Five things we learned this week about 2016 election campaign

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Labor and the Coalition agree on one thing – they hate the Greens; close poll means Turnbull will still be shackled to hard right; South Australia shows it’s possible to close down coal; and Tasmania reaps the benefit of closing down fossil fuels.

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The political establishment really, really hates the Greens

The two mainstream political groupings – the Coalition and Labor – agreed on one thing in the first week of the campaign: both claim to hate the Greens, and deep down both are terrified, and in the case of Labor envious of the Greens ability to match science with policy, particularly when it comes to climate change.

Neither Labor nor the Coalition said they would “deal” with the Greens in the event of a hung parliament. Of course, such promises mean nothing in the event that either party had the opportunity to form a minority government, and it may be that the number of independents might make any grand coalition quite complicated.tele albo

Federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg, trying heroically to stop the shift from a fossil fuel economy to what Malcolm Turnbull calls the “new economy”, said the Greens were “anathema to everything we stand for.” Labor got in on the action by saying that under no circumstances would they do a deal, while Anthony Albanese pilloried his Greens rival as “old fashioned and extreme”.

The Murdoch media obviously can’t stomach the Greens, either. Andrew Bolt declared them to be “horrible,” while the The Daily Tele launched a campaign to “Save Our Albo,” who is one of several Labor MPs facing big challenges from Greens in inner-city electorates.

The media find minority government difficult to deal with, because it means they have to focus on policy rather than politics, but they might have to get used to it. They find the Greens difficult to deal with too, even though their climate and energy policies are part of the mainstream political discourse overseas, despite being labelled “extreme” in Australia.

The polls predict a dead heat, which means two things: Either Labor get in and need the help of the Greens to pass legislation, or Turnbull gets in and needs the approval of the far right and the Coalition’s own leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, to pass new laws. And he will still have to deal with the Greens and the Xenophons in the Senate.

2016 electionsHonesty not invited to this campaign

If Malcolm Turnbull and Greg Hunt were gymnasts they would have to invent new moves to fully describe the calisthenics they employ when defending the undefendable – their climate and clean energy policy. Turnbull, the man who enthusiastically endorsed a 100 per cent renewable energy target by 2030 just six years ago did a conventional double twist with pike when describing Labor’s 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030 as “extraordinarily high”, and then pretended that Australia would be wrong to “lead the world” further than it is already doing on emission reductions. On current policy settings, only Saudi Arabia will have worse per capita emissions by 2030.

Hunt, though, was in fine form, earning a perfect 10 by rejecting Labor’s newly adopted emissions reduction strategy – based around the Coalition’s plan of attack – as another great big electricity tax. Hunt even dared brandish an independent report as “proof” that Direct Action was working. But as we pointed out on Monday, and as other media followed on Thursday, that report pre-supposes climate policies that are not yet enacted, such as a baseline and credit emissions scheme, built around energy intensity. That just happens to be Labor’s new policy, and the basis of a new recommendation from the Climate Change Authority, including Hunt’s hand-picked advisors, that was conveniently shelved until after the campaign is finished. So Hunt is demonising the very policy he is likely to adopt. But as a former debating champion, he is used to that.

One down, four to go

The last coal-fired generator in South Australia, the Northern power station, closed on Monday, leaving just four large brown coal generators in the Latrobe Valley to close down. Hunt may vaunt Direct Action and the success of the Emissions Reduction Fund, but Australia’s emissions in the electricity sector are growing fast, up 5.7 per cent since the carbon price was trashed.

The future of brown coal promises to be a tricky one for both major parties. AGL, which wants to keep its brown coal generator running until 2048, now agrees that its competitors need to be “helped” out of the market with payments to assist with closure costs. Origin Energy, which owns no brown coal generators, thinks that is rubbish, and the market should be left to its own devices.

One interesting aspect of the Northern closure is that some of the gas generators that will fill in the gaps are nearly as emissions intensive as some black coal generators. Hallett and Mintaro, for instance, have emission intensities as high as 1 tonne of CO2 equivalent per megawatt hour. So much for gas being the “clean transition fuel”.

Lack of energy vision

The departure of the last coal generator coincided with the release of the final version of the Royal Commission into the nuclear fuel cycle. It recommends establishing a major dump for spent fuels in Australia, and also wants Australia to roll back laws against nuclear generation, despite concluding that in South Australia there is no place for nuclear at the moment, due to its size and cost.

One of the absent themes of the election campaign is that Australia currently has no long-term energy policy. Its renewables policy ends in 3.5 years, its energy white paper does not even consider climate targets agreed in Paris, and the Coalition is still spruiking coal. If either party did have any energy vision, they would be committing to solar thermal in South Australia, not just talking vague plans for funding support down the track.

The nuclear and coal lobbies – whose interests are usually intertwined due to their shared reliance on centralised generation models and their hatred of renewables – will be watching with interest what happens in South Australia, but in its first four days of coal-free local generation, the lights didn’t go out, the price of electricity did not soar, and the state exported more power than it imported.

Interestingly, business groups expressed their support for nuclear, but its most prominent advocate, the Liberal Senator Sean Edwards, got bumped down the South Australian candidate list and may struggle to hold his Senate spot.

Highs and lows of energy generation

These graphs from the Melbourne Energy Institute illustrate some interesting points. The first shows the share of local generation, with a windy week seeing more than half of local generation coming from its 1,500MW of wind turbines.

south australia wind gasIndeed, as the second graph shows, the state spent about an equal amount of time exporting excess power than it imported.

south australia all in

Pricing was also cheap, with South Australian prices constantly below those of Queensland, for instance, which has to rely more heavily on gas generation now that it needs more capacity to meet demand from its LNG export terminals, and because it has so little large-scale renewable energy.

Tasmania discovered the benefits of being fossil-free this month. Welcome rainfalls saw it first turning off diesel generators, allowing the price of wholesale electricity to slump from nearly $300/MWh to just over $100/MWh, and when it switched off the gas generator – returning to 100 per cent renewable electricity – the price of electricity slumped further to around $40/MWh. For periods on Friday morning, it fell to zero.

South Australia will continue to witness such fluctuations, falling to negative prices when wind is plentiful and jumping higher when more gas is required. We’ll have more analysis on these points on Monday.


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41 Comments
  1. Chris Fraser 3 years ago

    Perhaps it’s easy to judge the Greens harshly. When I wrote to them in 2009 during the CPRS asking them not to be so perfect I was summarily dismissed … but mine was only one view. The result of 2009, the Greens wish list of 2011 and the ongoing pain, has been shared by everyone. Di Natale just appears so much more pragmatic. If Labor was asked to form Government it would be a big arrogant call by Labor to insist on another election.

    • Pete 3 years ago

      Wouldn’t it require both the coalition and Labor to ask for another election if they both had the same number of seats?

      • Chris Fraser 3 years ago

        Dunno that, maybe if that happened they would be checking on pre-poll preference deals.

        • Pedro 3 years ago

          I think behind the scenes preference deals will have far less affect on the next election, simply because if you want to vote below the line you only have to number 1-12. Pretty easy to do I would think.

    • lin 3 years ago

      My understanding is that the Greens rejected the 2009 CPRS because it would have resulted in significant compensation payments to polluters if we wanted to move to a more ambitious scheme, whereas the Gillard/Greens model did not suffer from this major flaw, and appeared to be working well before the worst government in Australian history dismantled it.

      • Chris Fraser 3 years ago

        There were parts that were quite good. The policy goes back to 2007 and rode a wave of (then) bipartisan support for carbon pricing. The government of the day was always in control of the number of permits, including additional support for trade exposed industry. I think this was needed so the government of the day could compare the degree to which other countries were cutting, and take advantage of economic conditions. There was a bipartisan approach to cap and trade, in other words a flexible carbon price, and could be linked to purchase of CERs (though there was already a surplus of Them).It was criticised because either it wasn’t cutting enough, too generous to coal emissions (coal – an egregious emitter), or too costly to industry (rent seeking). We heard lots of radical views of the same policy, depending on who was talking. They all wanted it to be the panacea, but it wasn’t possible to satisfy everyone completely.Yes the concessions to Malcom’s intense polluters outside the broad policy would have been a mistake. But it was just a sign of the general confusion and weakening. It should have sailed into law without the Opposition’s interference. The real tragedy was the chaotic and drawn out debate gave some very dark forces time to mobilise. An extremely cynical, opportunistic Opposition leader took over, raising the spectre of the great big new tax, and $100 lamb roasts.The government probably folded the CPRS because it wasn’t prepared to counter the lies, not brave enough to call the DD, and there were other leadership issues of course.

        • lin 3 years ago

          Thanks. An interesting perspective.

    • solarguy 3 years ago

      .What Labor is saying in this election, is that they want to form government in their own right. However if we get a result similar to 2010, logic compels me to say they will form government with Greens and Independents.
      The biggest nightmare would be a LNP/ Greens minority show.

      • lin 3 years ago

        No. The biggest nightmare would the Libs hold a majority in both houses in their own right. It would probably kill their party in the long term, but the damage they would do to the renewables sector, health, education, social justice, welfare, the economy and the environment would be catastrophic.

        • solarguy 3 years ago

          Ah yes it would Lin, but I was talking along the line of a hung parliament. I didn’t want to think of the ultimate tragedy.

  2. Barri Mundee 3 years ago

    I suspect the motive in establishing a nuclear waste storage facility in SA may be as means of “softening us up” to accept a change in the law banning nuclear power generation.

  3. MaxG 3 years ago

    Australia does not have a democracy — full stop. Which can be very clearly seen in the arrogant and deceitful campaign of the major two parties.

    • nakedChimp 3 years ago

      They might actually be really frightened by the Greens now.. by so clearly stating they’re not in for any deal at all they seem to try to communicate to the voters to prioritise them (whatever your preference is lab or lib) instead of going with the Greens.
      But what do I know.

      All I wish for now that automation set’s more and more people free from work and that they get hungry, really really hungry.
      Nothing else is going to change this society for the better.

      • MaxG 3 years ago

        You’re absolutely right… also on the job front; you do not have to wish, it is already happening. Real unemployment has been rising since the GFC; it will get bad… hence, why I have taken the step to move away from the city, and got rid of every imaginable money drain. The only bills I have got: land, car, trailer, Internet, and prep-paid mobile ($15/yr), plus food bill. Yes, no bills for electricity, water, sewer. The idea was to be as self-reliant as possible.

        • nakedChimp 3 years ago

          Yeah.. and I avoid loans like the plague.
          To bad the property does cost a bundle each half year.. wonder how this is going to work out for me down the road.

    • solarguy 3 years ago

      Name one country that has a true democracy. All political parties are capable of deceit, including the Greens.

      • nakedChimp 3 years ago

        Well, they are not perfect, that’s true.. but at least in Germany when they did go into bed with the labour party there, about 10-15 years back, they managed to get incentives for PV established and started the transition that got Germany set onto a path of 100% RE by 2050 (and helped the world a lot on the path).
        They also had to go in on the Kosovo War and got really punished for that by their large pacifist wing, but what choice did they have.

        I’m sure the Australian Greens would do a lot of good (and learn a lot) by being in government for a while. It will change them for sure and they’ll become part of the establishment, that’s absolutely to expect with a monopoly underpinned system like we have world wide. At least they can do something good for as long as they are able to.

    • Pedro 3 years ago

      MaxG, I have a different view on democracy. We have a good democracy functioning poorly. A good democracy needs a significant proportion of the population being politically engaged. Voting once every couple of years is the absolute minimum requirement and I would say if you are a voter and that is all you are prepared to do then you do not really have a right to complain about the mediocre pile of crap you are served up by our government.

      For me personally, I actually get a fair bit out of democracy. I have spoken with Mark Butler twice about RE issues face to face, met Julia Gillard, spoke with Peter Garret and to a quite a number of greens. I tell them what I think RE policy should be. I get way punch for my democratic vote than most even though I am just another insignificant voter.

      Also I bring up my political views amongst all my friends and have those dinner party killing conversations. Also I am actively part of the fossil fuel divestment movement spreading idea’s and the meme of a fossil free future.

      For me the trick is getting fence sitters on side and get them active anyway that they are prepared to do.

      • solarguy 3 years ago

        Well boys, it’s time to have a drink. Take my advise, pull down ya duds and slide down the ice.

      • MaxG 3 years ago

        Good to hear you are active and spread the word… however, the fact is, democracy — in its true meaning — does not exist. Of the four pillars of democracy, the people, the government, the corporations, and a free press, the latter is dead for good (as in the hands of the corporations, who influence the government a great deal, specifically to get corporation-friendly conditions, which goes against the people. Free Trade is the worst that could happen, and it destroyed our national independence. We are rich in minerals, yet, Norway has its wealth found of 600 billion $, were is ours. We dismantle every labour achievement of the past — with the current mob trying to get rid of the minimum wage, super, pension, health and education; reduce taxation for the rich, dishing out middle class welfare, yet claiming we spend too much, labour cost is too high, while Germany enjoys much higher salaries, pays more taxes and enjoys a better system. — I could go on… speaking to all the high-flyers IMHO does not change a thing, because the whole system is broken… and this includes an apathetic majority of voters who are sick and tired of corrupt and lying politicians, tuning out when it comes to election, vote to get it done with choosing whoever looks better at the time…

        • Dispassionate 3 years ago

          Maybe instead of everyone wanting to reduce the pollies wages and follow a kitchen budget which MUST have a surplus we should increase the pollies wages dramatically so as to attract the right type of people into the positions (pay peanuts you get monkeys) and educate the people that all these very simple solutions to problems actually won’t wok due to flow on effects.

          • MaxG 3 years ago

            Not unless they have a degree in politics, public administration, economics, finance, science, etc. 🙂

          • Dispassionate 3 years ago

            I think you’ll find most of them have degrees already, so a degree is not necessarily a good signal that they would be good in the job.

  4. Cooma Doug 3 years ago

    What will happen within 5 years, large base load generators will be the cause of the power system disturbance issues. This will not be politics at work it will be the reality of technology innovation.
    Add to this the reality of pollution and the costs of sustaining old plant and its over sooner then deniers realise.

  5. Suburbable 3 years ago

    As long as we stick with the two party preferred political system we have we will never see any real progress in the political arena. We will always have a labor or liberal stooge in power and there will be no escaping their stupidity.

    • solarguy 3 years ago

      Not that I’m a political junkie, but I don’t know of anywhere in the world where there isn’t two major parties that dominate the scene.

      • Diego Matter 3 years ago

        Switzerland

      • Suburbable 3 years ago

        They dominate, but it is not often built into the system that there can be only 2.

  6. Ben Courtice 3 years ago

    Turnbull “enthusiastically endorsed a 100 per cent renewable energy target by 2030 just six years ago” — and in fact it was for 100% by 2020, not 2030! (plan was Zero Carbon Australia from Beyond Zero Emissions/Melbourne Uni)

    • solarguy 3 years ago

      Turnface hasn’t got the balls to be his own man, that is, if he really ever had that belief?

    • Dispassionate 3 years ago

      I’ll be voting LNP

      • Brian Tehan 3 years ago

        Why? Do you have negatively geared property?

        • Dispassionate 3 years ago

          No but that is also a good reason to vote LNP this coming election.
          Just for information purposes I did vote Labor last 2 elections.

  7. John Silvester 3 years ago

    For those hopeful Malcom Turnbull will be free to change the LNP’s direction on Climate Change and Renewable Energy after a Turnbull victory, at the coming election, may well be disappointed.

    If, as appears to be the case, Turnbull runs on a platform of do nothing about Climate Change and Renewable Energy, he will have a mandate to do just that, NOTHING. Without a mandate for change, the hard right will hold Turnbull to his election platform on these issues.

    • solarguy 3 years ago

      Too true John!

  8. onesecond 3 years ago

    Vote Green, there is no better way to send them scrambling into the future.

  9. Jon Albiez 3 years ago

    Hello Giles, unfortunately I don’t believe you’ve presented a balanced and rational article in parts. “Greens ability to match science with policy” – whilst the Greens are onboard with scientific consensus regarding ACC, they are radically opposed to scientific convention on other issues such as GM crop production. They’re extremely hypocritical just like most other political movements.

    You make mention of Hallett and Mintaro being “almost as dirty” as coal. Open cycle plants are cheap to construct and are designed to only be operated less than 10% capacity factor due to economic constraints. Especially with the closure of Northern these OCGTs are valuable for FCAS when wind forecasting is inaccurate. Given both plants are currently operating less than 3% capacity factor you can throw that argument out. It is by their very nature that SA is able to have such a large wind contribution. Without them SA would have reduced wind contribution due to frequency disturbances.

    Australia is also the best place on the planet for a nuclear waste repository. Provided landholder consent is obtained, Australia is extremely geologically stable and has plenty of areas where there’s not a single person for hundreds of kilometres. Nuclear power generation is extremely valuable as a baseload source almost free of CO2 emissions over the fuel cycle. The radiation is also contained within the plant instead of being sprayed all over the countryside as the case with coal combustion. Renewable sources such as wind and solar have a higher total death rate per TWh generation than nuclear. At the moment nuclear generation in Australia is not economically feasible but it makes perfect sense to replace retiring coal-fired generators with reactors. The water source and transmission capacity is already there!

    “Pricing was also cheap, with South Australian prices constantly below
    those of Queensland, for instance, which has to rely more heavily on gas
    generation now that it needs more capacity to meet demand from its LNG
    export terminals, and because it has so little large-scale renewable
    energy”

    The past week has seen SA with the most expensive electricity in the NEM. Wind generation has been poor with gas and imports picking up the slack, even with distillate fired OCGTs being operational. Please stop cherry picking your data. If you had bothered to analyse NEM data QLD is currently using the least amount of gas fired generation in many years. This is due to the high spot price for gas due to LNG exports. Even highly efficient plants such as Swanbank E have been shuttered for a few years due to revenue being higher selling contracted gas than using it for generation.

    Tasmanian electricty pricing is speculative only – they are islanded at present with the Basslink outage. This price is irrelevant as almost all parties have contracts with Hydro Tasmania wearing the cost of additional gas and diesel generation. The May rains have been extremely well received and according to my data on track to be the best on record.

    There are some fantistic arguments on this site but unfortunately I don’t belive yours is compelling in its current state.

    • Giles 3 years ago

      And you are not cherry picking data? South Australia had higher electricity prices on only two of the last seven days. And one has to wonder why – it is not the cost of wind and solar that is forcing that, but the cost of gas, and the fact that the market dominated by one major player, which can more or less set the prices at will. There is a lot of questions about the extraordinary rises in bidding at around 11.30pm when load controlled hot water is switched on. It’s good to learn that the AER is keeping a close watch on bidding patterns.

      • Jon Albiez 3 years ago

        Please go back through AEMO data. The average price in SA has been higher more than two days. The reason that SA has high spot pricing is lack of solar and wind generation, resulting in higher gas fired generation. That’s not the fault of gas fired generators. They’re simply responding to demand. There’s more than one generator in the market. Participants are free to bid as they wish. Controlled hot water isn’t at fault either, all participants know that this is a long standing spike in demand and many hedging contracts counteract this. Perhaps if ETSA and retailers switched on controlled supply when market conditions dictated (like in eastern states) rather than a set time price spikes may be far less dramatic.

        • Giles 3 years ago

          17th and 18th. tell me which other days! The two biggest suppliers in the S.A. control 73 per cent of the market, and one of those isn’t playing at the moment (pelican point). that leaves AGL with a dominant position. talk to any trader, and the AER, and they will tell you what lack of competition does to prices.

          • Jon Albiez 3 years ago

            Yesterday (AEMO data) and today is looking no better at this stage. There are no barriers to competition in South Australia! Just because AGL own TIPS doesn’t mean they can’t be challenged. PPCCGT is also offline for maintenance.

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