The Murdoch media has been unrelenting in its attack on renewable energy, and the renewable energy target in particular.
Now that Tony Abbott has been propped up, despite losing a referendum among his back benchers on Monday, it seems that castrating the RET remains unfinished business.
Regular Murdoch commentator Judith Sloan has been a repeated critic of the RET, and let fly again on Tuesday, calling for the policy to be changed.
That’s fine, different points of view are welcome. But not when they are accompanied by such wild factual errors. Sadly, this has been the lot of the renewable energy industry in Australia.
The original Sloan article can be found here. Here are some of the erroneous highlights.
Back in 2009, there was an expectation that the fixed RET would lead to 20 per cent of all generated electricity coming from renewable sources by 2020. It is now clear that this estimate is hopelessly wrong; indeed the percentage could be closer to 30 per cent and the implications of this overshoot need to be considered.
No, there was an expectation it would be a minimum 20 per cent. When the legislation was passed in 2010, voted for by the Coalition, the expectation was for a minimum 22 per cent. If you don’t double count rooftop solar, which is reducing demand, the current proportion if the 41,000GWh target is met is 26 per cent. Given the urgent need to reduce emissions and effect a transition to a low carbon economy, this could be seen as a good result, unless you are a coal-fired generator.
It is equally clear the LRET cannot realistically be achieved by 2020. The amount of energy presently being produced by renewable sources is only a tad over 16,000GWh. A reasonable chunk of this is hydropower, but there is little prospect of any significant increase in hydropower generation before 2020.
So few sentences, so many mistakes. Apart from the fossil fuel generators arguing against the RET, everyone else accepts that it is reachable. The only reason this task has been made more difficult is because the federal government has threatened to cut the target.
The current amount of energy produced by renewables is more than 30,00GWh. The 16,000GWh referred to by Sloan is the bit that is generated by NEW generation constructed since the RET was introduced. Hardly any of it is hydro.
The only feasible form of large-scale renewable energy is wind power, but to achieve the LRET on the basis of additional wind power is not practical. It is estimated that there would need to be about three times the present wind generation capacity in place by 2020, amounting to an additional 2500 wind turbines. It just ain’t going to happen.
Well, it could happen, but it probably won’t. There are enough shovel-ready wind projects with planning approval ready to go, but they won’t all get built. That’s because the cost of solar PV is falling rapidly, and will likely displace a lot of second tier wind power. A 2GW project in Queensland has just received planning approval, while BNEF predicts up to half of new capacity in latter years of the RET could be fulfilled by solar. There are any number of smaller solar PV projects that could be built in that time.
To make matters worse, the present and projected oversupply of wholesale electricity is causing havoc with the value of the certificates.
No, the value of the certificates is falling because of policy uncertainty caused by the government. Oversupply – too many fossil fuel generators – is pushing down wholesale prices, but if the RET policy was locked in, and wasn’t being threatened by the government, the value of the certificates would actually rise, to make up the gap between wholesale prices and renewable projects.
But, in the best trade union tradition, Labor’s opening ambit is extreme, involving very little change to the scheme’s present parameters and a ramping up of the SRET.
Isn’t it strange that Labor’s opening gambit, to maintain what had been bipartisan policy, is branded as “extreme”.
This is notwithstanding the Australian Workers Union being clearly concerned about how the RET is playing out. Workers in the aluminium industry are among its members; the AWU has estimated that up to 60,000 jobs could be lost if the RET is not significantly revised.
If jobs go in the aluminium industry, it won’t be because of the RET. The industry is already heavily protected from the RET impacts, and other studies have shown the claims of the aluminium industry to be bogus.
Judging by the feedback on The Australian website, most readers are supportive of Sloan’s comments, mostly because they are from the usual climate denier brigade who reckon that “climate change is a scam” and renewable energy is a “rort” that does not lower temperatures, etc, etc.
But one of her readers took up another couple of points.
The Productivity Commission estimates that the costs of the LRET are somewhere between four and 10 times the costs of other policies”
Actually, the Productivity Commission found measures to encourage large-scale renewable electricity were the next most cost effective policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions after emissions trading schemes.
And where is the “widespread acknowledgement that the RET is not working”?
According to polling by the Climate Institute, more than 70 per cent of Australians support retaining the RET as is or increasing it.
(Late update: To expand on the reader’s comments on the “LRET costs”. The Clean Energy Council notes that the government’s own RET review 2014 found that LRET cost $32-$62 per tonne of abatement and SRES $95-$175. And that the costs of the LRET and SRES would over the medium to long term be offset by reductions in bills).
Hopefully, the Australian’s editorial pages will have room for all the corrections in tomorrow’s edition.