Turnbull’s energy obstructionism is Abbott’s climate denial revisited

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Malcolm Turnbull’s extraordinary decision to put his party’s hopes on the aged Liddell coal power plant makes no economic, environmental or engineering sense. But there is a grim precedent: the same government’s rejection of climate science.

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Malcolm_Turnbull_February_2016 copy
Malcolm Turnbull. Source: Wikimedia Commons

There is a grim precedent for the Australian Coalition government’s decision to push for coal and ignore the majority of expert: the same government’s rejection of climate science.

Like his predecessor, Tony Abbott, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull is simply refusing to listen. Abbott said that climate science was “crap”, and Turnbull is saying the same thing in response to what he is being told by energy experts.

To insist that extending the life of the Liddell coal-fired generator in the NSW Hunter valley is the only option available to keep the lights on is to simply ignore the advice of the Australian Energy Market Operator, as well as by the chief scientist Alan Finkel, the CSIRO, the owners of networks, the big gentailers and any number of individual experts and academics.

AGL could not have made it any clearer, after the meeting with the PM on Monday, if it hadn’t already done so, about the state of the Liddell plant.

Liddell, it suggested, is an ageing piece of junk: it’s cost them $140 million to keep it running, will cost them another $160 million to keep it going just until 2022; and it can’t be relied upon to operate in heatwaves that create those critical demand peaks; and it will likely have more unexpected outages.

For a government married to the concept of “baseload” power, it is an extraordinary decision to put its hopes on this piece of aged machinery. It makes no economic sense, no environmental sense, and is a potential engineering catastrophe.

Turnbull and energy minister Josh Frydenberg have even picked up the Abbott-era sloganeering and name-calling: Blackout Bill, Brownout Butler and No-coal Joel (Fitzgibbon). You don’t need facts to play a game like this, in fact you are better off without them. Just ask Peta Credlin about the “carbon tax”.

Indeed, it is no coincidence that the politicians wagging the tail of the dog on this issue are the very same who fought the science of climate change: Abbott, deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, ex resources minister Matt Canavan, environment committee head Craig Kelly, and around half of the back-bench.

Alpha Males and the Lump of Coal.
Alpha Males and the Lump of Coal.

Even Treasurer Scott Morrison, the man who brandished the lump of coal in parliament in the middle of last summer’s heatwave, said he simply didn’t accept that Liddell is too old and unreliable.

“I’m older than it and so are you and I think we’re still doing alright,” Morrison told the Seven Network’s David Koch. Maybe his toothbrush is also over 50 and doing just fine.

Turnbull justified his position on Tuesday in this way:

“I think the approach we are taking is common sense, it is practical, it is business-like. This is not a question of ideology, the way that Labor is going on.

“It just reminds you of the idiocy that they continue to bring to energy policy. There is no clearly set out plan to replace Liddell.

“Now you can either, if you are Labor, if you are with Bill Shorten, with old Blackout Bill himself, he says that is an issue for down the track. Well I am sorry, that is how we ended up with the problem with Hazelwood, with the very late notice of closure.”

But there is a plan. And it was spelled out for him in extraordinary detail by the AEMO. As Turnbull said, time is of the essence, but this wasn’t a call to rush back to last century’s technology, but to embrace the future.

“Our advice was fairly pragmatic” and “straight-forward,” AEMO boss Audrey Zibelman said on Tuesday. “We are concerned that on a 45°C day if we lose a generator (which AEMO has said is quite likely) we want reserves in the system to be able to respond.

“In our report we identified the fact that with the amount of variability (from solar and wind energy and electricity usage) is changing rapidly, we need resources that can change rapidly.

“That may be different to traditional baseload resources, which do not move a lot. It doesn’t mean baseload is bad, it’s just that we need a different portfolio. (Baseload) may not be able respond in the time period we need it to respond.”

Sound like Liddell? Not really. And AEMO laid out a plan to replace Liddell with smart technology, demand response and – most uncomfortably for Turnbull’s Coalition – by a nationally coordinated scheme to encourage renewables, and dispatchable generation. AEMO modelled a 45 per cent renewables share for 2030.

What is particularly worrying about the past week – apart from the obstructionism and misrepresentations by Turnbull and his team – has been the role of the mainstream media.

It was to be expected that the Murdoch media, with the bold exception of veteran commentator and economic literate Alan Kohler, would be happy to toe the line, even to push it to the point of implausibility.

But Fairfax and the ABC were equally complicit. The government was able to manage the release of the two critical AEMO reports, firstly by selective leaking to the Murdoch media on Monday, and then via a “lock-up” with selective journalists on Tuesday – without the knowledge or participation of AEMO.

What followed then was reporting in Fairfax and on the ABC that bore little resemblance to the content of the AEMO report. Both media, quoting Turnbull, said that AEMO had called for Liddell to be kept open because of the fear of blackout.

But AEMO said nothing of the sort. Its staff know only too well that Liddell cannot be relied upon at those moments of 45°C heat – AGL documented its failures in the February heatwave – and its principal warning was that the greatest risk of unserved energy was the failure of ageing units like Liddell.

When asked of this on Tuesday, Zibelman said: “What do we want to do to make sure we are riding the technology innovation curve in the right way…. it all has to fit.”

And she added for good measure: “The power system works best when we can operate it in accordance with the law of physics. (That means) we need to make sure we have sufficient tools to respond in a real time system.”

On Monday, the mainstream media was still enthralled by Turnbull’s media machine: “Win for Malcolm Turnbull: AGL CEO Andy Vesey backs down over future of Liddell coal-fired power plant,” proclaimed Fairfax.

No, he didn’t. Vesey more or less told Turnbull to stick his ideas about Liddell where the sun don’t shine and the wind don’t blow in polite company. He again made his point that if anything was to be relied upon in an energy crisis, it wouldn’t be Liddell.

It was a nice touch that former UNFCCC secretary Christiana Figueres, a key player in the Paris climate accord to which Australia is a signatory, should be in the country this week. Asked on ABC’s 7.30 report last night about the interest in Liddell, she replied:

“Well, I am admittedly surprised …Maybe it’s because we’re ‘Down Under’ that things are somewhat upside down, because most governments are actually moving to lessen their dependency on coal, for many different reasons in addition to the environmental.”

And, she warned, the world’s carbon budget is being exhausted, and “we are very, very close to not being able to avoid (dangerous climate change) anymore. We are within three years of crossing a threshold that is going to make it very, very difficult to avoid the worst impacts. And we haven’t even seen those worst impacts.”

And the Pope also piped in, with a message that could have been directed at both Abbott and Turnbull:

“Those who deny it (climate change) should go to the scientists and ask them. They are very clear, very precise,” the pontiff said Monday during a press conference on the return leg of a five-day Colombia trip.

“A phrase from the Old Testament comes to mind: ‘man is stupid, a stubborn, blind man’,” he added.

“These aren’t opinions pulled out of thin air. They are very clear,” he said.

“They (world leaders) decide and history will judge those decisions,” he added.

And that is the weird part of this whole development. Turnbull was caught out in 2009 when he was pincered by Labor and the climate deniers because he was supporting action on climate change. Now he is trying to pincer Labor by siding with the climate deniers over coal.

It’s not likely to end any better; not for Turnbull, not for consumer bills, not for energy reliability, and not for the planet.

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  1. Robin_Harrison 2 years ago

    The same party owned by the same vested interests, the faces and names of the puppets are irrelevant. Don’t imagine the other mob of unprincipled lying thieves are very different, those labour puppets simply have different vested interests as owners.

    • Chris Drongers 2 years ago

      A clear statement by Shorten that coal miner’s jobs are doomed would balance the argument. But he won’t because the Labor party will throw the climate under a bus to keep miners in the same jobs they do now.

      • Brian Tehan 2 years ago

        That’s obviously not true. Did you see Joel Fitzgibbon on Lateline? The member for the Hunter Valley was talking about transition to renewables. Here in the Hunter, most people vote Labor and they know that the area has to transition away from coal.

        • Chris Drongers 2 years ago

          A clear statement by Palaczuk in Qld regarding support or otherwise for Galillee basin coal mines would be good. I didn’t see Fitzgibbon but welcome his comments as you have reported.
          Is there a way for Labor and Liberal parties to put aside wedging each other on carbon policy and get something through? Or should we vote for the fairies at the bottom of the garden because the children are occupying the house?

        • Joe 2 years ago

          Yep, I heard the Joel. The Joel has had get togethers with people at AGL and AGL’s plan in closing Liddell is to transition those workers ( who don’t retire fullstop ) into new jobs across the road at Bayswater and then into new jobs as Green Energy projects replace the old Coalers. Joel is pushing for The Hunter to be a Green Hub as Coal winds down. There is no throwing of workers under a bus by the Joel.

    • solarguy 2 years ago

      Labor isn’t denying climate change or the need to go to RE are they. I for one know my party isn’t perfect, but what party is? And please, for Christ sake don’t say the Greens or worse still One Nation.

      Most of the LNP should be lined up against a wall and shot with shit until their dead and dirty.

      • Robin_Harrison 2 years ago

        Terry Pratchett had the right idea about politicians. As soon as they’re elected throw them in gaol, it saves time.
        The greens have done more damage to the environmental cause than anybody by taking it into our dysfunctional, adversarial political system and positioning it on the left where at least half the population will never vote for them on ideological grounds. The ‘Lock the Gate’ movement showed over 95% of the population are environmentally concerned but our political system runs purely on ideology so logic and reason don’t get a look in there.
        BTW all politicians with any level of influence are owned. What’s more, if your kids behaved the way all these drongos behave in parliament they’d spend a lot of time in their rooms.

        • solarguy 2 years ago

          To answer the last part, currently the LNP are winning that label hands down, acting like someone is going to steal their ice creams, poor little bastards.

        • nakedChimp 2 years ago

          environmental goals are incompatible with capitalism, thus they have to be on the ‘left’.. any other sensible social stuff (not socialism/marxism though) are also there.
          Greens are usually the most levelheaded people and have the big picture in mind.

          That conservative people don’t ‘get’ this is beyond me.

          • Robin_Harrison 2 years ago

            You’re mistaking capitalism for entrenched vested interests.
            Renewable energy was once pushed for environmental reasons but it’s economics driving it now and EVs are not far behind. Simple truth, sustainable practice makes far better economic sense. I know a capitalist running a couple of multi billion dollar enterprises and a couple of businesses for hobbies who seems to be on board with that, Elon Musk.
            Our political system is ideological garbage. The right maintain the individual is more important than society and the left think society is more important than the individual. They are wrong, we’re a social species of individuals. Both are paramount.
            There’s a new mantra in town. Clean and cheap or dirty and expensive.

  2. trackdaze 2 years ago

    Not withstanding their own problems with the one in the top office. The US of A appears to operate the largest economy fine on less than 30% coal and reducing.

    They pay 12c USD kwhr v our 28c Aud (about 22c USd)

    Take home…… less coal = pay less.

    • David McKay 2 years ago

      Cheap US gas has been the demise of the US coal fired power industry. If only we (worlds largest exporter of LNG) also had cheap gas as a viable transition fuel.

      • Henrik Beck Olsen 2 years ago

        FYI, Qatar is the world’s largest exporter of LNG, not Australia

  3. Brunel 2 years ago

    Electricity supply was purely a responsibility of the states.

    Heck, in 2001, articles were published saying “if Perth has power cuts, the WA Government will lose the election”.

    Then the federal opposition leader Tony Abbott came along and convinced the ignorant voters that the federal government can cut power prices!

    Now that promise is coming around like a boomerang to whack the LNP at the polls and the voters are more confused than ever about who is responsible for the supply of electricity.

  4. DevMac 2 years ago

    “I’m older than it and so are you and I think we’re still doing alright,” Morrison told the Seven Network’s David Koch.

    Proof right there. If that’s the argument he’s using then he ISN’T doing alright. Also, given the Liberal Party’s history of not undertaking infrastructure projects, is it any surprise they’d expect a piece of infrastructure to continue to be squeezed past it’s designated end-of-life?

    It’s not like a lot of these old coal plants suddenly reached their end-of-life. It’s been FIFTY YEARS coming. Asking for a couple of extra years, in that context, is just so pathetic.

    • Mike Shackleton 2 years ago

      Is Morrison driving around in a 1967 Holden? Or using a rotary dial telephone? It’s a stupid argument.

  5. howardpatr 2 years ago

    Turnbull is just playing around with the future of energy in Australia like he did when he played around with HIH to dispose of the Adler lemon.

    It is mainly about Turnbull; stuff the nation if it comes between him and power and his ego.

    If Turnbull was behaving like a leader, rather than a dog on a chain held by Mad Monk Abbott, the National Coal Party, the many RWandRNJs in the Coalition and others who won’t accept anthropogenic climate change and the renewable energy future he would be announcing concrete initiatives in the energy storage space.

    UGL indicated they are talking with a company 24M about a possible new generation of lithium-ion batteries when they floated the idea for a factory in Darwin.

    Another company in this space is ViZn which has developed technology is based upon ferrous/zinc flow batteries; https://www.viznenergy.com/vizn/

    Navigant Research has found that ViZn is a top contender in the non-lithium battery space but the nation will wait a long time to anything pro-active from Turnbull on such developments.


    Large scale distributed energy storage will play a major in Australia’s energy future but don’t expect leadership on this from the Coalition led by Turnbull.

  6. Radbug 2 years ago

    “Solar panels on every roof!” … at least every large roof and carpark! Great slogan. Even National Party voters can get their heads around that one!

    • Brunel 2 years ago

      There should be a campaign to get ignorant grandpas to put solar panels on the roof.

      I know a few ignorant grandpas with no solar panels on the roof.

      • nakedChimp 2 years ago

        I see a lot of solar on old private houses up here in FNQ.
        But the bigger rooftops of plants, shops, malls, carparks lack them..

        • Brunel 2 years ago

          The uncompetitive shops and malls with no solar panels on the roof will be replaced by competitive shops and malls.

          We do not need more red tape in the commercial building space.

          Go after the illegal cladding that actually kills people.

      • Radbug 2 years ago

        Not the point, Brunel. It’s all about saying something that the lowest common denominator considers sensible.

  7. Radbug 2 years ago

    Get ready for it. Turnbull refuses a conscience vote after the SSM survey reveals a “yes” vote. Just one vote. Someone crosses the floor during a no-confidence motion. Then this farce is all over.

  8. Tony Goodfellow 2 years ago

    he’s doing the same thing to energy as he did to the NBN…serving vested interests and playing politics by stuffing our future.

    • solarguy 2 years ago

      That’s why the Liberal party’s symbol is the condom. It gives you a false sense of security whilst being F$%ked.

  9. bedlambay 2 years ago

    Clapped out Liddell, clapped out Coalition

  10. stalga 2 years ago

    Yep, ultimately it’s the old legal tactic – stall and stall again. Mal’s proving better at it than Abbott.

    Ultimately, this concerted campaign of outright lies and bullshit is to get the Carmichael Basin over the line IMO. And windmills.

  11. phred01 2 years ago

    Hasn’t Turncoat got solar panels on his house?

    • solarguy 2 years ago

      Yep and it was a guy that installed for me for a while, that did the install of the PV and battery.

    • Joe 2 years ago

      …and home battery too. RE plus Storage, like he always bangs on about.

  12. Battlebroker 2 years ago

    That’s what you get when lawyers and career politician make up the goverment . One of the largest problems with Australian politics is that it’s overrun with the profession of legal-minded people, who have a bad habit of talking like experts about subjects they have virtually no idea about. Look at our energy chaos . tax free multi nationals , over development , exploding house prices ,corruption , polluters getting paid tax money , etc etc . All a complete mess.
    Too many attorneys are steering the wheel of our nation . A system that has more career and education diversity across the government would result in a better nation, a better economy, and better social policies and simply more moral.

  13. Chris Marshalk 2 years ago

    There will be a 40c+ degree day & when the Liddell coal power plant goes out, we’ll just blame Labor for the outage.

    • Chris Fraser 2 years ago

      It would not be above the Coalition to try on that dastardly rubbish. If anything, it puts excessive pressure on Andy Vesey to make sure Liddell operates at its bidding capacity for the full thirty minutes !If Liddell gives technical trouble he’s bound to lose that permanent grin.

  14. Ian Jones 2 years ago

    I believe solar and wind will be the major generators in the further and there is plenty of discussion about this – GOOD. But what I believe is missing is good discussion on demand side management.
    I now fell compelled to take action when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull proposes to extend Liddell Power Station’s life for “peak loads”. Mr Turnbull is clearly misguided.
    Does anyone remember in the early 1980’s when some of the English Electric main generators failed at Liddell and there were power shortages? The NSW Government and the Electricity Commission of NSW ran a very successful “SAVE IT” campaign. I was only a boy but I still remember the little stickers next to each light switch. This voluntary demand management worked very well and the generators were eventually fixed and Eraring and Bayswater power stations commissioned. Then in the 1990s the NSW Government and Pacific Power had too much electricity generation and ran a number of “use more electricity campaigns” (does anyone remember the Trans Grid add campaign “Who turns the lights on in the Valley….” ).
    So why not this summer try again a voluntary load reduction campaign? 10 Million 40mm * 40mm “SAVE IT” stickers and a few radio / UTube and TV advertisements has got to cost less than fixing Liddell.
    The electricity distribution companies could also offer power contracts where household can voluntarily reduce consumption during peaks by turning down air conditioners, turning off pool pumps and deferring running washing machines, driers and dishwashers, hot water systems, etc. How could it work? Simple! The Power Distributor could SMS the household a message like “please SAVE IT tomorrow between 17H00 and 21H00”. The Contract could give the household a minimum 8 hours notice. The charges could normally be 100 applesperKWh and 60 applesperKWh between 23H00 & 05H00 (for traditional off peak hot water, dishwashers, washing machines, etc with manual timers). But during these “SAVE IT” periods there will be a smart meter that bills at 160 applesperKWh. The smart meter will know it is a “SAVE IT” period either from a high frequency control signal over the 240V cables or via the mobile phone network.
    The same type of contracts could be offered to business. For example if I was a small business owner with machines that consumed electricity and I normally start then stopped them each day, a “SAVE IT” contract could make it attractive to close the factory early on “SAVE IT days” and allow my employees to go home and enjoy the summer weather on the understanding they make up the time later. If I was an office block or shopping centre owner and could not stop the air conditioners I could atleast decide to turn up the thermostat (Many ASHREA papers have shown if it is 30 DegC outside no need to cool the building to 21 DegC) or install “cool storage”.
    All simple ideas, cost effective to implement, will prevent excessive new generation, transmission and distribution investment just to cover avoidable peaks and because peak electricity production is often inefficient, will reduce CO2 emissions.
    Please Mr Turnbull, Mr Frydenberg, Mr Weatherill, Mr Andrews, Mr Hodgman, Ms Palaszczuk, Mr Fuge, Mr Vesey, Mr Marshall, Mr Wilder, Ms Ziberlman, Mr Calabria, Ms Kardos, Mr Armstrong, Mr Smales, Mr Garling, Mr Mickel, Mr Adams, Mr Chalkley, Mrs St Baker, Mr Moore, Ms Tanna, Mr Priest, Mr Fowler, Mr Broad, Mr Van Breda, Mr Waters, Mr Wenham, Mr Green, Mr Spigelman, Mr Costello, Mr Stokes, Dr Hass Dellal (I apologize if I have missed someone) embrace this simple ideas to show that Australia is still a “clever country” and to show our child we care about the plant they will inherit. And for crying out load if its 35 DegC outside the A/C only needs to be set at 25 or 26 DegC, the pool pump can be stopped for a few hours, we can have a few dirty clothes waiting to be washed, we can show the kids how to wash dishes by hand, my 400 litre electric hot water system water temperature could drop from its normal 70 DegC to 50 DegC and the whole family will still have a nice shower. :- and if the power generation and distribution companies are fair (or atleast correctly regulated by the government) they can still make a reasonable profit and my power bill will not go through the roof building (or maintaining) infrastructure that is simply not needed!
    I’m up for it. For summer 2017/18 this could all be engineered and agreed to in a few Skype Video Conferences. As summer is fast approaching, I propose the first video 10H00 to 12H00 Australia time Thursday 21Sep2017. Please send me you email addresses to [email protected] and I will set it up.

  15. Joe 2 years ago

    Turnbull 2017 model…there are no words anymore. A complete contradiction of everything that he once stood for. Climate Denial will go down as his worst. It wasn’t so long ago that we had those recalcitrant world leaders in Canada’s Stephen Harper, USA’s Bush, we now have the Trump, and Australia had Abbott, What unites them all is their ignoring dare I say ‘denial’ of the climate science. Purposely getting in the way of action on climate change and pumping FF at every opportunity possible. Now we have the Turnbull who is putting in a commanding effort to join the ‘esteemed group’ that I just listed. It does them no credit that they were / are willing players in getting in the road of what urgently needs to be done. We need to be stopping Fossil Fuels, not prolonging Fossil Fuels. We have a climate emergency on our hands. As Christiana Figueres said during the week. that 3 years is about all the time we have left to do what has to be done to avert the effects of dangerous climate change. Turnbull…EPIC FAIL. I look forward to a day in the very near future that these rogue leaders are prosecuted by The United nations for their “crimes against humanity”.

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