Coal is still the only answer to reliability
Other than being there to keep Labor out, admittedly no bad thing, you’ve got to wonder if the Morrison government is losing its way, at least when it comes to keeping its election promise to end the climate zealotry that has put Australia’s once-enviable energy supply at risk.
Quite rightly, this is the question many supporters were asking this week when the government suddenly announced an extra $1 billion for the Labor-created Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) then added it couldn’t invest in coal-fired power stations — even though new ones emit 30 per cent less carbon dioxide and the big problem in our energy system is too much unreliable renewable power and not enough baseload power.
There’s something not right when a Liberal government can spend billions on the Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro scheme but can’t find a single dollar for a feasibility study into more coalfired power, even though it promised one during the election — then pours more money into giving cheap finance to the wind and solar farms that are putting the whole system at risk.
(And don’t get me started about putting a billion dollars of taxpayer funds into a body that backs projects commercial players won’t touch, and only exists because Julia Gillard needed to buy Bob Brown’s support in the hung parliament and the Coalition was elected in 2013 promising to scrap).
The stated reason for the cash injection was the need to get more reliability into the system. But the way to do this is not to build more interconnectors and batteries.
These giant extension cords between the states still need coal-fired power stations to plug into because batteries are never big enough to keep the lights on and factories going (and industry means jobs).
The only way to get more reliability is to stop building more generation that’s dependent on the wind blowing or the sun shining, and start replacing the ageing fleet of 24/7 coal-fired baseload power.
Given political risk has spooked the private sector, and the climate cult has captured the Labor Party, this is the essential job of a Liberal government but it seems they’ve funked out — despite Resource Minister Matt Canavan’s reported forceful attempt to remind his cabinet colleagues.
If renewable energy really is the best and cheapest form of generation, as boosters claim, why does it need a government bank offering subsidies in order to be viable? Consumers are already subsidising wind and solar through the renewable energy certificates that power companies are forced to buy, and through higher prices generally as the preferential treatment given to renewable power destroys the economics of baseload power. Why should mums and dads have to support soft loans too, when no one else gets them?
A glance through the CEFC’s most recent annual report highlights the utterly self-important, virtue-signalling uselessness of this body. Last year, it invested about a billion dollars in the (mostly foreign-owned) extra solar and wind power that’s increasing power bills and making blackouts more likely, as well as half a billion dollars in energy efficiency projects. For instance, Woolworths (which has just been exposed underpaying staff) got $30 million from the taxpayer bank towards the installation of energyefficient lighting and refrigeration, and solar panels in supermarkets. More than $200m was put into social housing projects for “improved insulation, LED lighting, energyefficient appliances, smart meters and solar installations”. Why do we need a government bank to fund business to cut power bills? What’s a government bank doing giving loans to some of the biggest corporations in the country?
Forget the “climate emergency” claptrap, Australia has an energy emergency coming. If you’re prepared to pay enough, you can run households and maybe even large buildings on renewable power and batteries. But what you can’t run on renewable power and batteries is heavy industry and the jobs it sustains.
Given we are a high-wage country in a region that isn’t, reliable and affordable electricity was always our trump card. But now, for how long?
It won’t be all the Morrison government’s fault if a big player such as the aluminium industry shortly announces that it’s leaving Australia. But the Morrison government will be to blame for not recognising the problem and taking stronger action to deal with it.