Care needed on commitment to renewables
Last month, the entire state of South Australia was blacked out for 24 hours because wind turbines shut down and the interconnector to Victoria’s electricity grid broke down. People were stuck in lifts, traffic lights stopped working, and businesses closed because renewable energy is inherently unreliable and back-up systems couldn’t cope. Unfortunately, much more expensive and much less reliable power is Australia’s future under the Labor Party’s renewable energy policy at state and federal levels.
Given the current state of technology, Labor’s commitment to a national 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030 is absurd. Mind you, the Coalition’s commitment to a 23 per cent target by 2020 is also problematic , only much less so. The problem with renewable energy is that it’s only there when the wind blows and the sun shines. When the wind doesn’t blow , or when it blows too hard as it did in South Australia , an alternative source of power is instantly required.
The day may come when large-scale, low-cost battery technology means that renewable energy can be stored for later use. But without much better batteries, the notion that renewables should supply a very large proportion of our energy is barmy. It’s a genuflection to the Greens that will drive up the cost of living and make jobs less secure.
It’s typical that state, territory and federal Labor leaders insisted that the lights going out in South Australia had nothing to do with their renewable energy obsessions. It was a classic illustration of not letting facts interfere with ideology. In the aftermath, large employers such as the Whyalla steel plant and Port Pirie zinc smelter have sought guarantees of power reliability that the state government is in no position to give. Almost certainly, the lights will again go out for what’s left of the state’s heavy industry, as long-suffering consumers continue to pay more than they should for electricity.
According to federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg wind power is 25 per cent more expensive than gas-generated electricity and double the price of coal-generated power.
Federal Labor’s carbon tax was trivial compared to the coming hit in the hip pocket from Labor governments seeking to burnish their green credentials. While South Australia plans to increase renewable energy from 40 to 50 per cent of total power consumption, Victoria aims to increase renewable energy from 12 per cent to 40 per cent and Queensland plans a massive increase from 5 to 50 per cent.
Then there’s the huge build of unnecessary generating capacity so that renewables can substantially replace coal. It is likely that raising renewable output from the current 14 per cent of the total to 50 per cent would require construction of 10,000 new wind towers for about $48 billion. That’s an extra $5000 that each household will have to carry in less than 15 years to support Labor’s renewable energy target. But meeting even the coalition government’s target will likely require at least another 2000 towers at about $10 billion (or $1000 per household) over the next five years.
To be fair, the federal government’s target was forced on it in 2015 , in order to cobble together a Senate majority to avoid an immediate renewable-induced spike in power prices.
While Bill Shorten is still trumpeting his green credentials and boasting about Labor’s 50 per cent renewables target, Malcolm Turnbull is beginning to focus on this renewables-induced pain in the wallet. This is in part because a 50 per cent renewable energy target would increase wholesale electricity prices by about 40 per cent.
Few things illustrate how beholden Shorten is to the green lobby than sticking with the 50 per cent renewable target , despite opposition from some unions, including the CFMEU. But with only one state close to this level of renewable power usage, the shortfall on days when the wind doesn’t blow is currently made up by brown coal power stations in Victoria , which are soon to close.
So what will rescue Victoria and Queensland (and the ACT) if and when these jurisdictions are in the same predicament as South Australia?
During the federal election campaign, Shorten fobbed off this key question with the response that Labor’s renewable policy would be finalised by October next year. Surely the Opposition leader can’t be allowed to put off a credible answer for much longer?
Ross Fitzgerald is an emeritus professor of history and politics at Griffith University, and the author of 39 books, including a memoir, ‘My Name Is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey’ and the political/sexual satire ‘Going Out Backwards: A Grafton Everest Adventure’.
The Canberra Times 28 October 2016 & also The Sydney Morning Herald online & The Brisbane Times online