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Why the public is not buying Coalition attack on wind and solar

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What is it that the general public appears knows about renewables and electricity prices that much in the conservative side of politics, and the federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg, do not?

2017 has kicked off with another round of attacks on renewable energy targets, both state and federal. They display fundamental misunderstandings of renewable energy, its deployment capabilities, costs and impacts on electricity prices. The good news: the public isn’t buying it.

As working life, business and the public debate gets back into full swing after the holiday period, attacks on renewable energy and targets have, unfortunately, also resumed. The Australian, unsurprisingly, is leading the charge, and elected officials have added their voices to the unrelenting campaign of misinformation.

Most worryingly Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg is playing a prominent role. On Wednesday he penned an OpEd in the Australian Financial Review in which he got stuck into the Victorian and Queensland state governments’ RETs.

On Friday, The Australian gave him a platform to attack renewable energy by way of a rebuttal to the Labor opposition climate change spokesman Mark Butler’s arguments for a 50 per cent by 2030 RET.

While Frydenberg’s argumentation in today’s Australian specifically addresses the Labor 50% RET, it is riddled with direct attacks on renewable energy itself.

Frydenberg argues that RETs lead to higher power prices. To support this he says that power prices rose rapidly under Labor, that a 50% RET will drive out coal generation – implicitly increasing prices – and that it will require $48 billion in new investment in generation capacity.

The Energy Minister then cites AEMC findings that the RET will have “the highest cost of abatement,” that it does not encourage emissions reductions beyond renewable generation.

(RenewEconomy editor Giles Parkinson has already pointed out that the AEMC modelling actually shows the opposite, that the RET is actually a cheaper option, even given the AEMC modelling’s ridiculously expensive costing of wind and solar).

Despite this and other lines of argument, it appears that the Australian public is just not buying it. There continues to be evidence that renewable energy remains widely popular with Australians, to which their continued adoption of rooftop solar and increasingly battery storage attests. And polling continues to confirm this.

GetUp released the findings of a ReachTEL poll it conducted on January 12 today, in which it asked 2,126 householders what they believe are behind rising power prices.

The leading response, with 58%, was that “privatization and the lack of competition between the big energy companies” were behind the price hikes. The next response was “undecided,” with 24.2% and renewable energy in third place, with 17.7%.

get up

“A handful of generators with too much market power are gaming the system and artificially driving up prices on the supply side,” says Miriam Lyons, Environmental Justice Director with GetUp.

“The owners of the poles and wires have been gold-plating the grid, spending billions of their customers’ money building far more grid infrastructure than we needed.”

Taking the RET in isolation, as a policy to drive the shift towards less emission intensive electricity generation as Frydenburg does, is also mischevious.

In combination with overdue electricity market reforms and the pricing of externalities, such as carbon pricing, in combination with renewable targets has repeatedly been shown to deliver a lower-cost energy transition.

The Energy Minister is clearly also ignoring the rapid price developments of large scale solar and wind, in his advocacy for “supercritical coal and gas” generation. Whether these lowe(er) emission generation sources can compete in the coming years given current large scale renewable cost trajectories is highly debateable.

Frydenberg, in his Australian opinion piece, then turns his attention to South Australia. He argues that the “forced” closure of coal in South Australia is behind high electricity prices and then says that low-income households are bearing the brunt of additional costs.

Strangely, Frydenberg didn’t mention Queensland. He should have, because then he would have understood that the issue is not about renewable energy, but market rules and market competition.

Queensland is similar to South Australia in that the wholesale electricity market is dominated by just a few companies who control some two thirds of the generation. In Queensland, the owners are government owned, and it has not yet got any large scale renewables to provide competition.

So the predictions for this summer was that prices in South Australia would soar, proving that renewables were a dangerous and costly diversion.

But wholesale prices in January in South Australia have been less than NSW, little more than in Victoria and Tasmania, and less than half what they have been in Queensland, where the lack of competition to the coal and gas generators (apart from rooftop solar) has meant prices have average more than $200/MWh.

There have been numerous spikes above $13,000MWh, which the regulator is to investigate, and days when the price has average near $500/MWh. The smelter in Gladstone is so appalled it has flagged possible downsizing.

There is a lot more to be written about Queensland, and its focus on LNG exports, the extra 1GW of demand that that is sucking from the grid.

The Labor government is trying to address that issue by encouraging 5,000MW of wind and solar in its own 50 per cent renewable target, a move it says will result in lower costs to consumers.

And while the Coalition carps on about the high cost of wind and solar, with the wholesale prices at their current levels, there is really no argument, which is why the likes of Sun Metals have decided to built their own large scale solar plants.

GetUp’s Miriam Lyons weighs in on the South Australia debate, saying that it is indeed “an example of what’s wrong with the current system” with its botched electric utility privatisation and the lack of competition.

“The Liberal Olsen government didn’t break up the generators when it privatized electricity – they chose to make as much from the sell-off as possible in the short term, rather than creating a genuinely competitive market,” says Lyons. “The price-gouging by gas companies that we saw in South Australia last year is a direct result of that.”

GetUp notes that it is encouraging to see public support for renewables and RETs hold fast, but that the battle against the demonization of renewables on the basis that they leads to higher electricity prices is far from over.

“This polling shows that the fossil fuel lobby’s campaign isn’t convincing most Australians – yet.”

 

   

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  • DogzOwn

    Will Frydenberg ever comment on NSW privatising large, operational Vales Point power station for princely sum of $1? Does this not indicate, loud and clear, that coal fired power is now worthless? Or was it Liberal shenanigans, generous donation of taxpayer asset, in exchange for party fund donations for the buyer?

  • trackdaze

    The public gets it. The only way to escape price rises is to go solar and storage.

    Unfortunately we cant escape politicians trying to scare a vote coals ways.

    • Ant..

      Energy suppliers are starting to introduce what are called Seasonal Demand Charges. My understanding is that It’s not a cost based on actual consumption rather a fixed daily cost. With a smart meter they can interrogate the amount of kWh’s consumed during the period 3:00pm to 9:00pm and in some cases 9:30pm to find the multiplier value. This kWH value is applied to a fixed daily rate. The multiplier is the maximum kWh consumed during the sampling period or lets say a 1.5 kWh minimum whichever is the greater value. It is not unusual to have a higher fixed rate for the summer period. This fixed charge is in addition to the tariff/s that applies to usage [energy drawn from the grid] and other fixed charges like Meter and Service Fees. Seasonal Demand Charges Work like this lets say during the consumption sampling period 3:00pm to 9:00pm you used in any one hour 4.5 kWh and the fixed daily charge was 0.27c then the additional charge for that day would be 4.5 kWh x 0.27c = $1.22 + GST. Solar including storage [batteries] will not defeat this cost where a minimum seasonal demand charge is applied.

      • trackdaze

        I have heard of these and will be steering clear of them.

        The retailer is however welcome to buy my excess storage at a 10% disount to the $14000mw gas generators are charging

      • Mike Shurtleff

        “Solar including storage [batteries] will not defeat this cost where a minimum seasonal demand charge is applied.”
        It will if you’re not connected to the grid. The cost to just get off is starting to get low enough, if the abuse by the utilities is bad enough,…

        • solarguy

          Mike, what do call starting to get cheap enough?

          • Mike Shurtleff

            Less than half the price of end-of-grid electricity.
            Commenter “bink” is selling Solar PV + Flow Battery to commercial customer for 6.85c/kWh in USA, probably California or Nevada. Solar PV + Lithium Battery will be able to do this soon, as well. It’s comming. Add small generator with near zero fuel costs and you have 24/7/365 off grid.

            That’s just to give you a realistic idea of how low costs can go. If you integrate Solar PV into the roof, then is there really any Solar PV installation costs.

            It won’t go that far for most though. Utility will come around. They do work for you, right? Just shoot the incumbents, elect new ones, and repeat until problem solved.

            Utilities will have to compete to save some of their business. They’ll be installing Solar PV and Batteries as fast as they can before you know it. Example: NV Energy. More to follow.

          • solarguy

            Mike, this might interest you, I’m a CEC accredited off-grid designer and installer. The average family with 2 kids that are at school and mum and dad both work 5 days a week, chew through between 10 – 30+ kwhrs per day on average and mostly at night. If their going to go off-grid they will have to invest in excess of $45k to do that currently. With a battery life of 15yrs at best for high power consumers such as this example, that’s $3k/p.a.

            Now I’m not saying that batteries won’t become cheap enough, where it becomes a good investment in the future, say up to 10yrs, but as an reality check here, if one has the grid, use it as a back up to a good hybrid system for now and who knows the utilities might just play ball and make it worth staying. If not set your cross hairs on the target and give em the good news.

  • howardpatr

    Frydenberg has been convinced he is future PM material but his perpetual bashing of the renewable energy future might well work strongly his ambitions – medieval thinking, like that of Mad Monk Abbott, can only go on for so long.

  • Gary Rowbottom

    Whilst it is good to hear a good number of Australians can see past these public attacks on renewables, there is no doubt they do harm, and a good number of people do believe it. Debating all this takes up so much time that would be so much better spent working on actually implementing a fast but orderly transition to a decarbonised economy – which is what we are supposed to be all doing – a la COP 21.

  • Ken Dyer

    Perhaps Frydeburg needs to be reminded tht big companies are getting out of coal. For example, Wesfarmers, owners of Coles and Bunnings own two coal mines they are trying to sell. On the other hand, boycotting Coles and Bunnings in favor of Woolworths and Mitre 10 might just get Wesfarmers to put a flea in fryberg’s ear.

  • bedlambay

    Fryberg’s arguments are patently false and self serving. Howard often used plausible deniability but Fryberg is not in his league. Fryberg would do better to break up the long running collsuion between the Aust Energy regulator and the States to lift electricity prices over 5% pa for many years. And those adolescent louts Abbott, Trump and GW Bush with their shrill attacks on renewables only harm the deniers cause.

  • JeffJL

    The question as to what is driving up the price of electricity is not determined by polls. This is a determination that can be determined by looking at facts on the input costs to electricity. Determining this by polls detracts from fact based decisions.

    As is pointed out many times on this site the drivers of the price increases are gas prices, over building the network (due to incorrect assessments of demand) and lack of competition (leading to higher profits from the generators).

    • Andy Saunders

      Yes Jeff, opinion polls don’t add much to analysis of causes of high power prices! For instance, privatisation, imho, hasn’t really been a factor in price rises. Lack of privatisation has been (arguable, but plausible) – as the regulator and the business are effectively owned by the same business (a state government).

      I’d add to your list, then, regulatory capture (especially pre-privatisation), gamed reliability standards (too high, causing over-building and therefore a high regulated asset base, hence more profits for monopoly and oligopoly businesses). I’d also add lack of interconnect capacity and/or failures, failure to progress demand-management and demand-reduction measures, failure to sufficiently progress energy efficiency measures, failure to progress storage technology and construction. And a few others….

  • Malcolm M

    The Australian has a claimed readership of 472,000, which is only 2% of the Australian population. While it is a mouthpiece for the Right, I belive they are increasingly talking in to their own echo chamber. In one Melbourne CBD hotel I stayed in last month, there were lots of paper copies of The Australian, but none of Melbourne’s main paper – The Age. Perhaps there is a deal going to hotels to influence the influencers. My mother was a subscriber to the Australian from when it started in the 1960’s until a couple of years ago, when she dropped the subscription because it was too far to the political right.

    http://www.newscorpaustralia.com/brand/australian

    • Richard

      No one buys the Australian BUT the Australian often has an anti-renewable head line, at eye level, at every super market checkout in Australia(take a look next time). Everyone scans the front page to see whats happening.

      Do what I do, turn the pile over so that the back page is upper most.

      This could be one of the most important actions you can take in the fight for renewables in Australia

      • David Pethick

        I skim The Australian, Age, AFR, Guardian and (of course) Renew Economy every day. Over the course of a week, you get a range of perspectives on energy policy, climate change and the associated politics.

        In defence of the Australian, it regularly publishes opinion pieces which run counter to the general editorial line. That is not the case with some of the other publications.

        In my opinion, reading only left-leaning publications is wilful ignorance. I prefer to understand the perspective of those from all parts of the political spectrum.

        Cheers.

        Dave P.

        • Richard

          While I agree generally with your comment. You will never see a pro renewable head line on the front page of the Australian. And that is all a lot of people will ever see

          • David Pethick

            Agreed. A positive front page story from The Australian about renewables is about as likely as The Age having a positive headline about “The Donald” 😉

            Cheers.

            Dave P.

          • Richard

            I read the Age less and less because the quality reporting is getting further and further apart.
            They don’t really talk about energy or climate change much, it’s become a no go zone for them.

            However, it’s difficult to see The Donald in a good light, so I wouldn’t judge them on that criteria.

            But I am one who is willing to give him a chance, in the short term, on the basis of seeing what actually happens and the fact he was elected(by a minority). Clearly, the media has no idea about anything these days, after their call on the US election. It’s back to what our Dad’s used to say- “Don’t trust anything you read in the newspapers, son”.

            We don’t have any choice anyway, we are stuck with him for at least the next four years. So better make the best of it.

  • juxx0r

    “And while the Coalition carps on about the high cost of wind and solar”

    you spelt “craps” wrong

  • Roger Brown

    WOW ! Liberals LIE to the PUBLIC ?

  • john

    As i see it No; “The good news: the public isn’t buying it.”; the public is totally ill informed and do not understand the situation at all.
    I agree those who have an understanding do understand.
    The overwhelming majority get their information from the news outlets, who are absolutely pathetic at giving the picture.
    Short news grabs is their stock in trade, so when a Minister in the Government makes a statement it is given prominence.
    None of the Australian media outlets have any people who have qualifications in basic science let alone physics so there is absolutely zero chance of them broadcasting to the general community any type of truthfully understanding of the said Minsters statement.
    Yes i know there is an exception to my general comment above Radio National in fact does have Internationally recognized science broadcasters, however they are not main stream.

    So my feeling are simple.
    Any Minister of any Government can make any statement be it correct or wrong no questions will be asked because the person asking the question has not got a clue about the subject.

    So no the majority of Australians do not have a clue even though it has been pointed out for 10 years.
    It is because of the guarantee payment for transmission, that is why their power prices are rising.

  • Mark Roest

    Hello Jonathan and all; let’s take them up on this argument:
    “Frydenberg argues that RETs lead to higher power prices. To support this
    he says that power prices rose rapidly under Labor, that a 50% RET will
    drive out coal generation – implicitly increasing prices – and that it
    will require $48 billion in new investment in generation capacity.”

    By doing an analysis with the actual numbers, you can show the degree to which he is out of touch, and make it public.

    First, acknowledge that driving out coal generation is half of the intention, and ending the economic exploitation of gold-plated utilities is the other half. Then, assert that when the solar and wind and energy conservation and efficiency-related purchases have paid for themselves in under 5 years, energy will be nearly free from then on.

    State that this will mean that almost all of the 10% of the global economy that presently is spent on energy (not counting all the destruction fossil fuels and nuclear power cause), will gradually be freed up to spend on health care and guaranteed incomes and education and cleaning up the environment and many other things that governments today say are too expensive. Then say, here’s some of the evidence!

    The basic strategy is to identify how much energy, in both gigawatt-hours and gigawatts, is used today to provide electricity and for heating, and separately, how much is used for transportation. Then figure out how much electricity demand could be reduced by very aggressive energy efficiency and conservation, & subtract it.

    Then, using the numbers for Australia’s fabulous solar intensity and wind energy, figure out how much (with the best currently available technology) solar capacity and wind capacity would be needed to cover the gigawatt levels on average. Then figure out how much storage would be needed to balance the peaks and valleys, and (assuming adequate transmission is in place for regional complementarity) keep power going during storms or other situations where the renewable energy sources are interrupted.

    Once you have numbers for solar, wind, energy efficiency and conservation, and storage, calculate the costs for reducing energy demand and meeting the rest 100% with renewable energy, using $100 per kWh capacity and one cent for levelized cost of storage for batteries, a range of 40 cents (for big solar farms in prime spots) to $3 (for residential rooftop), and $2 (for commercial rooftop) per nameplate Watt and 3 to 6 cents per kWh levelized cost for solar, and 60 cents to $1.50 per nameplate Watt, with 2 to 4 cents levelized cost for big wind farms.

    In addition, calculate how many kWh of storage it would take to convert the entire transportation system to electricity. Use 3.5 miles per kWh for new cars, and some lower number for older, heavier, less streamlined cars that get converted. Figure out what other transportation sectors would need. Add it up and to be conservative, add the same amount for storage at charging stations, and multiply it by $100 per kWh of battery capacity. (The reason for storage at charging stations is that you want to collect the electricity from solar, buy the shortfall when rates are lowest, and deliver it when it’s wanted.)

    Figure out how much electricity is needed to supply the transportation sector, and add it to the demand for the stationary sector. Estimate how much will be generated on-site, at the costs given above, and how much will be purchased from the grid (a guess, if it’s too hard to actually research it thoroughly, might be 40% purchased). Add the results to the appropriate categories.

    Get estimates of the non-battery costs of an efficient mass program to convert all the vehicles worth keeping, among the different classes of vehicles, to electric power (purchasing motors and control systems, and doing the actual removal and replacement of the drive train, and reconditioning the vehicle to make it nice, primarily). Multiply it by the numbers of vehicles in different classes that are likely to be in good condition and considered worth using for a long time, assuming far lower operating and maintenance costs, and get totals across the nation.

    Subtract the costs of purchasing new vehicles during the next 400,000 miles of use of each vehicle, based on the life expectancy of high-quality traction motors.

    Figure out the time to payoff at low costs of financing, based on the savings in electricity and fuel purchases, and on maintenance and repairs, for the net cost of the whole program, and estimate the annual outlay on financing payment. Calculate the changes in spending by each sector of the economy as the finance payments come to an end, to display how much each would save, and when that would start. Add it all up, year by year, to show the increasing benefit to the economy as a whole.

    Compare the results to the implications of the statement about the $48 billion cost, making a few different starting assumptions about the use of that money. (Or, instead of assuming, gather the statements of intention, and also persuade someone who has the data to calculate how Frydenberg’s version of the response would actually be implemented.)

    I think you can guess where such an analysis might lead. I suggest getting a few of the top analytical groups in Australia to collaborate on doing this quickly, to challenge the government’s positions while the statements are relatively fresh in the public’s minds (or Frydenberg et al are still repeating them), for maximum impact.

    • Mark Roest

      PS, the prices I give are based on publicly available information, and reinforced by following the relevant technologies closely.

    • Mark Roest

      This sentence “This polling shows that the fossil fuel lobby’s campaign isn’t convincing most Australians – yet.” shows that there is yet time, but time may be of the essence, in developing the closing argument to defeat the Coalition.

    • Analitik

      energy will be nearly free from then on

      Would you like to revisit David Leitch’s figures on running costs for wind and solar farms?

      https://reneweconomy.com.au/infigen-energy-where-to-from-here-79184/

      Then factor in the replacement costs for the farms which have lifespans half or worse than conventional thermal plants.

      I really would like to see the figures for the report that you outlined with realistic maintenance and capital costs.

      If the RECs will no longer be needed in the future, why are they needed now, given the mature state of our renewables industry?

      • Mark Roest

        Hello,
        I’m way too slammed to do what you suggest now, but it’s a good idea when I can get down to actually writing white papers. So, what I can say off the cuff:
        I am reading that the newer (and of course, top quality) solar and wind plants have lifetimes greater than 30 years.`And the thing about top quality is that with documentation and commitment, it can be replicated, and if measurements of quality and production are published, the weaker companies will go bankrupt, as no one will finance them.
        I don’t believe that a 30 year old fossil fuel plant is running uninterrupted by outages, on average. I read the opposite, from a utility point of view (when they are not blindly defending their business model).
        I’ve seen, in North American Clean Energy , articles about very effective maintenance regimes in the 2% to 3% per year range for wind, if I recall correctly, ranging up to perhaps 5% for poorly managed regimes, and under 2% for solar that’s well done, because there are no moving parts except, if used, for tracking.
        I like your wry humor! And I agree with you that the industry as a whole is NOT mature, but leaders are, and smart people who want to succeed can emulate them. Otherwise, why share success stories?
        More to the point, we have some breakthroughs coming, and we’re not even near production — hardly mature! More like highly talented teenagers, though we qualify as seniors for discounts in daily life.

    • Greg Hudson

      400k ‘miles’? for each vehicle? I know of no brand capable of not falling apart with this kind of use.

  • Don McMillan

    The renewable business plan is to rely on political intervention to supply unreliable electricity to the market. The result is an ineffective reduction in emissions, high energy costs inflicting poverty on the poor and making manufacturing uncompetitive. An alternative is to require renewables’ to supply reliable, cost effective, low emission, electricity to the market. This would require them to JV with [or build] gas generators.
    The renewable industry’s business plan is damaging its product.

    • DevMac

      “supply reliable, cost effective, low emission, electricity to the market”

      This is exactly what renewables are doing. I think the primary problem you’re thinking of is “variability”. Most people who dismiss renewables don’t think too hard about the difference between reliability and variability.

      Greater numbers over a larger distribution area is part of a solution. Molten salt solar storage fills this void as well. So does gas but, as we’ve seen, gas ain’t cheap when we need it the most.

      • Don McMillan

        unreliable or variable is just semantics, Renewables need a backup. All the thermal trials 1990’s – 2000’s have all ceased. If you can make solar storage work pls show us how.
        Cheap gas that is easy – lift all the exploration bans [Tas, Vic, NSW Southern SA & NT]
        You should see this as a great opportunity, Engineer salt storage device, develop a business plan and go raise the money. Plenty of money for renewables.

        • Analitik

          Yes, a cost effective thermal storage device on utility scale would be a benefit in many ways. Even traditional thermal plants could use them to buffer their output for peak shaving. Nuclear could use this as a real opportunity for greater flexibilty.

          • Don McMillan

            Of course it would be a benefit but what do we do in the meantime?

        • DevMac

          Damn unreliable weather.

          • Don McMillan

            Predicatively unreliable. Has anyone thought about how to supply electricity when the sun is not shining and wind not blowing. What do we do next week? Gas exp. is banned and no industrial storage facilities in place.

  • Tom

    I don’t mind the so-called “gold plating” of the transmission network – building something properly the first time around so that it doesn’t keep breaking.

    This isn’t the issue though – the issue is that the privatised transmission companies have borrowed all this money to “gold plate” / upgrade their networks, and have convinced (?bribed) the governments to allow them to pass on the interest costs to the customers through their bills.

    It just so happens that they are paying exorbitantly high interest rates to …. overseas finance companies owned by the same parent company as themselves.

    It’s awesome really – concurrent profit maximisation and tax minimisation with the one structure.

  • solarguy

    There is a doco series on FOXTEL called the Years of Living Dangerously, which confirms some of the pollies in the USA are lobbying for FF incumbents as well as other lobbyist. It seems to be a proffesion! In this series well known US actors like David Letterman, Anold Schwartzenegger etc flesh out the truth on the FF industry, the lies, but also just as importantly the facts on RE and how we can power the world going foreword. I highly recommend it as well as another doco on India’s 648MW PV plant built recencently.

    • Richie

      No need to get Foxtel to watch Years of Living Dangerously, an excellent series btw. Your local lending library should have this series on DVD. If not you may be able to ask them to buy it in. Everybody should watch these docos.