The Liberal party in three states - Victoria, South Australia and Queensland - vowed to drop state based renewable energy targets if elected. This follows Federal Liberal Party war on renewables and climate policy conducted since Abbott took power in 2013, continued under Prime Minister Turnbull.
While climate action at the Federal level has followed a rollercoast ride in the past two decades, states are increasingly taking more action to protect their citizens.
In the latest round of attacks at the Federal level, Manchester University climate change PhD student Marc Hudson argues that what we are seeing is not actually a policy battle, but a politics battle, and one that has been going on since at least 2000.
With reduction of the federal Renewable Energy Target and no plan as yet to extend it, the Labor states of South Australia, Victoria and Queensland, and the ACT, have all set in motion state renewable energy targets.
The ACT is already on target for reaching 100 per cent renewables by 2020.
South Australia has a renewable energy target of 50 per cent by 2025, and is already achieving 40 per cent renewables. It supports this with gas power stations and reliance on the interconnector with Victoria. The South Australian coal power stations operating were closed by the companies operating them. There was no smooth transition put in place for their closure at the Federal Level.
In December 2016 Queensland adopted a target of 50 per cent renewables by 2030 and a doubling of rooftop solar to more than 1 million households. Queensland currently has a high proportion of coal and gas generation, a small amount of hydro and substantive takeup of small scale solarPV. Renewable targets will boost utility scale solar farms and add wind farms into the mix. The three LNG processing plants are major electricity users in Queensland, serving the LNG export trade.
In Victoria the Andrews government announced in June 2016 renewable energy targets of 25 per cent by 2020 and 40 per cent by 2025. A reverse auction system will encourage delivery of up to 1500 megawatts (MW) of new large-scale renewable energy capacity by 2020 and up to 5400MW by 2025. It will create 11,000 two-year construction jobs plus ongong jobs and guaranteed income in regional Victoria.
Engie's Hazelwood power station closure is due on 1st April 2017, which will reduce about 1600Mw from the grid. However, Engie's Loy Yang B power station is about to undertake a turbine upgrade to improve power generation capacity 8.6 per cent but decrease the intensity of emissions by 5 per cent. It will also increase the profitability of the power station.
The war of words on Victorian state renewable targets
Victorian Liberal leader and Leader of the Opposition in the Victorian Parliament said in a statement.
“Daniel Andrews has set Victoria on the path to an energy security crisis. Unless we act, Victoria is bound to have regular South Australian-style blackouts because of Daniel Andrews. A Liberal Nationals Government I lead will scrap this unrealistic target so Victorians don’t have repeated black-outs and higher electricity prices.”
Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio responded:
“Matthew Guy’s plan will kill thousands of jobs, increase electricity prices and send emissions soaring. He’s just shown every Victorian he’s Malcolm’s Guy, no matter how many jobs it costs.”
“Malcolm Turnbull can’t keep using renewables as a scapegoat – over the weekend NSW, one of the most coal dependent states in the world, came very close to a blackout.”
“No matter how hard Malcolm Turnbull pushes, industry is saying that new coal-fired power stations won’t be built. Business groups have slammed the proposal because it’s bad for business and bad for the environment.” said D'Ambrosio.
Significantly, today Lily D'Ambrosio launched the Latrobe Valley Home Energy Upgrade Program to target 1,000 homes in greatest need in the Latrobe City, Wellington and Baw Baw region. This will help finance energy efficiency and solar panel or hot water household upgrades of up to a value of $4,500. More than helping people in The Valley, it provides a boost to small local businesses focussed on energy efficiency and solar.
“As part of our record investment in the transition and development of the greater Latrobe Valley area, this Program will provide real and long-term help with energy bills and ease the pressure on vulnerable households, whilst boosting business for local workers.” said Ms D'Ambrosio.
Pat Simons, Friends of the Earth's renewable energy spokesperson, commented on Matthew Guy's statement:
“The move puts ideology ahead of commonsense, risking thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars in investment in wind and solar for Victoria.”
“This ideological attack on affordable renewable energy threatens power price rises. Wind and solar are the most economical forms of new generation. If Matthew Guy wants the Victorian Liberals to be the party for higher power prices, it will be highly unpopular with the community” added Simons.
The announcement by Guy came on the same day that 18 civil society and business groups released a joint statement about the necessity for bipartisan climate and energy policy in the transition to clean energy.
In Melbourne community activists took to the street and the offices of Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy and Energy and Renewables Minister David Southwick to voice their deep concern at the level of party politicking on state renewables targets.
For a while there (See this video from February 2016 of David Southwick speaking at a rally) it was thought there was a certain amount of bipartisanship on renewables at the state level, but the Liberal Party have decided to destroy the little credibility they have in the area of renewables and climate action, and in supporting investment in jobs in renewables in regional areas.
Watch and listen to Anna Langford voicing her concern outside David Southwick's office in Caulfield North.
Vocal protests made their point outside the electoral offices of both Liberal Party MPs.
A storify slideshow of the protest:
Blaming renewables is cheap politics creating energy crisis
This is the face of Liberal climate policy: don't mention climate change, pass the coal around (like Treasurer Scott Morrison did last week in Federal Parliament) while south east Australia was in the midst of a massive record breaking heatwave driven in part by such activities such as coal emissions.
The Liberals emphasise energy security and electricity prices without explaining that renewables will actually reduce prices over the medium to long term, as well as creating thousands of new jobs, and a far more healthier environment with less pollution.
The attack comes as representatives of Australian communities, including civil society, households, workers, investors, business energy users and energy suppliers today challenged all political leaders to stop partisan antics and work together to reform Australia’s energy systems and markets to deliver the reliable, affordable and clean energy that is critical to wellbeing, employment and prosperity. (See Statement)
"The finger pointing will not solve our energy challenges. More than a decade of this has made most energy investments impossibly risky. This has pushed prices higher while hindering transformational change of our energy system. The result is enduring dysfunction in the electricity sector." says the statement.
"We need mature, considered debate. Market reform can’t happen unless the Commonwealth and States agree, and policies can’t last and motivate investment without broad cross-party support. Politicians from all sides of politics and all levels of government need to come together to work through the necessary solutions to our energy market challenges."
The statement finishes with, "A collective failure to act would come at a cost to all Australians."
The attack on state renewable targets continues the policy instability and business uncertainty creating the energy crisis and an unstable environment for business investment into assets with up to 50 year timeframe.
Yes, the energy regulation system needs to be overhauled to manage a more diversified and decentralised energy generation and transmission system. Energy security is important, but so to is the transition to 100 per cent renewables to preserve a safe and healthy climate for ourselves and our children.
Attack on renewables continues despite extreme heatwave
The irony of the political attack on renewables is it is happening at a time of a horrifying extreme heatwave, and we know these extreme heat events are driven by climate change. We need to reduce emissions for our long term climate safety, yet the Liberal Party ignore climate change in their criticism of renewables. But that is an important reason we are doing this energy transition.
South Australia experienced a terrible loadshedding and blackout in the middle of this heatwave affecting 90,000 homes while a gas turbine sat idle. Early details seem to imply this was avoidable and implicates that there was a failure of the regulatory system supervised by AEMO that caused the problem.
Heat records tumbled in New South Wales and south east Queensland.
In New South Wales the Tomago Aluminium Smelter, that uses about 10 per cent of the state's electricity supply, was forced to power down. Without this reduction, and the voluntary reduction in usage by many residential and small businesses, widespread blackouts may have become necessary. There were reports of localised blackouts.
Queensland, which is highly reliant on coal and gas generation also struggled with the demand.
In all these states both utility and rooftop solar played an important role in moving and reducing peak electricity demand. Many of the residential users are compensated a pittance for their help while generators who entered the market at the peak demand spikes could earn $13,000 per MWh.
Revealed today is the deliberate attack on renewables and the state renewable energy target in South Australia by Prime Minister and other ministers when they knew the primary and essential cause of the statewide blackout in September was the severe storms. They were told by ministerial staff NOT to blame renewables, yet proceeded to do so. According to latest details revealed by FOI request, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and ministers were told wind not to blame for South Australia for the blackout reports the Sydney Morning Herald.
The Guardian also reveals that Queensland's electricity price spikes far worse than South Australia during 'crisis', a state predominantly powered by coal and gas.
More and more it appears we have a network and regulatory problem, not a problem of the level of renewables in the system. The present AEMO regulatory system was set up as a market to benefit private generators of centralised baseload power.
Now it needs to be overhauled to become more nimble and flexible and able to mix in more intermittent and more decentralised power generators, and eventually integrate 100 per cent renewables. It is possible to do, but we need to leave the coal-laden ideology and emissions out of it.
Pumped hydro, solar thermal with storage, network batteries
While Turnbull does support investigation of more pumped hydro storage in the electricity grid, there is also an opportunity here for concentrated solar thermal with storage. Both of these create network storage to balance the intermittency downsides of wind and solar PV renewables.
I think South Australia might have trouble finding locations suitable for pumped hydro storage, but it gets great solar insolation to set up a concentrating solar thermal plant with storage. Storage in these plants essentially consists of heating and storing a fluid in an insulated container for later use when it's heat can be used to power steam generators.
Solar thermal the lost election promise
If you remember back to May 2016 and the election campaign, the Liberals promised to help fund construction of Port Augusta solar thermal power station, according to the Adelaide Advertiser. But there hasn't been a peep out of Josh Frydenberg or Prime Minister since about this proposal.
A solar thermal plant with storage would help stabilise renewables in South Australia adding energy security, and provide needed jobs to the Port Augusta community. Once built, they are essentially fuel free and emissions free.
Daniel Spencer from RePower Port Augusta said in a statement “Malcolm Turnbull must come to the table here and deliver the promised funds for solar thermal in Port Augusta rather than trying to score political points attacking our states. South Australians trusted the Federal Government when it promised these funds, now we expect them delivered.” Mr Spencer said.
Spencer called on Premier Jay Weatherill to also endorse and select this project rather than more gas generation. “Premier Weatherill foreshadowed bold steps to secure South Australia’s energy future today, including using the Government’s power purchase to build a new power station. It’s critical that this is a large solar thermal plant with storage that can deliver clean, reliable and affordable power.” Spencer said.
The South Australian Government is presently tendering for 75 percent of it's energy needs in a Power Purchase Agreement. The question arises, will Solar Thermal at Port Augusta offering dispatchable power be chosen? Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis provides some hope that solar thermal is still in the running.
Only one problem. With the SA Liberal Party attacking renewables as intermittent energy no one will invest in solar thermal in SA. https://t.co/yXaqCDM49Q— Tom Koutsantonis (@TKoutsantonisMP) February 14, 2017
Hopefully the SA Liberals reverse their position on renewables & ease concerns to allow investors back. @Solar4PtAugusta— Tom Koutsantonis (@TKoutsantonisMP) February 14, 2017
The third option is installation of utility scale batteries as part of the grid. This is still a very expensive solution, but is occurring in places like California. As technological efficiency increases and prices fall utility scale batteries will increasingly become an important addition to ensure energy security with renewables.
Perhaps we should all be watching what Turnbull does not what he says.
It seems in December 2016 Turnbull installed a battery system into his Point Piper mansion following an upgrade to his solarPV system to 14kW. He wasn't going to be caught out and suffer with the rest of us ordinary grid connected folk if the heatwave had generated extensive blackouts in Sydney, like in Adelaide.