This should not be news, but given the polarised debate around climate and energy politics in Australia it very much is: The prime minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, has visited a solar farm.
Why is this important, or even worth mentioning? Well, as far as we can tell, it is the very first time that any minister in Morrison’s government has visited a new wind or solar farm.
Indeed, any sort of visit by any Coalition minister to a wind or solar farm since their election in 2013 has been a rare event, despite the massive number of new facilities that have opened and transformed the country’s grid.
Apart from a documented visit by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to the Barcaldine solar farm in 2017, (along with the local MP and now agriculture minister David Littleproud), Coalition ministers have been largely absent from the official openings of the more than 100 wind and solar farms over the past eight years.
That should be surprising. The saying goes that politicians will normally attend the opening of an envelope, but it seems they have been way too busy to attend such openings, including current energy minister Angus Taylor, who passed up an invitation last year to attend the opening of a new wind farm in his electorate.
The irony is that most of these wind and solar farms have been built largely as a result of a mechanism that the Coalition tried to kill – the renewable energy target – even though the government has been quite happy to boast of the wind and solar deployment in recent months as it seek to defend its climate policies.
And it is not as though the new technologies had gone unnoticed. Former prime minister Tony Abbott complained wind farms were “visually awful”, but despite invitations didn’t actually visit one, and former treasurer Joe Hockey said they looked “appalling”, and Taylor – who once headlined the “national wind power fraud” rally in Canberra, also campaigned against the wind farms in and around the ACT.
Morrison, who has mocked both the Tesla big battery at Hornsdale (he compared it to the big banana and the big prawn) and electric cars for “ruining the weekend”, (although he did get to drive an electric truck) finally got to visit a solar farm when he visited the Pilbara iron ore projects owned by billionaire Andrew Forrest.
The picture above shows the two of them a fortnight ago at the new 60MW Chichester solar farm being constructed by Alinta, and which will help power the Christmas Creek iron ore mine and other mines on the privately owned grid that also powers the huge mines owned by Gina Rinehart.
The Chichester solar farm is just going through its last commissioning tests and is not yet operating commercially, but hopefully Morrison was able to take the technology seriously, given Forrest’s plan to use solar to provide all the daytime electricity needs of his iron ore operations, and his plans to build a big battery on that grid, and his huge green hydrogen plans in Australia and across the globe using wind and solar.
But having visited a solar farm, was the prime minister able to bring himself to actually utter the word “solar” in his briefing to journalists? Sadly, according to the PM’s official transcript of his media conference, he did not.
Forrest most certainly did:
“Here you have miles and miles of solar panels, which we will combine with wind, which will eventually power the entire Pilbara, and we will be building gigawattage which is equivalent to what Australia powers itself with as a nation,” Forrest said, in line with his hugely ambitious green hydrogen plans.
To which Morrison responded by praising the amount of iron ore produced at Forrest’s mines. He did manage to mention “green hydrogen”, but not specifically wind or solar. And the three questions posted by the media were about China, Covid19, and blood clots, and not about solar.
Maybe next time Morrison can visit a solar farm on Australia’s main grid, and actually say the word.