Is Angus Taylor on a one-man mission to stop wind and solar? | RenewEconomy

Is Angus Taylor on a one-man mission to stop wind and solar?

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Energy minister Angus Taylor appears to be on a one man mission to fulfil the destiny wished of him by his supporters – to stop wind and solar in their tracks.

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Credit: AAP/Lukas Coch
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Even before he entered parliament, federal energy minister Angus Taylor was on a mission to stop the Australian wind and solar industry.

He appeared, and was hailed a hero, at an anti-wind rally hosted by the backers of an anonymous and rather nasty website called “Stop These Things”, and after he entered parliament in 2013 he fought unsuccessfully to have the renewable energy target scrapped altogether. Instead, it was merely chopped by a third.

As a newly appointed energy minister last year, Taylor declared there was already too much wind and solar in the Australian grid, and claimed that having too much wind and solar would lead to the “de-industrialisation” of Australia’s economy.

And despite the Coalition repeatedly crowing about the “world-leading” amounts of wind and solar constructed in Australia – brought about, of course, under a policy it had tried to destroy, Taylor is back to saying there is too much variable renewables in the system, against all the expert advice to the contrary.

“We have crossed the threshold,” Taylor told the AFR energy summit this week. “If you look at the last month we have consistently been above 25 per cent intermittent renewables.”

Taylor’s message is that the system can’t cope, and that new wind and solar should be stopped in its tracks, and what he calls the “only solutions” available to balance their output – coal, gas and hydro – built or propped up to maintain grid reliability. Batteries, he dismisses, have only a role to play in minor markets like frequency control.

It’s palpable nonsense of course, and truly frightening that the country’s federal energy minister should hold such views, either through prejudice or ignorance.

South Australia’s grid is operating just fine at more than 50 per cent wind and solar, and the local Liberal state government has plans to more than double that, and go “net 100 per cent renewables.” The Australian Energy Market Operator is busy putting together a 20-year blueprint that will show how Australia can transition its grid to a very high level of renewables.

Last year, chief scientist Alan Finkel released a report by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) that showed little storage was needed until wind and solar reached between 35 per cent to 50 per cent share of the grid. The report by experts was rejected as “eco-evangelism” by the Coalition.

Every big utility in Australia accepts that Australia is going to switch to renewables, it’s just a matter of when, and they just wish that the federal Coalition government would get out of the industry’s way and let the experts get on with it.

And as if to underline that point, Jim Robo, the head of NextEra, an American utility so big it is nearly the size (in capacity and market worth) to the entire Australia grid, said last week he saw no problems with having 70-75 per cent renewables, with a minimum amount of storage, and predicted the end of coal within a decade.

Robo focused on battery storage, noting the combination of wind and/or solar with battery storage was cheaper than even existing gas coal or his company’s own nuclear plants. Australia’s Coalition government won’t even acknowledge that battery storage works.

Taylor, though, is now in a position where he can effectively “stop these things”. Not by anything so crude as nixing individual projects, or banning the technology, but by creating so much investor uncertainty by repeated government intervention in the markets, and giving heavy backing to the government’s own pet projects that crowd others out of the market.

This week, the Grattan Institute noted that the government’s decision to back Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro scheme, and to propose underwriting for up to 12 different coal, gas and pumped hydro projects, would effectively bring competing private investments to a halt.

That call was echoed by the head of the Energy Security Board, Kerry Schott, who said Taylor’s intervention in the market, from setting price caps to its own underwriting program, would stop private investment. For good measure, she labelled Taylor’s favoured coal technologies, and the units he is trying to keep open, as dinosaurs.

Schott’s comments are remarkable because they reflect growing frustration at the institutional level with the federal government. Schott is no rabid environmentalist or renewable evangelist, but she listens to experts, and the experts have been crystal clear.

Solar and wind projects are facing other roadblocks, created by a lack of planning for which the federal government, and bodies such as the Australian Energy Market Commission, are directly responsible.

They have failed to ensure that the transmission investment has been made, or that the rules have been changed to reflect the technologies that will dominate the modern grid. This is because they refused to listen or believe the experts (the AEMC has mostly been made up of economists and lawyers).

There are efforts to remove the blockages, and the Integrated System Plan proposed by AEMO is a key component of that. But Taylor refuses to play ball – he has only recently called for a COAG Energy Council meeting – in late November – the first in a year. No agenda has been released. And he has reportedly refused to accept the basis of the ISP, disputing its costings and other assumptions.

The most common description of Taylor by those who have met him is that he likes to think he is the smartest person in the room. Or, as  Victoria’s energy minister Lily D”Ambrosio told the AFR summit: “The only person who thinks Angus Taylor is doing a good job is Angus Taylor.”

Nothing and no-one has changed Taylor’s mind. Certainly not the experts at AEMO with the ISP, nor chief scientist Alan Finkel. (Apart from rejecting the ACOLA report on renewables integration, Taylor has also been credited with leading the Coalition fight against Finkel’s Clean Energy Target).

AGL has given seven years notice of its closure of Liddell and provided detailed costings of the alternatives. Taylor rejects these, and the AEMO assessment of what is needed to replace it. Taylor calls it “proselytising”.

“Some vague hope of transmission, intermittent generation and demand management filling the gap is not good enough,” Taylor said this week. “For too long this industry has suffered from the triumph of hope over reality. Not this time.”

Taylor’s claim that more renewables equals less reliability are complete nonsense. South Australia, after fixing its grid management issues, has been running for more than two years with more than 50 per cent wind and solar, and without the problems faced by coal-dominated Victoria, NSW and Victoria.

The state Liberal government has cast a plan for “net 100 per cent renewables.” The introduction of pumped hydro and more batteries, along with synchronous condensers, means that the role played by gas in that scenario will be minimal.

At the same time, big industrial players are making a mockery of Taylor’s claim that too much wind and solar leads to “de-industrialisation”.

They say that the opposite will happen, and that cheap wind and solar is the key to Australia’s future prosperity, either through “green hydrogen” exports that will replace the LNG industry, or “green metals”, with wind and solar providing the cheap power for added value industries.

A prime example of this is using cheap wind and solar to allow refining and processing of manganese metals, as proposed by Element25 for its Butcherbird project in the Pilbara, or for “green hydrogen” in steel making.

And while Taylor claims there is too much wind and solar in the system, a consortium of Macquarie Group, Vestas, and CWP is proposing a 15GW wind and solar facility in the Pilbara; global giant Siemens and partners are looking at a 5GW wind and solar facility closer to Perth; and billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes is backing a 10GW solar plant in the Northern Territory.

ARENA chief executive Darren Miller speaks of the possibilities of 700GW of wind and solar – or 600-700 per cent of Australia’s electricity needs – being built in Australia for the “green hydrogen and “green metals” prospects. He says they should all be linked to the country’s main grid to ensure cheap power and no supply gaps.

Economist Professor Ross Garnaut and others have talked of the same opportunities. We will hear more about this when Finkel unveils the details of his national hydrogen strategy when the state and federal energy ministers finally get to meet in Perth late next month.

Taylor, though, remains convinced he is right and everyone else is wrong. During the election campaign, he was the source of some stupendous nonsense about electric vehicles, their range, their costs, their impacts and their charging. And he’s still talking nonsense about wind and solar.

Will Taylor be successful in his one man mission to stop these things?

Time will tell. The best that could have been hoped for from Taylor was that he and the Coalition government would get out of the way, and let the institutions put in the relevant plans and frameworks for the energy transition, and let investors get on with their work.

But Taylor won’t get out of the way. His refusal to meet with energy ministers for nearly a year, his refusal to endorse the ISP, his efforts to interfere in Liddell, his interference in markets, and the Coalition’s backing of Snowy 2.0 and his own pet underwriting program, the Underwriting New Generation Investments, are all hindering progress.

UNGI was supposed to be a matter of extreme urgency when it was first dreamed up last September. But after drawing up a list of 12 potential projects, not much has happened since the government surprised itself by winning the election. Taylor understands that the uncertainty will dampen any sort of investment.

There is a phenomenal pipeline of investment – around 100GW in total according to AEMO – and while many projects are “announced”, most are only getting to development approval stage, few are getting to financial close because of the uncertainty.

State targets may underpin some investment, but Victoria is stymied for the moment by transmission issues, a result of bad planning by the key energy institutions, and the Queensland government seems happy to have a pause in wind and solar investment to appease the unions.

Taylor is not quite a one-man band. He views are shared by Coalition MPs, the Murdoch media, and prominent donors like coal magnate Trevor St Baker, and even by ACCC chair Rod Sims, his mentor at Port Jackson Partners.

But do we really want to stop these things? All the experts tell us will result in delays, added cost and less reliability. Let’s just stop this madness.

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19 Comments
  1. Chris Drongers 3 months ago

    So why hasn’t the prime minister cast Taylor out of the ministry? Is the government’s majority in its own party so slim that they have to pander to the right wing?

    • Joe 3 months ago

      Taylor is performing exactly to specification as decreed by Emperor ScoalNO.

  2. Jo 3 months ago

    The unfortunate thing is that it is not “…either through prejudice or ignorance….” but greed. Greed for himself and his mates. No wonder they are called the COALition. And not to forget the mates on the other end of the deal. Just have a look at the revolving door between the government and the minerals council.

  3. BsrKr11 3 months ago

    it’s galling at this stage….when so much opportunity is on offer, and the reasons to change to crystal clear, this man’s behavior is bordering on criminal

    • ReverseConcaveSpoon 3 months ago

      Only a complete megalomaniac halts the best interests of everyone and risks everyone’s future over self interest and believing they’re right and everyone, industry and experts alike, are wrong.

  4. Stephen Cole 3 months ago

    Great article thanks Giles. We seem to live in a world where some individuals think they are the smartest person in the room. heaven help them if they ever cross paths!
    I tend to be an optimist. He will be about as effective at stopping the financially and environmentally necessary changes to our energy mix as a flea on a train track.
    Great to see the CEOs of AEMO and ARENA beginning the slow process of fighting back toward a sensible way forward.
    Keep up the good fight!

  5. Ross Tomkins 3 months ago

    Great article, have been reading Renew Economy for several years now and find that what is staggering is the continuing ignorance of our politicians. Giles, would it be possible for a public debate (ABC Q&A?) with an agenda to recognise Industry’s acceptance of the move to renewables. Invite the politicians but success could come from participation by the right industry leaders (current and past coal users) such as those you refer to above. Given current demonstrations I believe it will be a more civilised way of dealing with caring for our climate.

  6. Diego Fuentes 3 months ago

    There is no word for Taylor other than corrupt – he should be dealt with accordingly.

    • Joe 3 months ago

      Hi Diego. Our Angus corrupt you posit. Well there was Our Angus and ‘Murray Water-gate Affair’ where Murray River water money disappeared off to The Caymans and there was ‘Grass-gate Affair’ where protected grasslands disappeared under sprays and clearing. Our Angus corrupt, nah, just all part of the normal business that is Our Angus.

  7. wmh 3 months ago

    Unfortunately for ideologues like Taylor, the horse has bolted. I and others aren’t listening to him as we max out the thermal insulation and solar panels plus a few kWh of batteries.

  8. Cooma Doug 3 months ago

    Great work Giles.

  9. Malcolm McCaskill 3 months ago

    It would be interesting to overhear conversations between Taylor and the Minerals Council of Australia. Perhaps words like “It needs to look like I’m supporting the electricity industry transition, but in a way that delays as long as possible any white-anting of the coal market by these upstart renewables.”

  10. DogzOwn 3 months ago

    Thanks as ever Giles.

    Driving back from Sydney, felt like a break and turned off highway to Goulburn. Won’t ever do that again, so many big billboards with big photos Anus Taylor. How about boycott Goulburn until nutjob Taylor dismissed?

    • ReverseConcaveSpoon 3 months ago

      Sorry to hear. We still have billboards up of Clive “making Australia great again” Palmer up around here.

  11. Pico 3 months ago

    Why don’t the state energy ministers just start having meetings without inviting him? He will provide no constructive input anyway.

  12. Durham 52 3 months ago

    This bloke just confirms my belief that the LNP’s goal is to stop or slow the transition to new cleaner and better forms of electricity production for as long as possible to maximize the profits of their masters. (Before those same masters gain complete control of all the new forms of energy production so their rorting and price gauging can continue into whatever future we might have left….) There is nothing complex about these peoples motives, it’s always only profit and control.

  13. Chris Drongers 3 months ago

    The Europeans are waking up to hydrogen by electrolysis – Search “european-majors-back-plan-for-pv-factory-to-power-green-hydrogen-push”.
    Their approach is to build up to a total of 5 GW of PV by progressively building out 500 MW solar farms in the sunnier parts of southern Europe. The PV modules will be built in Europe and come from a 2 GW/yr manufacturing facility there. Logic says that if 5 GW PV linked to hydrogen production works, then the huge capacity of PV in northern Africa will be next to be tapped. No need to ship H2 all the way from Australia.

    The RWNJs will wake up to find the Europeans have eaten our lunch, and as China builds more and more PV and wind, the Chinese will eat our dinner as well. We will still have coal to burn though. Sad, disappointing, dispiriting.

  14. NewsCorpse 3 months ago

    I am a huge fan of Renewconomy’s fantastic reporting, but would like
    to see an improvement in the political analysis of this and other Oz
    news sources.

    Angus Taylor is NOT on a one man mission. As part of
    the fossil-owned LNP government he is merely acting as the local
    executive policy arm of the transnational fossil fuel sector. The
    Institute for Public Affairs is but one of nearly 500 fossil-industry
    funded ‘thinktanks’ world wide that have delivered 40 years of science
    denial and government capture for their paymasters under the auspices of
    the increasingly antidemocratic far-right project of the Atlas Network
    (key drivers of the Trump, pro-Brexit , and Balsonaro organisations
    overseas, and the LNP strategy here): here is the map they provide.
    Their sponsorship by Exxon and Koch and other fossil corporations is
    well known.

    https://www.atlasnetwork.or

    In
    my view, Australian journalists and commentators woudl do well to shift
    the focus from wondering if local individuals like Taylor ‘believe’ in
    science and rather look at the long-term, international networks of
    personel in anti-science and anti-renewable political organisations, and
    their strategies. The LNP is not ‘doing nothing’: they are doing a LOT
    on behalf of their coal, oil, and LNG clients. Everything they can to
    repress the change we need, from undermining UNFCC and Paris Treaty
    negotiations (spoil voting with Saudi Arabia and Trump) to eliminating
    the ABC and citizen’s rights at home, to immunising the fossil sector
    from corporate tax and resource rent obligations.

  15. Shane 3 months ago

    “Taylor declared there was already too much wind and solar in the Australian grid, and claimed that having too much wind and solar would lead to the “de-industrialisation” of Australia’s economy.”

    So concerned about the de-industrialisation of the Australian economy that they shut down the car industry.
    Taylor truly is a drovers dog for fossil fuels.
    https://i.pinimg.com/originals/d6/31/81/d631814bed1532ec2cabd8792dca4591.jpg

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