Conservatives are not giving up fossil fuel power without a fight – and a solid dose of extremist remarks.
In the US, we have Donald Trump extolling the virtues of “clean coal” – a product that doesn’t actually exist. In Australia we have deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce saying that Australia has a “moral” duty to export coal to provide power to the poor in India. And on Murdoch media, we have got the lunar right railing against “genocidal” wind turbines.
Of course, not all is lost. The CSIRO and the network owners recognise that 100 per cent renewable energy is eminently possible by 2050, and it will be significantly cheaper too. But, they say, we need to reframe market rules and policies now.
The new head of the Australian Energy market Operator, Audrey Zibelman, is in full agreement. She says the transition to a cheaper, cleaner, smarter and more reliable grid is inevitable, and is going to happen a lot quicker than anyone things. And it will be centred around consumers.
On the right however, they don’t understand the significance of “clean”, and simply don’t accept that renewables could provide a cheaper, smarter and more reliable grid than their preferred coal, gas and nuclear plants.
And on the subject of coal, Joyce went from “economic pragmatist” to moral theorist:
“I’m going to be a complete economic pragmatist. We have to make sure this economy works. We have to export dollars. One of our largest exports is coal,” he said. “We have to realise we have a moral responsibility to other people in other nations to keep their lights on.”
Er, no, if the poor in India want access to electricity, then solar is their answer. To use coal, they need to connect to the grid, and in Australia we have seen how expensive that can be. So-called cheap coal is now delivered to the doorstep with a mark-up of nearly 1,000 per cent. The old centralised grid is outdated and undercut by new technologies.
And at the large-scale, imported coal cannot compete in any case. Large-scale solar costs are tumbling. The India energy minister insists, and has said this repeatedly, that he wants Indian to be done with coal imports within a few years.
Pixyish Goyal even wants the country to go “full electric” for vehicles by 2030, and the latest government data suggests that India added twice as much renewable energy capacity than thermal capacity over the last 12 months.
But Joyce seems quite moderate when compared with the right wing commentators hosted on the Murdoch media, in print and on air.
On the Bolt report, Rowan Dean was having a good laugh with the host about genocidal wind turbines:
— The Bolt Report (@theboltreport) March 30, 2017
“Let me remind you that every year in Australia, at least 2,000 birds are killed by windmills. In Germany, Andrew, it’s 6 million birds every year killed by renewables, by windmills. In America, it’s a couple of million every year,” Dean said on the Bolt Report on Sunday.
“So if anybody has blood on their hands, Andrew, it’s the Greens, it’s people like Adam Bandt, who have forced these genocidal bird holocaust machines across our landscape.
“And yet, they sit there gleefully putting more and more of them and telling us they’re doing it for the good, when… it makes no difference to global temperatures, and they are massacring birds and they are destroying jobs for no difference to global temperatures.”
Those claims have been debunked so many times it is ridiculous. If you want to find out who is killing birds by the millions, ask the neighbourhood cat. They kill billions of birds each year.
Kobad Bhavnagri, the lead analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance in Australia, said there was a “continuous narrative” paraded around Australia that coal was cheap, clean and reliable.
“This is an imaginary world that the proponents live in,” he told the Australian Emissions Reduction Summit in Melbourne on Tuesday, noting that they were convinced new coal generation would be underpinned by cheap finance, and that it is now clean.
“The real world is that new coal in Australia is incredibly expensive. And that’s because financing would be very, very costly. Banks don’t want to touch it. Equity investors also don’t want to go near it. …The cost of coal would be $125-$169, which is higher than the cost of wind and solar paired with battery storage.
“And, of course it is not clean. The notion that ultra-supercritical coal is clean is, frankly, a lie.”
And gas won’t provide much of a solution either. The company with the longest history with gas, AGL (Australia Gas Light Co), on Tuesday killed off the idea that gas would be the “transition fuel” in Australia, saying that new baseload plants cannot compete with the low cost of wind and solar and battery storage.
Meanwhile, back at the ABC, Joyce was pressed by a Q&A audience member to explain his own thoughts on climate change.
“Of course, if human activity is putting greenhouse gases – and it does – into the atmosphere, then of course that has an effect on the climate,” he said.
“They [activists] always take the next step and say ‘that cyclone was climate change, that bushfire was climate change’, everything. And it’s not. It’s part of the natural path of what happens in the climate all the time, for which part of the effect are greenhouse gases.”
Peter Castellas, the head of the Carbon Markets Institute, which is hosting the emissions reduction summit, also saw Joyce on Q&A, and witnessed his attempts to define his position on climate change, as well as on coal and renewables.
“I was watching Barnaby Joyce on Q&A last night and I wondering where he was coming from,” Castellas told the opening of the CMI’s two day conference in Melbourne, that is attracting state and federal environment ministers and hundreds of other delegates.
“I think he was confused. This a narrative he hasn’t quite got is head around … he was struggling to connect with his subject matter.”
But Castellas said it raised an interesting and long standing problem, how to get the issues around climate change, and the possibilities of clean energy – the biggest economic opportunity of our lifetime – into the mainstream, and to win over the detractors.
“How do we speak to National MPs in their language … and not communicate it in a way that just reinforces the position they already have?” Castellas asked.
“I think that people like Joyce are open to being more informed on how to recalibrate their own position on climate change. That is an interesting opportunity.”
Of course, that has long been the issue. But some are just not interested in listening. Vested interests and ideology prevent them from doing so.
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