Ever since the first large-scale solar farm was opened in Australia, we knew that the right wing in Australia’s political class had a problem with renewables, or at least certain types of renewables.
That solar farm, at Greenough River near Geraldton, in Western Australia, was opened by then state energy minister Gavin Collier, who made reference to the swarms of flies at the opening – “they must be greenies” – and said he hoped he never had to open another one.
He didn’t. Collier was moved on to another portfolio, and the then conservative state government engineered a three-year investment drought that ensured nothing new was built, and then blew $310 million on the upgrade of units at the ancient Muja coal-fired power station they then had to close down.
Collier may not have known it then, but he was just the start of a widespread and noisy push back against wind and solar from the political right.
Joe Hockey, while Treasurer and supposedly responsible for attracting international investment, said on several occasions that he thought the sight of wind farms like the Capital facility en route to Canberra was “utterly offensive” and a “blight on the landscape”.
Then prime minister Tony Abbott also complained about wind farms describing them as “visually awful” and “creating a lot of noise”.
Asked if he had ever been close to one, Abbott cited a cycling excursion on Rottnest Island, where there is a single small turbine, which has become so famous as a result it now has its own Twitter account, @rottoturbine, currently dubbed “dark Satanic mill” and which describes itself as “just a lonely turbine spinning in the wind.”
The torrent of hate from the right wing has barely slowed since then. Backbench MPs led by Craig Kelly are apoplectic about renewables, and the Queensland-based LNP MPs and senators seem to think of wind and solar as a sin against the country and the economy. They want new coal generators and nuclear power stations instead, despite the horrendous costs of those technologies.
Current energy minister Angus Taylor, who hates wind energy so much he was regarded as a hero by the website “Stop These Things”, says there is too much wind and solar in Australia’s grid, and didn’t even attend the opening of a wind farm in his electorate.
Prime minister Scott Morrison, the man who cradled a lump of coal parliament, hasn’t said much about the appearance of renewables, but insists that “wind and solar are …. never going to be what keeps the lights on.” Morrison betrayed his real thoughts, however, when he named Taylor as energy minister and described the Tesla big battery as about as useful as the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour.
A day after Morrison got the key to the Lodge, the Tesla big battery played a critical role in keeping the lights on after a major outage caused load-shedding in every state bar South Australia.
But now the Coalition is getting excited about hydro, promising to spend billions on pumped hydro through its government-owned utility Snowy Hydro, and pledging to support schemes in Tasmania and South Australia, and is even starting to get interested in hydrogen. It even wants to explore opportunities in biomass.
“Renewables are in my blood,” insists Taylor, citing his grandfather’s role in developing the Snowy Hydro scheme.
It made us wonder, then, are there some renewable technologies that are acceptable to the Coalition, and to the Murdoch media that calls their tune, while others aren’t?
We can pretty safely put wind farms in the not acceptable basket, given the intense campaigns against them by those close to the Coalition, citing a range of afflictions including mad dogs and coarse fleece, and many more.
This has also now spread to large-scale solar – apparently also due to their appearance, their reflections, and the possibility that the heat they generate (they don’t) might boil berries in fruit-growing areas.
Solar seems only acceptable when it is on rooftops. Some of the biggest critics of renewable energy – Taylor, Australian Conservatives leader Cory Bernardi, and the Coalition government’s favourite economic modeller Brian Fisher – have large arrays of rooftop solar on their homes and farms.
What else could fall into the rubric of “right-wing renewables?” Clearly hydro, because it is dispatchable, and pumped hydro too, for the same reasons. Biomass, too, given Taylor’s recent instructions to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to explore all possibilities in that area.
And maybe even hydrogen, although its qualification as renewable depends on whether it is created through either wind and solar sources, or fossil fuels.
Offshore wind might qualify, because it is “over the horizon”, quite literally in many cases, and so might wave power, which is also non-threatening because its economics are a long way off and, in any case, it is buried beneath the sea. Or at lest some versions are.
And geothermal could also qualify as a right wing renewable, because, you know, baseload and all that. Sadly, though, that is no longer a thing, the market has given up on “hot rock” geothermal projects and even Birdsville, which once sourced part of its power supply from a shallow geothermal resources, has now turned to solar and batteries.
So, left wing renewables, right wing renewable?. Is that really a thing? It shouldn’t be. But this is Australia, 2019, where even the words “climate change” must not be uttered by government officials..
Of course, there has to be an exception to the rule. And in Australia there are at least two. The South Australia Liberal government doesn’t just like wind and solar, it wants more of it. So much more it actually has a target of “net 100 per cent renewables” by around 2030, and wants to do even more than that so it can export “green hydrogen” and green metals to other states and overseas.
The Tasmania Liberal government also supports new links across Bass Strait to Victoria so it can replace that state’s brown coal generators with its own “battery of the nation” resources, primarily based around hydro and a huge investment in wind power.
But then, there is probably a big difference between being a Liberal, and a right wing ideologue. Or, at least we thought there was, until we heard so called “moderate” Liberal Jason Falinski this week.