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Monash manifesto: Coal subsidies good, renewable targets bad

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John Monash could be spinning in his grave. The military leader and civil engineer hailed by Coalition government MPs and Senators as a great innovator of his time has had his name besmirched by a push to re-embrace the technology he thought was useful a century ago.

The fact that the Coalition MPs – more than half the back-bench according to some claims – have united under the banner of the Monash Forum, and eschew the very innovation he championed, says much of what you need to know about their intentions.

Still, the impact of this political ginger group is already having an impact. They have demanded Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull jump to their demands, and he has asked how high.

Almost immediately, Turnbull hopped on to the phone to the AGL chairman on Tuesday night imploring him to consider the sale of ageing Liddell generator to a Chinese-owned consortium.

Even Turnbull knows that it would be unconcionsionable to build a new coal-fired generator, but he is doing his best to keep as many of the existing ones open as long as he can.

That will not occur without government subsidies – in Liddell’s case the enormous expense of unravelling shared infrastructure with Bayswater, upgrading equipment and dealing with $1 billion environmental legacies.

The Coalition has now crashed headlong into its own ideology. The Forum’s manifesto, reprinted in full below, can be briefly summed up as “coal subsidies good, renewable subsidies or targets bad.”

“We’re not opposed to renewable energy provided it’s economic without grants or mandatory targets and provided it doesn’t prejudice the reliability of supply,” the manifesto says.

But the group is fully in favour of subsidies to coal plants – not just to keep current ones open, but also to build a new coal generator at the site of the shuttered Hazelwood plant, and more new coal generators at other locations.

“There may be other good sites for new, expanded or refurbished coal-fired power stations,” the manifesto says.

“There is a strong case for keeping NSW’s Liddell power station open beyond its current closure date of 2022, as the Turnbull government has recognised. But nothing is going to happen without government intervention, as AGL’s rebuff to the government over Liddell clearly indicates.”

And it cites the Turnbull government’s intervention into the market and the plan to spend $6 billion or more on Snowy 2.0. Why not Hazelwood 2.0, they ask.

Needless to say, there is not a single mention of climate or the environment, of the need to meet the Paris targets or recognise the pollution that come from particles emitted from coal plants.

And there is no mention either of the economics. Merely, a sweeping claim that coal was once cheap so it must still be cheap.

“Cheap power was once Australia’s chief comparative advantage in the manufacturing sector and we can’t abandon it if we are to remain a country that makes things. That’s why all Australian governments must overcome their current coal-phobia and ensure that coal-fired power stations continue to be built.”

But as the Finkel report, and any number of other studies have highlighted, new coal generation does not compete with wind and solar, nor even with wind and solar and storage. AGL’s own analysis shows that refurbished coal does not compete either.

And the people that do actually make things now realise that wind and solar provide the best opportunities to continue to do so in Australia.

This is true of the Whyalla steelworks, the Carlton and United Brewerie, Nectar Farms, Sun Metals, Telstra and any number of smaller businesses who are investing in rooftop solar in record numbers.me manufacturers are smart enough to see it.

Here is the Monash Manifesto:

The Monash Forum is named in honour of our greatest general who was also one of our greatest engineers. Sir John Monash is best remembered for his work as the commander of the Australian Army Corps in the Great War and his contribution to “all arms” warfare: coordinating infantry, artillery and armour to break the deadlock created by trenches, barbed wire and machine guns.

But he was also the man who brought reinforced concrete to Australia, the designer of some of Melbourne’s early bridges; and, post war, the man who turned the La Trobe Valley into an electrical powerhouse that made Victoria Australia’s industrial capital.

Our country today is more in need than ever of reliable, affordable electricity. That’s what Monash gave Australia in the 1920s and that’s what the Monash Forum wants to promote almost a century on.

We’re not opposed to renewable energy provided it’s economic without grants or mandatory targets and provided it doesn’t prejudice the reliability of supply. We accept that, in time, coupled with more efficient and larger scale batteries, renewable power is likely to form a bigger proportion of Australia’s power generation. But that time has not yet come, and we’re sceptical of any claims made for the viability of renewables that requires continued mandatory use or taxpayer grants.

As well, we want to see our country’s resources put to good use. For the best part of a century. Victoria’s vast reserves of brown coal have powered much of southern Australia and should continue to do so. The coal that we gladly export and that generates much of the electricity used in China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and India should continue to generate power here too. If it’s right for other countries to use our coal, how can it be wrong for us to do so?

Yet the political risk caused by emissions reduction policies, especially the extreme ones implemented or proposed by the Labor Party, means that no private company is likely to build another coal-fired power station here in Australia, even though coal continues to be our lowest cost source of reliable base-load power. This is not so much market failure as government failure.

Although well-regulated markets are normally the best way to optimise the production of goods and services, they sometimes fail: because the task is beyond private investors or because investors have lost confidence in a particular market’s stability. Once, government intervened to give our country the generating capacity that the private sector was reluctant to build; now, government needs to intervene to overcome the political risk that has frightened investors away or driven them into profitable (because subsidised) but unreliable renewables.

We support the Turnbull government’s decision to explore the construction of Snowy 2.0, a pumped hydro scheme to generate 2000 megawatts of power. It makes sense to use cheap off-peak power to pump water uphill that can then flow downhill to generate peak power. Even so, cost estimates are $4billion and climbing and that’s before the extra transmission capacity is built to get this extra power where it’s needed.

If the government can intervene to build Snowy 2.0, why not intervene to build Hazelwood 2.0 on the site of the coal-fired power station in Victoria that’s now being dismantled? All the transmission infrastructure already exists; all the environmental permits have already been obtained; and a new, low emissions coal fired power station can certainly be built for no more than $4billion.

There may be other good sites for new, expanded or refurbished coal-fired power stations. There is a strong case for keeping NSW’s Liddell power station open beyond its current closure date of 2022, as the Turnbull government has recognised. But nothing is going to happen without government intervention, as AGL’s rebuff to the government over Liddell clearly indicates.

On Anzac Day 2018, Sir John Monash will be honoured by the opening of the Monash Centre behind the Australian War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux in France. His part in winning the Great War (and that of the soldiers he commanded) should never be forgotten. Generations of Australians will henceforth be reminded of this on their pilgrimages to the World War One battlefields.

But his peacetime legacy is scarcely less important and even more relevant given the challenges we now face just to keep the lights on. This Forum is dedicated to honouring his work as an engineer and, in particular, to building on his legacy of coal-fired power stations to generate jobs and industries here in Australia. Cheap power was once Australia’s chief comparative advantage in the manufacturing sector and we can’t abandon it if we are to remain a country that makes things. That’s why all Australian governments must overcome their current coal-phobia and ensure that coal-fired power stations continue to be built.

We, the undersigned, agree to be foundation members of the Monash Forum and we invite our Liberal and National parliamentary colleagues to join us: in seeking to give today’s Australians the affordable and reliable power that our parents and grandparents had, largely thanks to Sir John Monash.”

In short, it insists that coal is the only path to affordability and reliability. Monash would be appalled by the idiocy of it all.  

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  • SA_Jack

    And they all jump off the free-market bandwagon as the economics turn in favour of renewables and decentralised energy consumption/prosumption, who would’ve thought.

  • George Darroch

    The Liberal-National Party (they’re both the same as far as I’m concerned) hates science, and it disdains engineering. Both are the clear eyed pursuit of things as they are, and the best solutions given the physical constraints we live under. This approach stands in perfect contrast to the ideological approach of the LNP.

    Vote these people out, every single last one of them.

    • john

      True where is the Science minister?
      Sorry we do not do that sci ency stuff down there

      • Joe

        No Science Minister and our Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel is also sidelined….we are back in ‘The Dark Ages’, yes.

    • George Takacs

      George, your generalisation regarding LNP members is grossly unfair, as there are members to whom it does not apply. Here is an exhaustive list.

  • john

    To me this sums up their forward thinking attitude quote from manifesto “Our country today is more in need than ever of reliable, affordable electricity. That’s what Monash gave Australia in the 1920s and that’s what the Monash Forum wants to promote almost a century on.”
    A century on they wish to use 1920’s technology !!?
    Just about sums them up in one sentence does it not.
    In the 1920’s there was coal and thoughts about building hydro electric for instance the Hoover dam took 5 years to construct so it started in 1926.
    In the 2020’s there is a whole range of technology available in is about time these men removed them selves from their great grandfathers thinking.

    • cres

      Coal may have made a bit of sense a hundred years ago… but then again… many thought WW1 did also. I’m sure the troglodytes think the Monash link is clever… but it only serves to underscore their stupidity.

      • john

        The RSL is not exactly happy in the use of his name and I do not blame them as it tarnishes his reputation.

      • Matt

        That is so crass! To equate coal fired power and WW1 is way over the top. Get a grip.

        • Joe

          Matt, the Cres does have a point. Both are efforts of man made self destruction.

  • Ralph Wonderdog

    Having worked in the fossil power sector for 40 years, that is mainly coal and gas power plants, I really need to wonder what these guys are smoking. Not only has generation technology moved on in leaps and bounds so has the consumption side of the market.

    There is absolutely no space in our world for new coal, and those who tout clean coal; the reality is that it is economically unachievable. I wish these people would stop insulting my intelligence.

    • Matt

      You might want to change your handle then…

  • RobertO

    Hi All, I keep telling people “Taxpayers are rich people. They pay tax so they can afford for us (RWNJ’s) to spend their money”. Hinkley in UK is a classic example of how taxpayers can afford things
    see
    https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/dec/21/hinkley-point-c-dreadful-deal-behind-worlds-most-expensive-power-plant

    I hope that we do not see “Capacity Payments” to keep coal going and the NEG has the potentical to do just that.

    • john

      Your correct Hinkley is a hidious example of waste as was the effort to build a CO2 sequestration plant in the good old US of A, with the result that the users of power are hit with the bill brilliant. Not.

  • Tom

    … no private company is likely to build another coal-fired power station here in Australia …”

    Errr – No private company HAS ever built a coal-fired power station in Australia. They’ve only ever bought them off governments.

    • john

      HA ha ha very true and some were flogged off at the princely sum of $1 yes one dollar.

    • RobertO

      Hi Tom, today there would be 10 private companies that would build a new coal power station. There would be zero private companise that would fund such a build. Only the taxpayer could afford to build it. If the RWNJ can somehow get agreement to do the it will be done despite what most Australians are indicating what they want, ie “RE seems to be the way we should be going”.

    • JeffJL

      Bluewaters power station in WA. Built in 2009 by Griffin Coal.

      • Warwick Forster

        Milmerran QLD – Intergen about 2001

        • Tom

          Thanks. I wasn’t aware of that.

          I wonder if there’s a list of all privately funded coal power stations in Australia.

          • Warwick Forster

            Kogan Creek was 50% private and 50% CS Energy …that’s it outside of WA

    • Peter G

      Well actually Griffin Coal built Bluewaters Power Station in WA – but it took a matter of months after it opened before they were insolvent.

      • Tom

        Thanks Peter G. I wasn’t aware of that one. Makes for some interesting reading.

  • Ryan

    Perhaps this announcement is just a late April Fools Day stunt?

  • Joe

    This manifesto …’The Oath of Allegiance’ for the RWNJ’s in The COALition and the start of the taking down of Two Tongues Turnbull. The dreaded 30th Newspoll lose is coming on Monday. All beautiful timing, yes.

  • bedlam bay

    Let’s hope that the Monash Forum is the stalking horse to remove Turnbull and then the LNP implodes. Dutton is also freelancing to the beat of the ugly right. With luck they will all be gone within two months.

  • Ken Dyer

    ROFL….Manifesto-a public declaration of policy and aims, especially one issued before an election by a political party or candidate.

    Only Tony Abbott could think up this latest bit of assholery – but then what do you expect from such a bunch of assholes.

  • Radbug

    That one seat majority was a good investment. It ensured that the Coalition made itself look like a complete joke.

    • Hettie

      Except that the ongoing destruction of everything that was good about this country is far from funny.

  • John Saint-Smith

    The manifesto contradicts itself: No money for market ready renewables. We know better than the rest of the world. The Turnbull government will pay for Snowy 2, because private investors won’t, therefore we should spend even more tax payers’ money building coal-fired power stations that no investor will touch with a barge pole. This is the same mob who want to spend $200 billion on war machines and hand $65 billion earned in Australia back to foreign shareholders. This document must have been drafted by cloth-eared fools…
    Oh, that’s right. It was – the moronic rump of the Loony Nutters Party.

    • Hettie

      Not so benign. Lying Nazi Party.

      • John Saint-Smith

        “Nazi” begins with an ‘N’, I grant you, but I won’t use that extreme label to describe the broad church of the LNP. After all there are some decent people hiding among the cracks. I prefer to limit myself to ‘Lazy Negative Portion’ for the leadership group, then step right off the rocker entirely to reach the delusional climate change deniers – the Loose Nuts Portion, and finally, when referring to root vegetables – Beetroot face and Potato head, I would characterize them as the ‘Lying Nasty Portion’. I fear that the vegetable disease is spreading. Emboldened by the Turnip’s lazy negative leadership (and the negative News Polls), I fear this vacuum will soon be filled by a whole basket of revolting vegies, perhaps even the Brussels Sprout!

        • Hettie

          Were you aware that Godwin, of Godwin’s law, said some 3 years ago that comparisons of the Australian Government to Hitler’s Germany were valid, and not subject to his law?
          By all the 14 criteria generally accepted to describe a Nazis-like regime, our current Gov’t is a match.

          • John Saint-Smith

            Despite Godwin’s dispensation with respect to the Nazi-like qualities of our government, I find the comparison tends to close minds when we need to keep the lines of communication open. Unlike the original National Socialist dictatorship in pre-war Germany, there is still some semblance of democracy in play here, and as a result, we are still able to have this conversation, which, in itself is contrary to Godwin’s original “hypothesis.” (Though I fear we may be boring others)

          • Hettie

            My greatest fear is that if Dutton gets the PM job, he will declare himself permanent dictator, no more elections, and the GG, limp lettuce leaf that he is, will just say, OK, whatever you say.
            Of course the armed forces may have other ideas, but that opens a whole nother can of snakes.

          • John Saint-Smith

            Can’t see it happening, but then I couldn’t see how Trump could be elected, let alone ‘succeed’. At least we wouldn’t have to worry about climate change any more.

          • solarguy

            If Dutton were to get the top job it will be the last act of insanity from a nut job government as they all go over the cliff like Lemmings, but carrying lumps of coal and laughing.

  • RobertO

    Hi All, Hopefully this group is only about 7 members of the COALition (and if so what a ruckus they have created and what a bunch of morons). Oliver Yates was head of the CEFC and a card carrying member of the Libs until some Victorian MP decided that they would repeat Scott Morrison coal is good trick at a Liberal fund raiser. He has resigned from the COALition. These morons are dragging some very good Australians downhill (as much as I do not like or trust any Pollie) there have been some good people. The juno that started this is one of the most destructive persons I ever seen (and she is very proud of it).

  • Hettie

    What cringe worthy drivel.

  • Ian

    So not funny. The tail tries to wag the dog but the more it shakes the more excrement it flings.

  • Just_Chris

    This is a really interesting point in Australian politics.
    We had the coalition back coal in the state election in Queensland and loose.
    We had the coalition back renewables in SA state election and win. Labour won
    in Victoria and the ACT with strong renewables policies. The “ginger
    group” are clearly very popular in their own party but they are moving
    further and further away from the voting public. The gay marriage vote was a
    great reminder of how far our politicians are away from their constituents with
    the strongest YES coming from the constituencies of the pollies shouting NO and
    visa versa. I think we are heading towards a hung parliament or a fracturing of
    our traditional parties. I don’t know who I’ll vote for in the next election –
    I think I am at the point of any sane independent.

    • Hettie

      Depends where you are, Chris, but the safest path is Greens 1, ALP 2, Coalition and PHONy last. The Greens vote is not wasted. It might get you a Greens member, or not, but unless your independent is Andrew Wilkie, that independent vote is almost certainly wasted.
      A Greens vote will then go to the ALP, the least worst of the majors, and if you agree that the imperative is to sack the Coalition, that’s the way to do it.
      Some more Greens in the HoR will drag Labor back to the left, ensure good climate policy, and hopefully will bring the refugees here and free the hundreds in on shore detention for resettlement, as is their human right.
      And Greens in the Senate too.

  • dhm60

    Not being a subscriber to News and unlikely I ever will become one; can someone post who “We, the undersigned..” are exactly?
    All reports have the normal list of Heartland-funded intellectual giants who have buggered Australia’s energy and environmental policies for the last 15 years: Simpering simpleton Tones, (help white South African farmers) Abetz, Kelly, Kiwi Barnaby, fat George Christensen and father of the Parliament and keeper on the nation’s soul the Rev. Kev. then there is talk of another 20 or maybe even 30 back benchers.
    So who are they?

  • Glenn Sullivan

    The family of Sir John Monash are not happy to have this forward thinking leader’s name associated with such a backward thinking group:

    https://www.facebook.com/100percentRETinAustralia/photos/a.561186400692011.1073741828.484370368373615/1345834532227190/?type=3&theater

  • Jeff Passlow

    The “Monash Forum” is made up of some of the brightest minds of our present government. Mind you, our present government is scraping the bottom of the barrel! The argument about coal over renewables really is a no brainer. Coal is probably cheaper. BUT, if coal (or for that matter, gas) is used to generate cheap electricity, Australia will never meet the emissions target agreed to in Paris. And now I hear the M/F say, “so what, our emissions are so small that a bit over the target won’t make any difference.” Perhaps not. But, what if it does? We are near a “tipping point” right now, a point where the melt of permafrost is so great that it is releasing methane at an unprecedented rate. And this warms the Arctic region, thawing reflective ice that allows more permafrost to melt, releasing more methane etc, etc,etc…. We only have one planet. Are we prepared to let a government, any government from any country put us in a position where we have assisted, in a very short time, in rendering the planet uninhabitable for most of the species that exist today, mankind included?

    • Hettie

      Hear hear. Except for your “coal is probably cheaper.”
      New Renewables plus battery is now cheaper than new coal and existing gas, and will be cheaper than existing coal by the end of this year if it’s not already.
      The economics of it mean that coal has no future at all a unless criminally insane Gov’ts like the one in Canberra prop it up.

      I don’t care about their obvious death wish for themselves and their families, but I object strongly to their readiness to kill the rest of us as well.

      • Jeff Passlow

        Thanks Hettie, I agree with what you say. Especially the bit about “their readiness to kill the rest of us!” Existing coal and distribution facilities are perhaps cheaper – really, I am not sure. As I am into my 70’s I will probably not be personally affected by what those useless a****holes come up with. Perhaps they will be “un-elected” and the now opposition may have some sense (or that may be wishful thinking). My children and grandchildren will bear the brunt of the thinking of these idiots. I will be a dissection specimen on some university teaching table. Far removed from the sad world that we know.

        • Hettie

          Sounds like we have much in common. Age, body disposal sadness for future generations .

          • solarguy

            Always look on the bright side of life………………..you know the song.

  • john

    As everyone who has looked at the statement on TV from the company the take out is this it is better for them to build Solar perhaps wind and I am sure but I hope PHES so moving forward using battery back up I frankly think the above PHES would do it better.
    As to building a new shiny coal generator this will not work because it will not be able to turn a dollar because it cost to generate is higher than the market price let alone the price that wind and solar can deliver. Death spiral i see.

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