 7 years ago

    What a depressing state we’re in, and the G20 will only help announce this to the world more clearly. After watching the debate with Garnaut and Palmer, all I can say is that Palmer is very good at putting a spin on things. If I didn’t know more about this I would almost be tempted to believe Palmer had a good point. However, if he wants to reduce emissions from nature, why doesn’t he object to Abbott’s plans to reduce Tasmanian protected forests , encourage more biochar manufacture and fund large scale tree planting projects? There’s an example of a valid, relatively simple and cheap natural way of dealing with natural CO2 emissions and strengthening the carbon cycle (from the sink side anyway).

  7. Adam Lucas 7 years ago

    Stan, Clive Palmer was NOT correct to claim that 97% of current CO2 emissions come from natural sources. Levels of atmospheric CO2 are now 35% higher than they were before industrialization (400 ppm vs 270 ppm), not 3% higher, as Palmer kept falsely claiming throughout the Lateline ‘debate’, and with regard to which neither Tony Jones nor Ross Garnaut corrected him. This failure to point out an elevenfold underestimate of human contributions to atmospheric CO2 highlights the fact that if we want to hear or read an informed discussion about climate science and the urgency for action on dangerous anthropogenic interference with the earth’s climate, we might want to stop listening to the majority of economists, journalists, politicians and business people about the issue, when they almost invariably have a poor grasp of the science and exactly what is at stake. What we are seeing is the death of evidence-based policy making, and the principles of the Enlightenment upon which most of our democratic institutions were originally founded.

    • Alen 7 years ago

      (As someone pointed out to me too) the 3% refers to the emission while the 400ppm is the atmospheric concentration, i.e. The accumulation of the 97%+3% emissions. The levels rose from 270 to 400ppm concentration because there was too much emission output, fewer sinks and hence the carbon cycle could not keep up. The 3% therefore is not referring to 270/400 ppm concentration.

      • Adam Lucas 7 years ago

        RobS and Alen, Clive Palmer said during the interview, and I quote from the transcript, “Now we know that 97 per cent of the world’s carbon comes from natural sources.” He said NOTHING about annual carbon emissions, or a 3% over-burden of annual global carbon emissions from human activities. If you can find such a specific reference, please cite it for us. So, my apologies, but it is Palmer who is guilty of not clarifying what he is talking about, and “[c]onfusing annual emission volumes with absolute atmospheric concentration”. Palmer has an extremely poor grasp of the science, or he would support much stronger efforts by Australia to mitigate its emissions and realize his coal-mining ambitions make no sense from an emissions reduction perspective. Nor was I arguing for Palmer’s “lack of enlightenment”, but making a historical and political point. I don’t need to hide behind pseudonyms to make my case, RobS, and you should study your sources before jumping to inappropriate conclusions.

        • Alen 7 years ago

          (From memory of the interview)
          Palmer was saying “comes from natural sources” and throwing around 97/3 % value, which indicates Emissions and throughout the interview/debate the impression I got was that he was referring only to emissions being currently released, but you were tying it to him claiming a total 3% concentration in the atmosphere.
          I cannot remember him referring to concentrations or levels in the atmosphere being 3% human contribution. Surely not even he would make such a claim as the total levels are only 3% from humans. The 35% you claimed was from concentration levels, i.e not the same as he was referring about

        • RobS 7 years ago

          I don’t hide behind pseudonyms either, my name is Robert Smithers I just choose to use a handle on the internet as billions of others do too. What I also don’t do is make personal attacks to cover for an inability to effectively counter other’s valid rebuttals. You claimed Mr Palmer was wrong when he said “human carbon dioxide emissions represent about 3% of total atmospheric CO2 emissions” as evidence for claiming he was incorrect you point out that the atmospheric CO2 level is 35% higher than it was in the oer industrial era. That number is irrelevant as Mr Palmer was talking about annual emissions and their source not absolute atmospheric concentrations, the two are entirely distinct numbers. Mr Palmer is far closer to being correct than you are as human emissions represent between 3 and 4% of the total amount of CO2 being added to the atmosphere annually. The problem comes from the fact that the 97% which represent natural emissions from animals, microbe, plant respiration, volcanic and ocean emissions were balanced by natural sequestration for billions of years, adding 3% in additional emissions to a balanced system has led to the 35% rise in absolute concentration you pointed out by unbalancing a finely balanced cycle.
          Mr Palmers facts were correct, it is the implications of them he has wrong.

    • RobS 7 years ago

      He WAS correct, current human emissions represent a 3% over burden on what was a stable system or cycle, many years of that over burden have led to an absolute level of atmospheric CO2 ~35% higher than in the pre industrial era. Confusing annual emission volumes with absolute atmospheric concentration is hardly an effective way to try and argue other’s poor grasp of the science and lack of enlightenment.

  8. Mark Roest 7 years ago

    It’s time to start seriously looking at what the possibilities are for additional breakthroughs in the performance to cost ratio of both renewable energy conversion systems (wind, solar, wave, current, waste reuse and conversion to fuel, OTEC, etc.), and battery electricity storage.

    Using Bosch Captive Columns , U.S. Patent 3,501,880 for towers and blade spars, and possibly using the Bosch Polyturbine (see Photo Gallery on website) can cut the cost of wind turbines significantly. This can replace the lost tax incentives and regulatory requirements, in places where the government is not so in love with the incumbents that they are willing to go to the length of denying permits, and other negative manipulations. The relative economic success of the places which do switch wholesale to renewable energy sources will have a significant impact in future elections, if the industry ensures that the information is in front of every citizen in the backward regimes.

    Battery technology is coming in a very few years which will greatly outperform what is available today, so it will be possible to economically guarantee clean power 24/7, even with very high penetrations of solar and wind. That will only get better over time. Simultaneously, it will make electric vehicles undeniably more attractive than fossil fuel-driven transportation in every way, including absolute efficiency. That will increase the demand for renewable energy, and cut the use of fossil fuels as fast as new vehicles can be built and old ones retired from use.

    Where utilities resist, companies like SunPower can come in and set up microgrids with ample storage to enable neighborhoods to go off the grid completely — in other words, to divorce their utility and come out ahead, and then contribute testimonials to get others to do the same. SunPower phrased it something like ‘rolling right over them’ (referring to the incumbent, resistant utilities).

    Anyone trying to support the incumbents at that point will be a laughing-stock, and it will be possible to replace the conservative governments on the basis of their abysmal performance on energy alone. Ya just gotta take the medium to long view!

  9. Chris Fraser 7 years ago

    But what a good point came from the discussion about 97% of emissions originating from nature. Garnaut’s response (that before industrialisation there was a balance) implies that the environment is having to cope with about 103.09 % of ancient emissions that it dealt with before. Probably very true. Far from being a strong argument to silence an ordinary fool, Clive sees an opportunity to force nature to emit less ? This dream beggars belief.
    I guess coal does slowly degrade over millenia and emit methane to the atmosphere (a serious GHG), but Clive-logic would have us think the best response is dig it up and combust it before it has a chance to.
    Or otherwise search the forest for fallen leaves and tree limbs, put them in the chipper to make cardboard before they rot. Wow, where on earth does Clive get the energy to do that (the Green Army?)
    Or methane released from arctic clathrates, does does Clive know of a technology to make them stop ? Does nature have to give way so we can all carry on like we have been ?

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