The spectacle of Scott Morrison dramatically flipping his prop, a lump of shiny black coal, to Barnaby Joyce at question time in the House yesterday was less than edifying because it pushed the ‘energy war’ into what Sir Joh Bjelke Peterson used to call a dry gully. Worse, a gully in which the fossil fuel industry will invest much money to keep the debate corralled. No surprise that Gina Reinhart has apparently bank rolled the arch-climate sceptic - Cori Bernardi, and no surprise that Turnbull is letting his ‘pit bull’ off the leash in an attempt to placate Bernardi sympathisers who might otherwise leave the coalition camp.
A more helpful prop might have been a video of disabled pensioner in Morrison’s electorate sweltering in 40+ degrees without being able to afford an air conditioner, or pay the electricity bill, knowing that there will be more and more days like this every year. Yesterday South Australia faced a 45 minute blackout, blamed by Morrison, Turnbull and the government on the unreliability of renewable energy. Neither Morrison nor Turnbull made any reference to the reason for the temporary blackout; increased demand caused by extreme weather, weather patterns that are intensifying with the warming of the planet.
There can be absolutely no backing away from the need to reduce emissions by transitioning to renewable energy, nor any backing away from the provision of a reliable base load. The two are not contradictory
Unintentionally SA is a guinea pig for the rest of us in this transition, What those with responsibility in government should be doing is putting their energy into dealing with the road bumps of transition, rather than kowtowing to the fossil fuel industry. (Funding of political parties by companies and wealthy individuals must stop).
A mixture of issues can only be solved by government on behalf of the people, and government should be held accountable if they are not solved.
· If energy supply is to be entirely privatised, profit rather than public interest is going to be the driving policy. If power delivery is exclusively ‘in the hands of the market’ the needs of the public will not override company bottom lines. It can be expensive to suddenly and temporarily generate increased base load. Who has the authority to ensure that available base load capacity is turned on? Yesterday Pelican Point, the SA gas powered generator, was not turned to its full capacity. Legally enforceable regulations are required to force energy generators to plan at least 24 hours in advance to meet energy needs which are usually meteorologically predictable.
· The cost of gas in Australia is artificially high because the price is tied to the highly lucrative international market. While gas is still a fossil fuel, it is not nearly as dirty as coal and government could legislate for the very considerable Australian gas supply to be made available for energy generation at a competitive price. Gas should be part of the transition mix.
· Transitioning in Australia will take place at varying speeds across our various States and Territories. It is essential that government work with the States and Territories to ensure that the network that links them is flexible and supportive. The inevitability of a progressive transition from fossil fuels to renewables has been known for many years. Supporting legislation to ensure that the transition is achieved with the least possible disruption should have been in place for years. It is still not in place.
· Because of pressure from its right wing, funds available to speedily develop 21st century technology for a smooth transition to renewables is being withheld by kthe federal government. A sad example was on display in the Prime Minister’s address to the National Press Club when he extolled ‘clean coal’ as a future technology. The speech hinted that money dedicated to the development of renewables might even be diverted for this purpose. It was laughable if it were not so serious. Even if the technology were possible the clean/dirty difference would only be marginal. No serious attempts have been made to develop a technology for the sequestering of carbon, nor will they, for the technology would render coal fired generators non-competitive.
It is clear that the cost of energy is going to increase. It is also clear that the cost of renewables is decreasing because of improved technology and increased market share. Given half the cost of energy is its transportation from generator to customer, encouraging local and regional production, making use of local capacities in wind, solar, wave, tide, hydro and thermal makes a great deal of economic as well as environmental sense.