Coalition’s war on cheap power: When fools design energy policy

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Billed as a “once in a generation” opportunity to bring Australia’s energy market into the 21st Century, the Finkel Review is rapidly being reduced to absurdist arguments about the lights going out – by the very government that commissioned it. So much for Grid 2.0.

Coalition ministers celebrate the repeal of the carbon price.
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joyce insiders

They say that in space, they can’t hear you scream. Chief scientist Alan Finkel has been trying to explain, as loudly and forcefully as he can, that wind and solar are the cheapest form of new energy. But in the Coalition, they can’t hear you scream that particular message.

It is now more than a week since the Finkel Review was unveiled – to a mix of hope, promise, disappointment and frustration. But judging by the rhetoric of the past few days, it has failed even in its most basic tests: to move the debate forward and to promote acceptance of the obvious, that new renewables are cheaper than new fossil fuels.

So much so that the review, which has been hailed as a “once in a generation” opportunity to bring Australia’s ailing energy market into the 21st Century, is now being used as an excuse to take it back to the 19th.

Despite pleading from business, the Coalition hasn’t changed its stripes at all. They are still calling for new brown coal generators in Victoria, and a new black coal generator in north Queensland.

Queensland LNP leader Tim Nicholls has promised to set the wheels in motion for new coal-fired generation in Queensland’s north “within 100 days” of winning office, and federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg has slipped back into his pre-Finkel rhetoric of blaming the states for all of the NEM’s woes.

Deputy prime minister and CLIF (chicken little in chief) Barnaby Joyce, he of the $100 roasts (remember his criticism of the carbon price), was wondering where electricity would come from if there was no coal power.

He told the ABC Insiders program on Sunday that lights would go out and TV screens would go dark.

“I flew in this morning Barrie, it was a beautiful day, not a puff of wind and if memory serves me correct, it was dark last night, so you switched off your coal-fired power stations, how do you switch on the lights?” he said, before adding:  “So it’s just, we’re living in a different church to reality.”

You bet we are. And what did Australians do to merit such idiocy?

The Finkel Review makes it clear that the building of new coal-fired power stations offers neither cheaper power nor greater security.

And Finkel’s is a conservative approach: despite hailing the “unstoppable” energy revolution in his draft report, Finkel barely touches on the radical transformation that the CSIRO and the network owners said was not just possible, but absolutely essential in the name of grid security, and to manage costs.

There are no coal-fired power stations still operating by 2050 envisaged in the CSIRO report. In fact, the grid is decarbonised well before then, more than two decades before the deadline contemplated by Finkel, and with savings of $100 billion.

The difference between Finkel and CSIRO is that when the CSIRO consulted, they were focused on the future, what needed to be done, and then rowed back. “We said that if anyone just wanted to talk about 2017, they should probably leave the room,” said one participant.

What the Coalition fails to grasp is that the Finkel review recommendations and the “clean energy target” – combined with mandatory storage for new wind and solar farms, and a trading scheme that leaves the mechanism in the hands of the coal station owners – are probably the best defence for the coal industry that could be mustered.

That’s because the Finkel Review does not contemplate the “well-below” 2°C targets Australia signed up for in Paris, does not impose a tax on existing generators, and will allow highest level of coal generation by 2050 of any scenario it modelled, and much more than “business than usual.”

But the Coalition is being blinded by their own prejudices, and misled by the likes of Brian Fisher, the former ABARE chief who is a notorious critic of carbon policies and renewable energy, and who has prepared numerous reports for the Minerals Council of Australia.

Fisher is trying to convince the Coalition that the Jacob’s modelling “underestimates” the cost of wind and solar, and is being quoted widely in the Murdoch media and elsewhere.

If anything, the Finkel modelling, like so much before it, seriously over-estimates the cost of wind and solar – a fact acknowledged by Finkel himself and reinforced by real life contracts and the latest assessment of energy costs by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

bnef capacity


Finkel argued – post modelling – that wind and solar, even with storage and “firming capacity,” are cheaper than gas and on a par with coal. BNEF goes further, making the point that wind and solar are far cheaper than coal, and soon will be even cheaper than the cost of refurbished coal-fired generators pushed beyond their 50 year life.

Finkel bristles at the idea that his review was a political document rather than a scientific or engineering one, and at suggestions that he was “leaned on” or that he “self-edited” the report to help break the political impasse that has blighted the energy and climate debate for a decade or more.

But the review is in stark contrast to that report prepared by the CSIRO, which not only runs with the “unstoppable” transition scenario, but shows the path to reach decarbonised energy for much cheaper and at a faster pace than Finkel.

By 2050, the CSIRO notes, around half of all electricity is provided by local generation. All large-scale generation is renewable. The likes of Transgrid have run similar scenarios, as have BNEF, and numerous academic studies.

Finkel, on the other hand, relies on Jacobs modelling that assumes that the only replacement for coal generation can be gas, and ignores the technologies – battery storage, pumped hydro, and other storage – that could fill that void at a fraction of the price.

Where does this leave us? At least one political party short of rational thought.

The Finkel recommendations have much to be admired, or at least discussed in a reasonable light: notably its advice on market governance, grid management and grid security and the need for storage. And for some sort of mechanism.

There is much debate to be had about whether the likes of the Australian Energy Market Commission should be trusted to manage rule changes and implement them in the same decade that technological change demands it, whether each new wind and solar farm needs new storage, whether gas is the only option for back-up power and firming, whether the CET should be managed through auctions or left in the hands of the gen-tailers who buggered up the RET.

And there has been criticism from outside about its failure to embrace distributed energy – a critical point, given that solar and storage are going to offer consumers a cheaper alternative to grid power – and the lack of focus on energy efficiency.

But it offered a way forward. And yet here we are, again reduced to absurdist arguments about the lights going out.

It leaves Australia with the ridiculous prospect that the far right will continue to dictate the rules to be followed for the market, just as they have done for most of the past decade. In effect, a grid designed by idiots. This is not Grid 2.0.

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  1. Steven Gannon 2 years ago

    Joyce also said yesterday that indemnifying or financing coal plants may be discussed. You couldn’t make this $%&# up.

    • Colin 2 years ago

      “Who is the bigger fool; the fool, or the fools who follow him?”
      — Obi-Wan Kenobi

      I’m looking at you Malcolm.

      You know the truth; which makes you even more guilty.

      • Steven Gannon 2 years ago

        I think most modern elections are decided by people ignorant of the facts and the major parties understand this very well. Not all ignorant people are fools, but they can be exploited via propaganda etc…

        Carpetbaggers have been around a long time, including in politics, but they used to be individuals not organised teams with media backing. Joyce is not a fool IMO, he is a lying deviate, just like the rest of the hard-right faction.

        • Ren Stimpy 2 years ago

          “You’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”
          — Obi-Wan Kenobi

          • Steven Gannon 2 years ago

            Here’s one I think of in relation to Abbott and Trump.

            “He who returns to the ways of antiquity will surely suffer calamity”. Lao Tsu.

          • Ren Stimpy 2 years ago

            I think the scum and villainy one is more apt.

          • Steven Gannon 2 years ago

            Your saying is about the present, mine about the consequences. Yours is a good one, those who think they are merely dumb are naive.

          • Colin 2 years ago

            “those who think they are merely dumb are naive.”

            Again, any evidence?

        • Colin 2 years ago

          “Joyce is not a fool IMO, he is a lying deviate, just like the rest of the hard-right faction.”

          That is a serious allegation.

          Any evidence to back it up?

          • Ren Stimpy 2 years ago

            $100 lamb roasts? The dim-wittted country bumpkin tossil.

          • Steven Gannon 2 years ago

            The endless orchestrated conga line of obfuscation and untruths. It’s a long formline, it can’t possibly be coincidental.

          • Steven Gannon 2 years ago

            Evidence? What do you think I am? a cop? It’s a very long, orchestrated and consistent formline.

  2. Nick D 2 years ago

    Gee this make it difficult to move back to australia. I am trying to live a small carbon footprint life. But the hopes in australia doesn’t sound that great. Why are going to look as dumb as america. Why aren’t there more people or politicians showing reports of Germany and the UK a place we give so much shit to for being cold and cloudy beat us solar power. Change the motto of a lucky country to a dumb country. Even though we misinterpreted the meaning incorrectly from what the author tried to portray.

    • Miles Harding 2 years ago

      You can live a small C footprint here. The big government is largely irrelevent in this pursuit. Local government is much more important and it’s possible to actually make a difference there.

      Mosly the COALition dinosaurs just mill around standing on each others tails.

  3. solarguy 2 years ago

    Yes Giles, It’s Ground Hog day again, today and every day.

  4. Miles Harding 2 years ago

    The TV screens doing dark would be a good thing — less fake news and mis-information.

    Getting rid of the last of the fossil generation fleet is the most difficult part, but there is a lot of transition that has to occur before that becomes an issue. Presently, we are faced with a COALition that doesn’t even want to emark on the journey.

    Refurbishing a 50 year old coal station has been tried in WA – with diastrous consequences. As one thing got fixed, another problem eas discovered. I would expect a refurbished coal-era power station would be monumentally unreliable as each ‘surprise’ shuts it shown for a few months while repairs are made.

    None of the COALition’s thought bubbles account for the issue coal is going to have as renewables start pushing it to throttle back or shut down in in the middle of the day. This is one place the OCGT generators can complement the increasing share of wind and solar.

    The network won’t be ‘efficient’ in the way economists like to think of efficiency. We can expect that the OCGT (which als run perfectly well on diesel of bio-oil) wil become marginalised, only called on a few times a year when the srorage, load curtailment and deferral options have been exhausted.

    • Peter Campbell 2 years ago

      “I would expect a refurbished coal-era power station would be monumentally unreliable as each ‘surprise’ shuts it shown for a few months while repairs are made.”
      Will it be required to also have its own personal back up generation to cover outages. I suspect not.

  5. howardpatr 2 years ago

    It has to be born in mind that virtually the whole Parliament and this Coalition Government is devoid of people with any scientific training. It id hardly surprising the Abbott/Joyce followers are trashing the Finkel Report.

    Ask virtually any Coalition about technologies like Alevo, EOS, 24M and they would respond with blank faces; while they worked out some bullshit response.

    The Coalition will do all it can to frustrate efforts of other Australians to be at the fore of energy storage.

  6. Grahame Smith 2 years ago

    It’s time to come up with a process that sidelines political parties altogether. We need a new breakthrough approach that deals with the facts (gasp!). Perhaps some form of citizen panel/jury assisted (only) by experts from research, market and industry. All final decisions to the panel.

    • Robin_Harrison 2 years ago

      Three guesses what the panel would turn into.
      Whatever a sustainable future holds would have to be able to sustain and I’m doubtful anything less than universal self-determination amongst universally empowered and prosperous people can do that.

    • nakedChimp 2 years ago

      the experts from the market and industry are already there.. it’s just that they are biased to their interests which are in FF 😉

  7. coreidae 2 years ago

    I could only watch about a minute of that idiot blathering on about coal before switching off. I hope the rest of the world gives up on coal and the Australian economy goes down the tube.

    • Joe 2 years ago

      Yes, coreidae it was embarrassing to watch and listen to Bananaby and he is the Deputy PM!

      • Ray Miller 2 years ago

        And from time to time acting PM? go figure! Why do we reward and tolerate fools?

  8. Cooma Doug 2 years ago

    In my power industry early years I spent a lot of time in the development of safety rules.
    In the end we realise we are not setting up a system to keep idiots safe. We are setting up a system so idiots can keep us safe.

    So clearly Finkle needed to apply the same rules to the task at hand here.
    The Finkle plan in the hands of LNP
    will not make energy reliable or cheap. We need a system that enables idiots to succeed.

  9. Mark Roest 2 years ago

    Of course Finkel bristles — he wants to preserve his marketability despite either being like Abbott / Trump, or very much like Chamberlain dealing with Hitler.

    Re “Finkel barely touches on the radical transformation that the CSIRO and
    the network owners said was not just possible, but absolutely essential” and his use of Coalition prices instead of current ones, it’s obvious he threw the fight, whether deliberately, or through naivety or stupidity. If he had actually fought, it could have set the Coalition back on its rear end, and you could all have piled on in a dog-pile or rugby scrum. Instead, he has our side on the defensive. That is called being a paid shill.

  10. Bolstrood 2 years ago

    Watching Insiders yesterday, with Barnaby Joyce as guest intervievee, they , Barry, Panel and Barnyard, all talked around electricity & power prices and not once was gas generation mentioned.
    In the SA power outages last summer , caused in some part by the collapse of 20 odd high voltage pylons,privately owned gas turbines were not accessed to restore power because 1. the operators refused unless exortionate price were allowed , and 2. because they had no gas , having sold it into the Gladstone export market.
    Coal was , according to Barnyard, an essential for base load.

    This led me to think that the public will be subjected to high electricity prices and power outages next summer and they will complain bitterly. Then Gas will be ressurected. Only by major gas mining (read CSG) will the situation be saved .
    All new CSG will be reserved for domestic cosumption. Thus pitting the communities angst about CSG against the communities angst about expensive and unreliable electricity supply.
    This save the Coalitin from having to step in and regulate the East Coast Gas Cartel, which is against their neo-liberal free market philosophy.

    • Richard 2 years ago

      I think you nailed it. They are still convinced they can kill renewable
      by manufacturing a crisis. Which is pretty easy to do when you control the main power assets.
      Unfortunately the media are letting them get away with the snow job

    • Ken Fabian 2 years ago

      Seek to induce low gas prices by the artificial creation of a glut of gas production. Encourage the false beliefs that gas (and HE Coal too) is LOW emissions and capable of delivering climate stability if widely used (it isn’t and isn’t). And all the while fight to preserve the permanence of the “amnesty” on the climate and other externalised costs that perpetuates a de-facto subsidy to coal and gas and oil much bigger than all of the subsidies or assistance given to RE — The only way for this to even have a slight resemblance to rational is to begin with non-rational starting assumptions like, for example, that climate science is completely wrong about emissions and climate change.

      Governments and politicians encouraging electricity consumers to blame anti-csg campaigning for high prices and system unreliability is just a variation of blaming radical environmentalism for governments’ and politicians’ errors of judgement on energy and the environment. People in mainstream, central positions of trust and responsibility – and power – blaming a noisy political fringe for the consistently inappropriate decisions they themselves have made has been going on so long it’s become unshakeable dogma.

  11. Ken Dyer 2 years ago

    I am still waiting for Tony Abbot’s and Greg Hunt’s promised $550 electricity savings after they killed off the carbon tax and lowered the RET a year or so ago. In fact, my bills have doubled and are due to go up another 20-60% this year. Thanks for nothing COALition.

    • Joe 2 years ago

      …and there I was thinking that I was the only one still waiting for my $500.00 after Abbott and Hockey made their infamous promise. I live in Sydney and Energy Australia is my electricity retailer that has announced a 19.9 % price increase from 3/7/2017. This on top of last years 10.5% increase. My only solace is that EA has also announced that my solar FiT is going up from 6.0cents to 12.5cents as from 1/7/2017.

  12. John Saint-Smith 2 years ago

    Once again we are damned by cowards. If Finkel had told the truth, instead of offering a fig leaf to cover the naked stupidity of the LNP, they would have rejected the plan out of hand. Of course nothing would be done until the next election – not even a new coal fired power station, despite Nicholl’s laughable 100 day promise (you can tell where he plucked that one from). Does Nicholl even know that 700MW, half of the generating capacity of Tarong Power Station, has been mothballed because it was uncompetitive and surplus to Queensland’s requirements?

    Then, after a couple more years of record global temperature rise, more forest fires, floods, famines, power black-outs, and rocketing power prices, even the eternal hope of the Great Australian Dreamtime would come crashing back to reality, and we might elect a government that would do something sustainable for a change. That is, assuming Labor grows some balls and some brains in the interim.

    The future is renewable, or we have no future.

    • solarguy 2 years ago

      If your not 100% convinced of Labor pulling it off, then give your 2nd preference to the Greens. As long as that doesn’t compromise your local Labor candidate.

      • Peter Campbell 2 years ago

        Give your first preference to the Greens then ALP second, unless your ALP candidate has a very strong record on renewables.
        For the ACT senate election, put Zed last.

  13. Peter F 2 years ago

    Don’t get too upset. If the current renewables rush exceeds the 33TWhr target, the later plants will still be better off getting $35/MWhr than nothing. Black coal can’t compete with that and pretty soon another will go off line. Prices go up attracting more renewables. Prices fall again another coal plant closes and so it goes.

    • solarguy 2 years ago

      Seems the natural order of things.

  14. Barri Mundee 2 years ago

    The COALition must have alternative facts.

    • DJR96 2 years ago

      No. Just facts from the 20th century……

    • Joe 2 years ago

      Could the “real” Coalition stand up…not the “fake” COALition that we’ve got at the moment.

  15. Barri Mundee 2 years ago

    At least the polls indicate a loss for the Coalition come the next election-barring scare campaigns that votes regard as credible or a major FU by Labor they will be history.

  16. Kay Schieren 2 years ago

    The nightmare of criminal incompetence and corruption continues.

  17. The Duke 2 years ago

    The COALition plan to launch a space ship to the sun. When scientists told them that it would burn up on arrival, they replied, “we’re sending it at night time”.
    Such is the thinking of the brain dead morons that can’t be seen to agree with Labour on anything. Like Labour debt is BAD , their debt is GOOD. Or Labour is used to dirty coal yet they themselves have got clean coal.
    Just look back at Barnyard Barnaby and ScoMo rubbing their hands around a piece of coal polishing it in the hope a Gennie would miraculous appear and turn around their fortunes.
    No such thing as Climate Change ! Or Global Warming! Or Icecaps Melting and Oceans Rising. If you tell yourself the lies often enough you must start to believe them as fact. Such is the thinking of tweedle dee and tweedle dumber.!

  18. Chris Fraser 2 years ago

    Here we’ve accepted the reality of climate change as much as we’ve accepted the toxic political environment used for energy public debate. However the BNEF and CSIRO cost curves are not controversial (except to those who will not see). The question is really one of how to avoid politicians and their lame fossil-protection legislation getting in the way of Investors.

  19. Hettie 2 years ago

    With any luck the Coalition blabbermouths, Hunt, Mokkar and Tudge, will suffer for dissing the Courts, and we will have 3 byelections. Their margins are not great.
    If all 3 seats go to Labor, or Deakin goes Green, we can look forward to some sanity on energy policy.
    Here’s hoping

  20. Andrew_Nichols 2 years ago

    Too many banjo pluckers amongst our politicians. I get the Coalition MPs as they are utterly ideologically incapable of understanding or accepting science. It’s the bob each way of Labor I detest as they know the truth but still witter on about the Coalition yet wont commit to ditching coal and its export.because of the miners unions. The Qld Govt is particularly repulsive in this aspect with their advocacy of the Adani scam. Go the Greens!

    • Joe 2 years ago

      Don’t knock the Banjo…a lovely sounding instrument. As a lifelong Labor voter ( the Libs are never a consideration ) I’ve now tossed Labor overboard following their Senate vote to pass Georgie Brandis’ Native Title Law changes…another free kick for Adani as the objections by First Australian to Adani are now kicked out. Labor should be ashamed. The party that saw The Great Man Gough in 1975 at The Wave Hill Ceremony pass the soil to Indigenous Elder Vincent Lingiari, the party that saw PM Paul in 1992 deliver the Redfern Speech, the party that saw PM Kevin in 2008 deliver the Apology Speech. One would think from that record that Labor holds very dearly the rights of First Australians. But with this recent Senate vote..SHAME LABOR SHAME !!! Its The Greens for me from now on.

  21. Richard 2 years ago

    I don’t see any evidence that renewable
    Energy investment is going to be affected by the political antics.
    If renewable plus storage is so cheap then that is where the investment will go. Fossil will shut down very quickly

  22. Richard 2 years ago

    It would really help if journalists and commentators confronted the politicians with the facts.
    Unfortunately the main stream media is the problem. No journo does any real work anymore. They have all been castrated.

  23. Ben Dixon 2 years ago

    I am so sad

  24. David Rossiter 2 years ago

    Does Barnaby Joyce ever worry how Tasmania managed to have an electricity grid with no coal on it for decades prior to the interconnector to the mainland? Does Barnaby Joyce even know where Tasmania is? Chicken Little is such an appropriate name.

  25. Ian 2 years ago

    At the next election I’d focus on a slightly different tact. Australia imports something like 90% of its oil products. The cost to the current account is staggering. A push for EVs will move to stem this deficit flow and bring more battery storage into the market. It should then bring a tide of PV into the market as well.

    • Peter Campbell 2 years ago

      I do a lot EV advocacy and show and tell events with my EVs, one DIY conversion from 8 years ago and a Mitsubishi iMiEV. I talk to people about EVs as discretionary loads on the grid, renewables, climate change etc. When I run into a right wing climate sceptic type. I gently explain my confidence in the science (as an ex-CSIRO employee etc), but then move on to saying: ‘Look, even if you think climate change is all bunk, which it isn’t, but even so, think about energy security. Would we be better off with our transport running as much as possible on home-grown energy, or would we be better off propping up some dodgy regimes in the Middle East? How many days of oil do we have in the country? What about thin supply lines if there were some crisis?’ And so on. Talk about security and that gets them nodding along pretty quickly. Then you finish off with some stuff about how much fun it is leaving most others behind at the lights.

  26. DevMac 2 years ago

    Fund the building of solar, wind, and storage or get out of parliament house. Hurry up with the choice, we’re burning here.

  27. John Burnett 2 years ago

    The COALition will not change its stance as long as miners bribe I mean donate large amounts of money to them.

  28. Jordan Moulds 2 years ago

    “They say that in space, they can’t hear you scream …but in the Coalition, they can’t hear you scream that particular message.”
    That’s because they have a vacuum between their ears! 😂

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