Conservatives attack chief scientist for failing to toe fossil fuel line

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Australia’s conservative media commentators have found a new target for their anti-renewables angst, this week launching what was regarded as an almost inevitable attack, on Alan Finkel – Australia’s chief scientist and the man chosen to lead the independent review of the reliability and stability of the National Electricity Market.

In line with similar attacks on other independent, government-appointed advisors – think Ross Garnaut – who have failed to toe the party line on coal, Australia’s right is coming out in force against Finkel, whose role leading the NEM review is guided by the view that Australia can, and will, have a high renewable electricity supply in the not-too-distant future.

Finkel’s crime appears to be not to have wholeheartedly embraced new coal technology, and to write that there are ready solutions to the challenge of high penetration of renewable energy, they just need to be adopted and the market re-fashioned.

Newly appointed Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015. Dr Finkel will replace current Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb, whose appointment finishes at the end of the year. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING

Leading the attack against him is former Institute of Public Affairs head of regulatory affairs, Alan Moran, with this article in the right-wing Quadrant journal. Amazingly, it attacks Finkel’s background as an electrical engineer.

“Finkel, an electrical engineer with no background in electricity markets, was commissioned to report on the future security of the electricity market,” writes Moran, one of the fiercest critics of renewable energy.

“His preliminary report is so ill-grounded on facts and so peppered with fanciful assumptions that a government taking the advice would further grind the economy into the ground.

“Nobody can seriously doubt that the malaise confronting electricity is a result of regulatory and tax-forced injections of wind and solar into the market. Not only, as events are proving, is this power source utterly unreliable but it costs three times as much as the coal that its subsidised provision displaces.

“Nobody would buy wind and solar electricity unless they are compelled or bribed to do so.  Yet the Finkel preliminary report says the market is being driven not by this but by consumer demand and technology.  The credibility of the report is zero except to rusted-on ideologues, and the Prime Minister remains unfortunately among these.”

The attack is heralded by Far Right blogger Andrew Bolt, and then taken up by another right-wing blogger Tim Blair,who complains that Finkel is to visit countries such as Ireland, Denmark and the US to find out how renewable energy is managed there.

“Chief Scientist Finkel’s energy security review should in fact go no further than noting the energy source used for his flights to Europe and the US,” Blair writes.

“When their own lives are at stake, even the greenest of green activists would never contemplate using anything besides proven fossil-fuel technology. Until rapid air travel is safely accomplished using something besides predictable and reliable fossil fuel, why the hell should our entire economy consider switching?

“Do we really want the whole country to follow South Australia’s example by demolishing coal-fired power plants, installing massive wind farms and then sitting around without electricity when the wind doesn’t blow?”

The commentaries comes as the heads of Liberal parties in three states vow to unwind state-based renewable energy targets, and as the controversy over renewable energy reaches new heights.

The role of Malcolm Turnbull – who Blair puts in the “rusted-on ideologue” camp – in driving the South Australian wedge into the energy policy debate is also in the spotlight, after the emergence of reports that the PM’s office was “specifically advised” by the electricity market operator that “the generation mix (ie renewable or fossil fuel) was not to blame” for the storm-driven outage.

South Australia’s wind energy is providing secure energy to the state. Shuttershock

Turnbull, who predicted in his National Press Club address that energy would be a defining issue in Parliament this year, on Monday denied that he had ever pointed the finger at South Australia’s wind farms as the culprits of the state’s major blackout event in September last year.

“This is a classic case of misrepresentation by the Labor party and by the left generally,” Turnbull said during Question Time. “Let me be very clear, of course windmills did not cause a blackout, the blackout, as I have said many times, was caused by a storm breaching transmission lines. That is perfectly obvious. That is the only point that was made.”

But this is not how things looked at the time. Analysts at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, for instance, expressed concern that the South Australia incident had sparked a blame game from politicians and media outlets against renewables, even though the failure of two fossil fuelled facilities to restart the system had received little scrutiny.

“The outage has changed the political discourse about energy in Australia,” BNEF said here; adding that, in particular, it had signalled a change in the approach of Turnbull, who they said was making it increasingly unclear whether his government’s new focus on energy security would result in “innovation of policy or better integrate renewables, or measures to retard renewables.”  

  • Brunel

    I do wonder why he was appointed.

    Given that ScoMo loves coal.

    • john

      As do the rest of the party it seems.
      With the announcement from the 3 Liberal State leaders that they will immediately get rid of all Renewable Energy targets it would appear that RE, the RET and the underlying aspect of the carbon economy is going to be the theme from here to after 2020.
      I can only see this kind of political statement having one outcome, no company will put in place any substantial investment in RE with this kind of uncertainty in the market place.
      So when it comes time to find the replacement for the retiring coal burning generators no doubt these very same people will be able to say that only coal can do the job because look nothing else is being built.
      I fully expect the dumb plebs who get their news from the shock jocks and the garbage press will nod their heads and agree yes we must have this new wonderful coal powered station because it is so cheap only $180 to $200 MWh with no idea about what that means.

      • Keith

        Hi john,

        It still begs the question as to who would be stupid enough to put $1 billion investment into a (coal) asset that will be stranded on day 1.

        I know the hard right will try to get Malcolm to put up the cash, but he isn’t rich enough.

        • john

          The shining knight to come to the rescue will be the Tax Payer no not the companies large they do not pay tax the PAYE and small business people will pay for the new shiny coal user then it will be privatized with a guaranteed return just like the networks have been.

          • Keith

            Hi John,

            I doubt that even the deluded LNP is crazy enough to build a coal plant, as this will open up an endless can of worms.

            Just one example suffices: given their promotion of CCS, it will have to capture CO2 emissions …. oops now the cost is $2 billion (and it still won’t work).

            The problem is that as you start to go down the path of doing something physical, as opposed to fantasy dreaming, reality starts to intrude……

            2020 is coming fast and the LNP have absolutely no plans about what to do next, because they know that their neo-con rump is determined to kill renewable energy.

            The car crash is looming. Sometime soon Malcolm Turnbull will realise that the only possible path forward is to tell the truth and get on with implementing a renewable energy policy.

          • Peter F

            Your estimates are way to low try $6b for 1GW with CCS

          • lin

            Don’t forget to add in another billion for mine rehab, which will predictably be coming directly from the taxpayer, thanks to government rehab bonds set in the low millions.

          • john

            Mate i think they realise they can actually put out “Alternate Facts” and the delude electorate will take it as being correct.
            Welcome to the new age where most people are informed by news from deluded outfits.
            There is no way they will build an actual sequestration Coal Fired Station it will be a so called super critical etc. which is perhaps just a little bit better than shoveling coal into the fireplace as was in place from 1880 to 1950.
            Having said that the gullible will take it as a brilliant advance and frankly take no notice of what every is said pointing out this is ludicrous.

          • john

            Mate i think they realise they can actually put out “Alternate Facts” and the delude electorate will take it as being correct.
            Welcome to the new age where most people are informed by news from deluded outfits.
            There is no way they will build an actual sequestration Coal Fired Station it will be a so called super critical etc. which is perhaps just a little bit better than shoveling coal into the fireplace as was in place from 1880 to 1950.
            Having said that the gullible will take it as a brilliant advance and frankly take no notice of what every is said pointing out this is ludicrous.

          • MaxG

            You need to cool down… it is bad for your health… I know: I was there… and am trying to remove myself from it all… but as you can see, I need further training 😉

          • stalga

            Good advice. I’ve learned to detach a bit.

      • Brunel

        While batteries get cheaper and cheaper.

        China has a 3000 km long 1100kV transmission line!

        India is testing 1200kV!

        • And South Africa has had a 1900MWe DC link to Cahora Bassa Dam hydro station for c.30 years.

  • George Darroch

    God the commentary is idiotic. But standard fare for the Murdoch gutter-press.

    • Ken Dyer

      Supreme idiocy by Dolt and Moron

  • DevMac

    The tighter the grip on the throat, the more hysterical and high-pitched the squealing becomes.

    Despite their wailing sounding so horribly illogical as to question humanity’s capability for intellect, this is a good sign because it means the death of their argument is ever closer.

    • trackdaze


    • Rod

      Agreed, but just on that humanity’s capability for intellect thing, have you seen Pauline has 23% primary vote in QLD? Sometimes I wonder.

      • MaxG

        What I have been saying all along… and wondered why I bothered joining the debate… because there is none… only polarisation.

        • Rod

          Yes, unfortunately Politics and life in general has turned into winners and losers. I wonder if we can blame sport?
          Reading some of the US Trump chatter, the common retort from a Trumptard is “We won, so there”.

  • aussiearnie

    Of course Moran offers no evidence of the so called fanciful assumptions, nor why wind and solar are the cause of all problems in the electricity market. Simply saying so will make it so. And then the insistence that people advocating renewable technologies use those exclusively, even where it is not practical yet. Apparently they should be travelling on sailing ships only.

  • lin

    So Moran, an economist, thinks he knows more about electricity than an electrical engineer. The phrase “peak stupid” was made for folk like him.
    The shrillness of the shrieking from the “burning coal is doing God’s work” brigade has increased in pitch and volume. They must realise that their last ditch attempt at forcing more fossil fuels on us is looking pretty stupid, economically, socially and environmentally.

    • DevMac

      Hah, economist. It’s usually the case that economists end up as opinion journalists when they’ve failed at economics. And failing at economics is quite the achievement, since it’s possible to use statistics to tell any story you want.

  • howardpatr

    Like Senator “empirical evidence” Malcolm Roberts Moran tends to think he knows everything. Turnbull’s minders, the RWRNJs in the LNP, apparently think he does.

  • solarguy

    Attack on Finkel is another case of I told you so. This FF fantasy is coming to an end and desperate tactics are now in play.

    • Barri Mundee

      It could be seen as the last fart of the ferret. (When a ferret is cornered it emits a powerful stench like a skunk).

      • solarguy

        LOL, my youngest son’s nick name is ferret and the little bugger at times emits foul deeds too.

  • MaxG

    I wondered why this did not happen any earlier…
    Ad hominem attacks are so typical for these fascists.

    • solarguy

      Well Max, desperate times has called historically for desperate tactics. The bastards thought they were smart enough to fool everyone, but the worm has turned.

  • Finkel should send in his report, say no more to anyone, if mistreated then resign at once. No scientist of any repute would then accept that govt position from then on. The govt would be left looking stupid (or right looking stupid).

    Particularly disappointing here is the role of Josh Frydenburg. Well educated indeed, fluent and impressive, he could take a sensible position and be convincing to the point of leadership, But no, just one of the pack baying at the wind.

    • dhm60

      Its early days yet but Finkel looks like getting the same treatment as Hans Bilx did in the futile search for weapons of mass destruction. Done over by cretins playing a tune composed by vested interests.

  • Mags

    Well I hope Alan hangs in there. We need smart and honest people very badly here and it is no good if they are all bullied out and then resign. Like Gillian Triggs, these experts need to toughen up and hang on, telling us the truth. The government sure as hell won’t.

    • lin

      Yep. Agree. I am sure the government would like nothing better than to replace him with another servile lapdog. Ditto Triggs, the solicitor general etc. I was thinking that the “worst government in our history” award would be with Abbott for eternity, but the current mob of “adults” is giving it a serious nudge.

      • Mags

        It certainly is lin, but I still feel Abbott was worse!! He started all this ignorant, lying, rudeness after all.

        • lin

          True, but Malcolm is still the “leader”, and with his current rate of decline, will intersect Abot in the the worst PM ratings soon.

  • Chris Peters

    No mystery where all this is coming from. An article by Clive Hamilton in 2012 reveals that the IPA is funded by the Heartland Institute and a phalanx of fossil fuel companies. The IPA are at the centre of all climate denialist rubbish being foisted on the media, including the ABC, who allow John Roskam to be a commentator on current affairs programmes. He is a former employee of Rio Tinto. As of 2012, one of IPA’s spokesmen, Bob Carter was receiving $1667 per month from Heartland Institute. Carter is often rolled out as the chief climate science denialist for Australia.