Five things we learned this week …

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It ain’t easy being very green and very rich; Kurri Kurri’s cheap shot at green energy; Campbell Newman claims his first solar scalp; climate talks floored over the choice of a chair; the gigatonne gap is getting wider.

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It ain’t easy being very green and very rich

A quick glance at the BRW Rich 200 List and it becomes clear that some very rich people might go green, but it is rare for a green person to get super rich. Suntech CEO and founder Shi Zhengrong had been the only person on the Rich 200 list last year by virtue of being green, or at least a little sunny, but he dropped off in 2012 after a slump in his company’s share price, courtesy of the massive cost battle in the global solar PV industry.

The coal barons, however, had no such problems, and dominated the top rankings of the list, some without having to dig up any coal at all. Gina Rinehardt topped the Australian rich list, and the global woman’s rich list, with $29 billion, an increase of $19 billion over the year. Journalists have had a wonderful time translating what that means in dollars per second ($600), minute, hour and day ($51.7 million). Just to put that into context, Rinehardt earns more before lunch on a single day than the Federal Government has invested in geothermal energy development in the five years since its election in 2007, even though it thinks it will provide 23 per cent of the country’s energy requirements by 2050.

Newman claims a solar scalp

Bjorn Lomborg is alive and well in the Queensland Energy Ministry, or maybe the new energy minister Mark McArdle just read his book and likes it. Or maybe McArdle is just following instructions from Premier Campbell Newman, who has ordered the public servant husband of former Premier Anna Bligh to undo anything he ever achieved in climate change and clean energy. McArdle on Thursday announced that the Queensland government was pulling its $5.7 million funding for the 2.1MW solar PV project in the north west Queensland town of Cloncurry, a contract which had been awarded to Ingenero by the previous government in December. But he didn’t seem too sure of the reasons why.

McArdle managed to pack in a lot of conflicting ideas into a very short press release, saying that the project was a “localized climate initiative” and its withdrawal would have no impact on the energy market because Cloncurry was only a “test” facility, all the while affirming that the new government only wanted to focus on “practical” R&D (Lomborg’s big idea), but then claiming that large scale solar PV was a “mature technology” that didn’t need any support, apparently forgetting that none actually exists in Australia.

Cloncurry has had an eventful but unfulfilling experience with solar. An original proposal by Lloyd Energy Services to build a solar thermal facility was pulled by the Labor government in 2010 because it became clear the company couldn’t deliver. There were no such fears about Ingenero’s ability to deliver on this project. But Newman’s fatwa on clean energy bodes ill for the government’s pledged support of the $1.2 billion Solar Dawn project, and indirectly of key clean energy research schemes at the University of Queensland, although Newman’s team is believed to be still looking for a legal loophole to justify its withdrawal.

Cheap shot on green energy

It was inevitable that the announced closure of the Kurri Kurri aluminium smelter in NSW should be seized upon as proof of the devastating impact of the carbon price, but the owners have been playing this game for a while. Back in 2009, I wrote about Norsk Hydro’s attempt to thrust itself into the carbon debate with a claim that the then-proposed CPRS would threaten a $4 billion expansion and a promised 3,000 new jobs. But it was cobblers. A spokesman confirmed then that the proposal was only ever an idea briefly mentioned several years earlier, and unlikely to proceed because Norsk was focusing on smelters that could offer lower costs, clean energy, and a “clean stamp” on their products.

Such a source of energy could lie beneath in the form of geothermal energy, but the company never bothered to clear the BMWs out of the car park so it could drill down and find out. It was ironic that Garbis Simonian, the owner of Weston Aluminium, a separate business affected by the closure, should blame renewable energy targets and solar energy incentives for the closure, and at the same time hail “successful economies like Germany” – which just happens to have the most ambitious green schemes of all.

That’s not a chair!

Lomborg must be alive and well in the latest climate talks too, if progress (or the lack of it) at Bonn is anything to go by. Just a quick recap: Amid the failure of Copenhagen was produced the “Copenhagen Agreement”, from the stalemate at Cancun came the “Cancun Accord,” but the best they could get out of Durban was the “Durban platform”. In a desperate attempt to avoid the inevitable alliteration from the next annual meeting, the (Qatar quagmire?), the 190 or so member countries at the regular mid-year confab in Bonn have been trying to get agreement on something. Anything.

So far they have struggled to agree on an agenda, who should be the chair of the new process, or even on further talks, let alone such fundamental issues as to when the world might finally agree to put a cap on global emissions, frame a path to some sort of workable treaty by 2015, or even confirm that they will deliver on the pledges to meet the 2C target – the so called gigatonne gap (see next item). Blame is being showered in all directions – developing countries against the EU, the EU against China, and nearly everyone against the non-EU developed countries such as Canada, Japan and Russia, who have walked out of the Kyoto Protocol, the US, which never joined, and also Australia and New Zealand, who are also stonewalling, possibly in the hope that their excess credits from meeting their 2012 targets can somehow be parlayed into a cash bonus.

The bleak outlook

The data on emissions, however, gets worse and worse. The IEA produced new data showing that global CO2 emissions had jumped another 3.2 per cent in 2011 to a record level, as growing emissions from China from increased coal use offset reductions in the US and Europe. IEA chief economist Fatih Birol said at the current rate, the trend is “perfectly in line” with a temperature increase of 6C by 2050, which would have devastating consequences for the planet.

But a separate study released at the penultimate day said that even if countries met all their pledge made in Cancun, and reaffirmed in Durban, the planet could still warm by more than the previous forecast of 3.5C . The German firm Climate Analytics said the gap between countries’ promised interventions and the reality of what they would actually achieve was getting bigger. The gigatonne gap – projections for greenhouse-gas overshoot – is now between nine and 11 billion tonnes per year beyond the annual 44-billion-tonne ceiling needed by 2020 to achieve the 2C target.


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  1. Mark 7 years ago

    “Newman’s fatwa” Love it!

  2. Richard Simpson 7 years ago

    Re , Qld, I am afraid to say the State is BROKE.Decades of mismangement have left a debt of $83 BILLION.
    Newman is only doing the obvious.

  3. James 7 years ago

    Giles, re your article ‘It Aint easy being very rich and very green’, I was amazed to discover recently that Dr Shi, Founder and CEO of Suntech, also serves on the board of Clive Palmer’s company Resource House.
    It seems Dr Shi is not only busy saving the world but digging it up as well!

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