Coalition still being led by the nose by Institute of Public Affairs

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Using a technique mastered by conservative think tanks like the IPA, the Coalition’s efforts on energy policy are mostly an exercise in gathering misleading information and presenting it as proof of something, in this case that wind and solar don’t work.

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It’s been more than a year since Malcolm Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott as head of the Coalition and as prime minister of Australia, but there is still no sign that the policy grip held by the ultra conservative “think tank”, the Institute of Public Affairs, has weakened.

The response by the Coalition government to the retirement of coal inquiry – and to the latest outages in South Australia – were as predictable as they were disappointing.

They confirmed that in a Trumpian world, dubbed in some quarters as “post truth”, anything goes.

The market operator and the owner of the network that caused Thursday’s outages made it very clear that it had nothing whatsoever to do with wind energy. But that didn’t stop energy minister Josh Frydenberg using it as an excuse to attack renewable energy, particularly state-based targets. “This is a disaster and we just had another wake-up call,” he told parliament.

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The Coalition also suffers from selective hearing, or selective reading, in their response to the coal inquiry. Their ratification of Paris locks the country into a rapid decarbonisation of its energy sector, presuming it is taking the target seriously.

But of the 103 submissions made to the inquiry, the overwhelming majority of which supported the managed exit from coal, the Coalition cited just four, and gave the most prominence to the submission from the IPA.

Mostly, it is an exercise – mastered by climate denying astro-turfers and think tanks, such as the IPA – of gathering a host of misleading information and presenting it as proof of something, in this case that wind and solar don’t work.

The IPA submission beats its usual drum about wanting the renewable energy target scrapped, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency abolished, and even suggests BHP should build a nuclear power plant at its Olympic Dam mine.

The Coalition, for instance, quotes the IPA as saying that Germany has reached “critical” mass of more than 30 per cent of its energy being sourced by renewables. So much for all the independent reports, indeed even the International Energy Agency, which say a far higher global share of renewables will be needed to meet the 2°C target.

The Coalition also quotes the IEA saying “Germany now has the second highest residential electricity prices in Europe (just behind wind-rich Denmark)… comprised of over 45 per cent taxes and charges.”

Both Denmark and Germany – like South Australia – have long had more expensive electricity prices than elsewhere. This is the result of having to rely on costly fuel imports – in Germany’s case oil, gas, black coal and uranium – which has been a driving source in lowering costs and improving energy security by generating their own energy.

And yes, 45 per cent of a household bill in Germany is made up of taxes. But most of these taxes have nothing to do with energy. Germany – and Denmark – simply chooses to use electricity as a tax revenue source. That money is used to build schools, swimming pools, public transport, etc.

Business electricity prices have slumped sharply in the last 10 years, thanks to the fall in wholesale electricity prices.

The IPA devoted two pages to Germany, mostly a collection of the typical myth-making about Germany’s Energiewende that has been a target of the fossil fuel industry, the nuclear machine, and conservatives.

Each of these myths have been rebutted time and again, but as George Monbiot points out in his frightening assessment of the Trump transition team, the use of misinformation has been a tactic used for decades by right-wing think tanks (such as the IPA) and astro-turfers in their fight against climate science.

Monbiot describes the machine and “its purpose to portray the interests of billionaires as the interests of the common people, to wage war against trade unions and beat down attempts to regulate business and tax the very rich. Now the people who helped run this machine are shaping the government.”

In the US, many of these staffers are now taking positions in the Trump administration. But in Australia, the government seems no less influenced by what Monbiot describes as the “constant feed of confected scares about unions, tax and regulation drummed up by groups that won’t reveal their interests.”

Frydenberg himself picked up on one of the German energiewende myths in a much-derided speech at the ANU earlier this week. Germany, he said, can import power from many other countries, including nuclear power from France and coal from Poland.

The inference is clear, but Germany remains a net exporter, and right now it is the likes of nuclear dependent France that rely most heavily on imports. Even in 2015, France imported twice as much from Germany as it exported.

Now, France is scrambling to source enough energy to meet its own needs because more than one-third of its nuclear fleet has been sidelined due to safety concerns. It is warning of soaring prices and rolling blackouts in the coming weeks.

The Coalition’s antediluvian response to events in South Australia and the issues of coal generation and wind and solar means that the immediate future of Australia’s energy policy will be heavily dependent on the outcome of chief scientist Alan Finkel’s review of the National Electricity Market.

What these recent events show is that Australia’s grid is over-priced, dumb, too focused on centralised generation and too vulnerable to all sorts of risk – bushfires, storms, unexplained outages and equipment failures.

The hope is that Finkel and his team recognise this and try to talk some sense into the government and its advisors.

An excellent new analysis from US-based investment bank Craig-Hallum sums up the situation nicely: “Right now we believe that too many investors have their bets placed long on 19th century and short 21st century technology.”

And that goes for politicians as well as investors. It is not surprising that Craig-Hallum focuses a lot on what is happening in Australia, where the costs of new technology have an even greater advantage over incumbent assets than virtually anywhere else in the world.

“The shift to a smart grid is about integration, adaptability, and efficiency,” the report concludes. “This takes place across the grid, with utility power production, energy transmission, and behind the meter consumption all shifting to allow easier exchange of information and adaptability to fluctuation conditions.

“Generation becomes more distributed and utilises solar PV and wind to reduce base and peak load; transmission load is reduced by distributed generation and use of storage for load shifting and stabilization; and consumption utilizes distributed generation, storage, and smart systems to reduce usage and rates by lessening demand spikes.

“Via modern communication between grid segments, demand and supply variations can be transmitted in real time, allowing smart storage, generation, transmission, and consumption systems to adjust for maximum return and stability.

“Eventually this will allow for shifts to new tech with increased power usage (electrification of transportation, heating, and other fossil fuel powered services), while still lessening global impact due to an efficient and flexible grid based on clean energy sources.”

Let’s hope that Finkel grasps the significance and the opportunities, and can try to deflect the Coalition’s deep-rooted thrall with the IPA.

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23 Comments
  1. howardpatr 2 years ago

    The IPA seems to be the principal adviser to the LNP on these issues and many more but the Australian public has no idea where the funding for IPA comes from – Cayman Turnbull will be content with the secrecy.

  2. Alan S 2 years ago

    The politicians who listen to the IPA seem incapable of understanding that cost/reliability/environmental impact and a few other factors must be taken into account when determining a suitable mix of generation, storage and reticulation.

    Here in South Australia, electricity has been expensive and prone to blackouts long before the first wind farm was built – so there are two issues that must be addressed to keep consumer-voters happy. And there’s no point in committing to international emission targets if dodgy figures using single bottom line accounting show that old coal stations generate electricity cheaper than renewables.

    So much for the clever country.

  3. Alan S 2 years ago

    The politicians who listen to the IPA seem incapable of understanding that cost/reliability/environmental impact and a few other factors must be taken into account when determining a suitable mix of generation, storage and reticulation.

    Here in South Australia, electricity has been expensive and prone to blackouts long before the first wind farm was built – so there are two issues that must be addressed to keep consumer-voters happy. And there’s no point in committing to international emission targets if dodgy figures using single bottom line accounting show that old coal stations generate electricity cheaper than renewables.

    So much for the clever country.

    • phred01 2 years ago

      Who are the sources of political funding made by vested lobbyists ? That were the conservative & liberal polices sit

  4. trackdaze 2 years ago

    IPA had Munkton come to town didn’t they?

    the IPA and the LNP have been emboldend by the gullibility of far too many.

    Get with it australia your bs meter should be well and truly ringing alarm bells. Your government has been bought.

    • john 2 years ago

      Yes they did
      I have had dialogue with the said person omg how dismal

    • DevMac 2 years ago

      From that link:
      “In 2003, the Australian Government paid $50,000 to the Institute of Public Affairs to review the accountability of NGOs”

      Is this describing reality or something from “Yes, Minister”.

      Both.

      • Rod 2 years ago

        None of it passes the sniff test for me

        • DevMac 2 years ago

          From the footnoted article:

          “the IPA’s core principles of human freedom, free markets, small government and personal responsibility.”

          Whilst at the same time Phillip Morris and British and American Tobacco are members. The “Personal Responsibility” must mean, “consumers are personally responsible for their poor decisions in purchasing what we sell” as opposed to the personal responsibility of selling a product that causes cancer, gangrene, birth defects, and a long list of other horrendous human medical conditions.

          I wouldn’t want to give it the sniff test, I don’t know what I’d catch.

          Article: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/federal-election-2013/free-radicals-20130824-2sik1.html

          And: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Institute_of_Public_Affairs#Donors

    • phred01 2 years ago

      The director is is a relli of mine 2nd cousin…. his logic is governed by who donates money to the IPA

      • Rod 2 years ago

        I have no doubt about that.
        What frustrates me is that the donor list is out there in Public domain and is obviously pro mining/digging/cutting/burning but your average voter won’t take the time to query these organisations.

        I can forgive the voter ignorance but not the Government or Media who blithely regurgitate this crap.

  5. DevMac 2 years ago

    If no powerful public figure is admitting that coal is dead, then all the savvy investors have time to slowly extract their investments before the inevitable crash comes. This will leave ‘mom and dad’ investors and super fund owners left holding the bag. And the “power” status quo will be retained.

    It’s a façade that only needs to be maintained for a certain amount of time. Once they’ve reached their quota, they’ll change their tune and it’ll be too late for “the rest of us” investment-wise.

    I’ve gotta ask “my guy” whether my fund allows enough control to get out of ‘coal’ and into ‘green’. That’s where the future money is.

  6. solarguy 2 years ago

    I was told yesterday by a guy who installs for me from time to time, that he was at Mal Turnbulls place at Point Piper recently installing a PV and LG Chem Hybrid system.
    Turnbull what a bloody hypocrite you are!

  7. john 2 years ago

    The use of post truth works very well indeed.
    Making up facts known as newspeak is definitely the dogma in place currently.
    I have been told by people, who one would expect to know better, that this new renewable energy stuff just does not work.
    So the newspeak information, as peddled from the likes of the IPA, and mouthed by the anointed ones in Canberra gets down to the the common everyday person, who believe the message and follow it.
    No amount of pointing out the simple fact that using say PV is indeed a good use of your money has any effect.
    They just bleat the newspeak they have heard, read or picked up from god only knows where and will not listen.
    So it is working well make up facts dress it with science sounding wording sprinkle in economic sounding bits and you have people taking it as the correct and only outcome to follow.
    Perhaps we are witness to an age where yes we really are being governed by the ill informed.

    • neroden 2 years ago

      Thankfully this is a situation where the market will brutally correct these lies.

      You can put solar on your house and batteries in your garage, cut the cord to the grid, invest in solar manufacturing and installs, and laugh all the way to the bank.

      Meanwhile the idiots who think that renewable energy doesn’t work will lose money to the grid operators and become poorer and poorer.

      That tends to break through the lies, though in a rather brutal manner.

      • john 2 years ago

        True.
        My thoughts are that the connection or daily supply fee will just keep going up which will encourage more deflection.
        There has to come a point where the network has to be just written down in value this continued 10% guarantee is a honeymoon state to good to believe can be sustainable.
        Ultimately when the proportion of the retail bill gets above some percentage perhaps 70%, I do not know the attractiveness of disconnect will be compelling.
        If power was charged with no subsidy Qld could save for instance some $440 million per year or there about.
        This would cause hardship for those on the end of the grid.

  8. Chris Fraser 2 years ago

    One day they’re going to be embarrassed to be seen in front of that IPA wallpaper.

    • boyo 2 years ago

      Don’t hold your breath.

  9. Ren Stimpy 2 years ago

    That the IPA wants a nuclear power station here in Australia speaks volumes about their judgement. The new Hinkley nuclear plant in Britain shows that the cost of nuclear power is staggering. Australia has no experience with nuclear power, and we’re down here on the ‘arse end of the world’ which increases supply chain costs – the cost of nuclear power would be horrendous if one was built here in Australia.

    The Labor government in South Australia very graciously held a Royal Commission into this and nuclear power generation was ruled out on economic grounds.

    Josh Frydenberg knows this. Why is he indulging the IPA’s delusions?

    • Chris Fraser 2 years ago

      I think he’s genuinely distracted. Not knowing how to move on is a self-inflicted disability.

    • Ken Fabian 2 years ago

      Whilst there are some sincere proponents of nuclear as climate solution the IPA and LNP are not amongst them; for them nuclear’s only functions are anti-renewables rhetoric (to undercut the case for strong climate action by the only means currently on offer) and appeasement of “climate traitors” within their own ranks who stubbornly insist climate could be a real problem (blame shifting Conservative inaction on emissions onto anti-nuclear activism in order to prevent them abandoning the party). BHP – like a lot of big businesses, are probably led by people who prefer not fixing the climate problem at all than attempting to do so with nuclear.

  10. phred01 2 years ago

    we have entered “The Brave New World” era. Where lies repeated enough times becomes the truth.

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