It was bad enough last year when Tom Elliott, the radio-talk back host and son of former business man and Liberal Party grandee John Elliott wrote that he wanted to see a major blackout to prove his theory that renewable energy doesn’t work.
Now we have another – Louise Clegg, the barrister wife of federal energy minister Angus Taylor – suggesting that she, too, thinks that the best way to get the lefties to see the light about the error of their ways is to, well, have the lights go out.
“Recession, rolling blackouts, youth unemployment all necessary for people to realise left populism/culture, unrestrained spending, outlawing offensive speech, etc. not the answer,” Clegg wrote on a Facebook post, in response to an article posted by conservative commentator Parnell Palme McGuinness
The Clegg response was picked by the AFR Rear Window gossip column last week. Neither Rear Window, nor the AFR, are hot-beds of lefty populism, but even they seemed troubled by such statements close to the bone of Clegg’s partner’s portfolio. And of the idea itself.
Clegg, herself, wondered what all the fuss is about, but did seem delighted by the publicity.
We’re not going to buy into the argument that a minister’s partner should stay mum on issues important to them, but we will point out that much was made over what Malcom Turnbull’s son thought about politics when the prime minister was rolled. To assume the media wouldn’t care is disingenuous.
And it’s a little unfortunate that someone who claims to come from the “sensible centre right” would wish ill of people. Blackouts are not good, and are dangerous. And they tend to subtract from GDP.
So, what exactly does Clegg think would cause the lights to go out – well, it’s safe to assume she thinks it would Labor’s energy and climate policy, the 50 per cent renewable energy target and the 45 per cent emissions reduction target, both to be achieved by 2030.
Clegg is not alone here. Taylor himself has repeatedly argued there is way too much wind and solar in the grid, and Labor’s target is demonised as “reckless” and “economy-wrecking” by everyone from prime minister Scott Morrison, down through Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, the back-bench, Business Council of Australia and other lobbies, and across the conservative commentariat.
Even former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, despite declaring that those who do not accept that renewables and storage are cheaper are living in a “fact-free world”, couldn’t bring himself this week to endorse and exploit this technological and economic breakthrough to urge the Coalition government to do better on climate and energy.
The antipathy to wind and solar run deep in the conservative community, even if Turnbull suggests it is based on “ideology and idiocy”.
One person suggested that hoping that blackouts could prove a point about the need for more coal is a bit like wishing for a measles outbreak to prove a point about vaccination. Even this is a stretch because as the Australian Energy Market Operator makes clear in its reliability assessments, coal generators are no panacea or cure in this case.
The anticipated summer heat is raising fears about the resilience of the ageing coal generators, and gas plants too, and the more than 100 trips of big fossil fuel generators this past year is hardly re-assuring.
Still, the Tesla big battery has added to the resilience of the grid, including in those unexpected situations such as twin lighting strikes that take out a major interconnector and send a ripple of consequences through the grid, including load-shedding, or rolling blackouts, in all the states that didn’t have a big battery.
Rolling blackouts of the kind prescribed by Clegg are usually caused by a lack of supply, or a network disruption like the one above. As Simon Holmes a Court highlighted this week, the state most affected by rolling blackouts has been NSW, because of the failure of its coal and gas generators in the summer heat in February last year.
But coal, or at least life extensions, is what the conservatives are determined to deliver in the months they have left before the next federal election.
They have voted to stymie a move to ban financing for new coal plants, despite the urgency of the climate situation outlined by the IPCC and WMO reports, and numerous others.
They are seeking to stop some companies like AGL closing old clunkers like Liddell, and it looks increasingly likely – according to the feedback gained from those who have been in contact with the minister’s office, that the desired outcome of the government underwriting tender for “fair dinkum power” is a contract to something like Vales Point, with a customer like the Tomago smelter.
Giles Parkinson is founder and editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, and is also the founder of OneStepOffTheGrid.com.au and founder/editor of www.TheDriven.io. Giles has been a journalist for 35 years and is a former business and deputy editor of the Australian Financial Review.