Monday, 20 February 2017

Turnbull & Co fiddle while Australia burns

ABC News, 9 February 2017
As the effects of climate change begin to bite in Australia, the Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison refuses to rule out using money set aside in the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to fund a new generation of coal-fired power stations.

With the nation facing the prospect of extreme Summer temperatures with no end in sight, he then brings a lump of coal into the House of Representatives on 9 February 2017 and extolls the virtues of this dirty fossil fuel:

This is coal. Do not be afraid. Do not be scared. It will not hurt you…..It is coal that has ensured for over 100 years that Australia has enjoyed an energy-competitive advantage that has delivered prosperity to Australian businesses and has ensured that Australian industry has been able to remain competitive in a global market.

Journalist Lenore Taylor writing in The Guardian two days later on 11 February 2017:

Since it’s our job to point out things like that, here are a few facts that undermine the “coal comeback” PR strategy that started rolling out sometime last year:

Renewable energy is not “causing” blackouts. They’re primarily due to the (incredibly complicated) energy market that wasn’t designed or isn’t being run to cope with a higher proportion of renewables, and is throwing up perverse incentives that mean South Australia can have a blackout while generators are sitting idle. It would seem obvious that the answer to this problem is not to abandon all incentives for renewable energy but rather to fix the market and the rules. Cars probably got bogged when they started driving on roads designed for horses and buggies too, but it wouldn’t have been wise to respond by trying to stop the roll-out of automobiles. And New South Wales – a state that gets a very small proportion of its energy from renewables, was also facing the prospect of blackouts on Friday, which sometimes happen during peak demand but also undermine the Coalition’s simplistic arguments.
Renewables cannot take the blame for the recent rise in prices. Queensland, which also has a tiny proportion of renewable energy, has had price spikes that added an astounding $1bn to wholesale power prices just since the beginning of this year. South Australia, cited by the federal Coalition as the terrible case study of what Labor’s renewable energy policies might do, has had just a few. The Queensland price spikes are also vastly higher than those felt in South Australia last July, which were described as an emergency, according to an analysis by Dylan McConnell from Melbourne University. Weirdly, no federal ministers have been berating the Queensland government over its (fossil fuel) choice of energy source.
coal-fired power stations are not going to be built. You don’t have to go to greenies for that assessment – it is also coming from the AI Group, which represents Australia’s manufacturers, and from the Australian Energy Council, which represents the big electricity and gas businesses that generate and supply most of our energy, as well as from the head of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation – who has expert knowledge of lending to the energy sector. Business knows climate change is a thing, and that locking in emissions from a new coal-fired power station for 50 years, no matter how efficient it is and how lovingly the current ministry can carry around lumps of coal, is incompatible with our long-term climate commitment and therefore an unacceptable investment risk. When really pressed, the only way experts can imagine the construction of a new coal-fired power station is if the government pays for it, or signs a contract indemnifying the company paying for it from the impact of future climate policy. And no sane government would do that. You’d only do that if you suspected the world was about to decide climate change was a hoax or at least not so much a problem, which might explain where some of the Coalition’s coal boosters are coming from. 
Governments could always reduce the strain on the system and help avoid blackouts by reducing energy demand but schemes to reduce demand at times of peak power usage (such as, say, heatwaves) were shelved after the Abbott government was elected, while programs for minimum energy performance standards seem to have been burned in Tony Abbott’s bonfire of red tape.
And finally, as business and industry and environmentalists and pretty much everyone who looks at the evidence (including, a while back, Turnbull) have been saying for years, the very best thing governments could do to encourage investment and a sensible low-cost transition to cleaner generation is come up with a bipartisan policy, such as the energy-intensity carbon scheme that had bipartisan political support, the backing of industry and could have reduced power prices while also bringing emissions down. But the Turnbull government jettisoned any consideration of that in less than 24 hours, apparently fearing the response of right wingers such as Cory Bernardi. He’s now left the Coalition anyway, and it still has no climate policy.
Image via @James_Orex_Eade 

On the night of 12 February 2017 I made a salad dinner thankful that the temperature inside my home was a mere 31° Celsius and there was no bushfire smoke in the air.

That same night The Sydney Morning Herald was reporting:

Turnbull government statements blaming last year's South Australian blackout on its high renewable energy target ignored confidential public service advice stating that it was not the cause, according to emails obtained under freedom-of-information rules.

With a febrile debate over renewable energy versus coal-fired generation suddenly raging in Canberra, the revelation is set to undermine the Coalition's energy messaging and shatter confidence in its call for investment certainty through sober debate and bipartisan policy solutions.  

Advice to the government dated September 29, 2016 – the day after the whole of SA went black following a devastating storm – suggested the problem had not been the state's high reliance on wind generation, but rather because key parts of its electricity distribution network were wrecked during a severe weather event.

An email trail shows among other things a senior official from Malcolm Turnbull's department seeking an explanation for the blackout at 8.31 on the evening of the storm.

Another from 7.20 the next morning outlines subsequent discussions including a 5am phone hook-up involving departmental and political staff.

That email, sent to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's own officials and others, conveyed the first-blush assessment of the blackout including advice gleaned from the Australian Energy Market Operator: "There has been unprecedented damage to the network (ie bigger than any other event in Australia), with 20+ steel transmission towers down in the north of the State due to wind damage (between Adelaide and Port Augusta). The electricity network was unable to cope with such a sudden and large loss of generation at once. AEMOs advice is that the generation mix (ie renewable or fossil fuel) was not to blame for yesterday's events – it was the loss of 1000 MW of power in such a short space of time as transmission lines fell over."

Yet within hours of the calamity the Turnbull government was capitalising on the blackout, suggesting it was a function of the state's unsustainably high quotient of wind generation which had failed to keep working in the conditions....

Last week, another blackout in South Australia knocked out about 90,000 premises during an extreme heat event. The energy blame game intensified, even though the evidence again suggests there was adequate supply in the form of gas turbine generation, sitting idle, as the wind contribution fell to just 2.5 per cent.

With the growing realization that Summer weather patterns are likely extend into the first two months of Autumn this year, one has to wonder why the federal Liberal and Nationals MPs and senators have chosen this particular moment to totally suspend their critical faculties and, whether only a mounting death toll will force them to finally turn and face the problems climate change is creating for all three tiers of government, farming, industry, communities and families.

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