Is there such a thing as right wing renewables? | RenewEconomy

Is there such a thing as right wing renewables?

Are there some renewable technologies that are acceptable to the Coalition, and to the Murdoch media that calls their tune, while others aren’t?

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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.

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12 Comments
  1. Maddogeco 11 months ago

    I consider my self economically right wing, but I do not agree with many mainstream right wing methods. I Think cheaper power would be a huge economic stimulus for Australia I want to see massive mineral steel and other metal refineries here. I want to see massive water projects to keep the farms going and stop the bush from burning (I’m currently surround by dead gum trees, they have all died in the drought, this is not normal).

    I know that the cheapest form of electricity is wind and solar. Some may argue we need to make more coal fire stations but that is too risky, There could be a worker strike and then who is going to feed the coal fire stations, or a sudden malfunction on a coal plant would knock out a large % of generation. With a distributed wind and solar based grid a malfunction could still happen but it will have a smaller impact on the total grid.

    A core belief amoung right wing supporters in the US is autonomy away from “Big Government” and Big companies. Slapping a few panels on your roof directly takes away power from big companies and puts it your control. Add an electric car to your garage and your no longer beholden to big oil.

    Stopping global warming ( yes its global warming not climate change – nowhere is getting colder) will be important to immigration and refugees as well. The Right wing don’t want to see boats loads of refugees and we will see this a lot more as counties become to hot to live in or go under water.

    Renewables and stopping global warming has always seemed to be a more right than left issue to me. Or have i got it all wrong? am i a closet leftie and i don’t know it?

    • gbossley 11 months ago

      Yep, you’re a closet leftie 🙂

      You are spot on in a few ways – the ALP is frightened of the power of the CFMEU (as is the LNP) and the LNP is beholden to its (coal) sponsors. Neither of those aging political organisations are willing to address the challenge of transitioning a huge workforce and the associated economy out of coal.

      And, yes, renewables, indeed any efforts to curtail carbon production pose disruption to the club members (CEOs) with whom these pollies undoubtedly associate.

      • Ren Stimpy 11 months ago

        bossy, how do we best maintain our current high build rate of renewables? Simple question.

        The simple answer is to install more interstate connectors, more transmission to defined Renewable Energy Zones, and more storage. Renewable investors will then fall over themselves to fill in the required generation leaves on that new network infrastructure tree.

        Labor had a $15 billion commitment to do exactly the above ($5 billion for network via the ISP and $10 billion more for the CEFC) plus an official climate change policy – being the NEG, but with an emissions baseline anchored in reality and results (rather than the Coalition’s cowardice and ‘marketing speak’). Labor either didn’t need the approval of the CFMEU to formulate these massively pro-renewable policies, or if they did, then kudos the CFMEU. Labor were head and shoulders above the Coalition on climate policy, but for some reason people got it into their ignorant heads that Labor were the same as the Coalition. I suspect the Greens and their idiot supporters for spreading that nonsense, which cost Labor the election, and therefore installed Lumpy Morrison and his useless pack of pre-smoked durries for ANOTHER 3 years!

    • GG 11 months ago

      Your view on the Right wing ideals of not wanting to support big government or big companies is historically accurate, but the needle has shifted in recent years due to the increasing power these big companies have over the Right wing (and Left wing) parties. When renewables were just a blip in the electricity supply, they were not a threat to the incumbent fossil fuel companies. Now that wind and solar are genuinely cutting in the the bottom line of the big gentailers and the coal industry, these companies and industries are funding huge misinformation campaigns to muddy the waters, and to influence political discourse.

      Essentially, it all comes down to economics. These coal industry companies have millions, if not billions invested in their assets. They also have billions of dollars of value built in to their share price that is predicated on their access to the coal in the ground. If the renewable industry were to advance to a point where these coal mines were no longer required, the value of these companies would plummet! They would have billions of dollars invested in stranded assets that are now worthless, and investors would run for the hills!

      Stopping climate change is advantageous to both sides of the political spectrum. Unfortunately, the Right wing has been so heavily influenced by the fossil fuel industry that they no longer believe in science, and therefore deny the existence of climate change. If the Right wing doesn’t even acknowledge that climate change is caused by humans, they have no reason to try and do anything about it!

  2. Ren Stimpy 11 months ago

    Generally speaking the right controls the party. The right of the Labor party generally controls that party – with the numbers. The right of the Coalition generally controls that party – not with the numbers but by having a giant sulk, threatening to cross the floor, unauthorised media statements, etc, etc, when they don’t get their way, particularly on energy policy. Problem with the Coalition is they are on the right, so their right is the right of the right (whereas Labor’s right is the right of the left aka the centre). I hope that makes sense.

  3. Chris Drongers 11 months ago

    Just how tight is the grip of the right wing LNP on Morrison? Or is he one of them? The Murdoch press has finally figured out how to handle climate change in the current bushfire emergency – don’t mention it, or planning how to handle it in future as that would validate that climate change is real and the science and models are correct. I suspect we will see Morrison doing the same and following Murdoch’s lead. No reinstatement of a climate change CRC, no forward planning of urban design codes to account for foreseeable sealevel change, storm or bushfire change because of its effects on private property rights. But expect lots of socialized costs of protecting those properties.

  4. JIm 11 months ago

    While it is fair enough to deride the follies of conservative politics in Australia, it perpetuates the political divide which is destroying rational policy – and as everyone knows, if you look internationally there are conservatives who are happy to embrace and promote renewables. So it is a form of denial to portray this is as a left versus right issue per se. And as the options to solve this dwindle, so too does freedom! It is those who allow themselves to captured by vested interests who need to be censored and one way to do that is to compare the Australian debacle with the comparatively impressive achievements of conservatives in UK, California, Germany etc.

  5. Ken Dyer 11 months ago

    The LNP Government is under the control of the coal industry, therefore the only renewable is coal.

  6. Ian 11 months ago

    Tough shite guys, the proposed massive expansion of the natural gas industry in WA is set to dwarf all the current domestic and exported carbon emissions of all our fossil fuels to this date. Check out the ABC article on Woodside’s proposals.

    Left or Right of the political divide, our politicians are just small fry to be manipulated and the people of this country Catholic Priested by these massive fossil fuel corporations.

    Whether we like it or not , the Australian people are not in control of their country, and they and their politicians are treated like so many others in the third world , offered shiny beads and trinkets in exchange for the untold wealth of the country unfortunately that happens to be fossil fuels.

  7. Seriously...? 11 months ago

    You misunderstand the psychology. Some people want to dig, burn, make a noise, drive dump trucks. They want to work ON the world, not WITH it. They want to see a visible impression, the bigger the better. The idea of working WITH the world to generate power at ambient temperature by extracting it directly from the environment gives them allergies. Snowy Hydro is BIG, it will involve lots of blasting and drilling and trucking. Grrrrrrrr! I’m getting a hard-on just thinking about it! Whereas flat panels that just sit there are boring, emasculating even. What’s the fun of that, compared to digging a big hole in a lot of smoke, then getting shit-faced and waking up face-down in a pile of dented beer cans? Let’s dig, blast, burn, consume, then piss it all out and start again!

    Snowy 2.0=the urethra of Australia.

  8. JackD 11 months ago

    Joe and Tony… Where are they now?? They both blew a lot of hot air.

  9. Mike Shurtleff 11 months ago

    Thank you Giles!
    Very nice to see the renewable energy progress in South Australia is continuing.
    Similarly here in USA in conservative state of Texas. (Left leaning state of California is still leading in Solar PV.)

    More states in both coal laden countries are transitioning to renewables, specifically Wind and Solar PV. I expect that will continue. As I’ve been saying for a few years now: “Politics will follow economics, not the other way around.”

    Coal is dying and will continue to die. Robert Murray was making millions buying up the best USA coal mines at rock bottom prices and running them. Not any more:
    https://pv-magazine-usa.com/2019/10/29/the-largest-private-coal-company-in-the-united-states-just-went-bankrupt/
    “The largest private coal company in the United states just went bankrupt”
    29 October 2019

    Another harbinger.

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