Thanks to an obsession with intermittent wind and solar, Australians face another summer of planned power rationing (aka ‘load shedding’) and the unplanned kind (aka ‘mass blackouts’).
Cue the first long, hot spell in January, when power demand spikes as ACs get cranked into action to cool homes and businesses and refrigerated systems have to work harder to keep things cool.
As is often the case, those demand spikes coincide with total collapses in wind and solar output – think a run of breathless 42°C days killing the former and sunset dealing with the latter. It’s happened before – when wind and solar output duly collapsed and hundreds of thousands of Victorians were plunged into sweltering darkness: Blackout Fallout: Wind Power Debacle Leaves Thousands of Powerless Victorians Furious
And it’s odds on to happen again.
The debacle was as perfectly predictable, as it was perfectly avoidable.
Bill Shorten lost the unloseable Federal election in May 2019 promising (or, rather, threatening) a Nationwide 50% Renewable Energy Target and a massive tax on carbon dioxide gas emissions. Labor acolytes were gobsmacked when the electorate rejected their vision of an all wind and sun powered future (the 50% RET and 45% emissions reduction target were just the start).
After experiencing a shock electoral drubbing of that magnitude, it takes a special mix of audacity and ignorance to keep running the same ‘renewables will save us’ line, over and over again. But that’s precisely where Australia’s Labor Party finds itself at the end of 2020.
Its energy policy sounds more like one of Lewis Carroll’s rambling acid trips, than anything like sound engineering, let alone solid economics.
And if it was looking for the culprit, the once great Worker’s Party has the smug and insipid South Australian ALP member, Mark Butler to thank for its political demise.
Butler has been driving the ALP’s energy policy for the best part of a decade.
The Federal ALP is practically unelectable, having trashed its blue-collar base in an effort to chase the hard-green left that occupy the inner-city goat’s cheese and almond milk latte zones. That fact has finally started to dawn on a number of ALP heavyweights, not least Joel Fitzgibbon – who occupies a seat in the Hunter Valley in NSW, where coal remains king; both as fuel for the numerous coal-fired power stations still chugging away within his electorate and as an export commodity to Asia and elsewhere.
And there are others amongst the ALP who are prepared to tackle the most glaring policy omission of all: Labor’s trenchant opposition to nuclear power. One of them, Theo Theophanous – who isn’t afraid to use the ‘N’ word in public – went on the front foot last week, with this timely and pointed piece.
If Albanese wants to survive he has to shift on energy
18 December 2020
Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese appears to be on an electoral winner by adopting the 2050 net-zero emissions target. Scott Morrison has stated he will make no such pledge to Australians “unless I can tell them how we will achieve it and what this will cost”.
The Opposition Leader has not answered the questions of how and at what cost. Instead, he points out comparable countries have committed to 2050 so why can’t we? Countries such as the US under Joe Biden, Japan, South Korea, Canada and Britain.
So what’s going on? Why are these countries confidently able to commit to the target, but not us? The answer is to be found in one word: nuclear.
South Korea has 24 nuclear plants producing 26 per cent of its energy. The US has 98 plants for 20 per cent, Canada has 19 plants for 15 per cent, and Britain’s Rolls-Royce is planning to build 16 new reactors. Even Japan, which shut down its nuclear plants following the Fukushima disaster, is beginning to recommission them.
The Prime Minister claims he wants to achieve net-zero emissions through “technology, not higher taxes”. But none of the technologies proposed, such as carbon capture and storage, are near technical efficacy.
With Joel Fitzgibbon gone from shadow cabinet, Labor’s fanatical energy spokesman Mark Butler has slipped into the draft platform that the party will adopt tough interim targets for 2030-35, while any mention of coal or gas exports has been excluded.
Morrison knows Labor’s policies will be unaffordable and not properly costed. It’s a political trap Labor is falling headlong into — again. Meanwhile, the message being heard by blue-collar workers and voters in the suburbs is that Labor cares little about them.
Labor members are talking openly about bringing on a spill unless Albanese tempers the party’s heavy emphasis on renewables and rethinks underlying opposition to coal and gas. It’s not just Labor’s Right that wants change. Queensland senator Murray Watt, in Albanese’s Left faction, has come out in support of Fitzgibbon’s views. And Chris Bowen has stated Labor has lost touch with people in the suburbs.
Labor’s new energy platform depicts its real priorities: “Labor believes Australia’s future prosperity lies as an energy superpower, built on our world-class renewable energy resources.”
This is deceptive virtue signalling. Australia cannot competitively manufacture solar panels or wind turbines to create jobs. Government estimates of jobs in the renewable sector last year were 26,850, compared with 255,800 in the resources sector and almost a million in manufacturing that rely on cheap baseload power.
Australia will not be a renewable energy superpower. In fact, Australia’s prosperity is built on its resources industry. We have 30 per cent of the world’s uranium, processed to make yellowcake for export. We also have 10 per cent of the world’s black coal and vast iron ore and gas reserves that are tied up in long-term export contracts.
Albanese and Butler’s Nirvana of renewable energy backed up by pumped hydro is a mirage. Australia’s arid climate means the capacity of pumped hydro is limited and costly. Batteries are too expensive and useful only for short-term balancing of the system.
It’s the realisation that these backup technologies can provide only limited support to renewables that led the countries that Albanese named to keep nuclear as part of their roadmap to 2050.
Yet the Australian Energy Market Operator in its 2020 Integrated System Plan excluded nuclear, instead proposing vastly increased costly interconnections and increased reliance on diminishing fossil fuel facilities. Environmental Progress founder Michael Shellenberger has noted that by not including nuclear solutions the AEMO plan “is taking major risks with the Australian people’s health and welfare”.
Japan has adopted the 2050 target and nuclear will be a big part. But in the interim it is using gas and fast-tracking 22 high-efficiency, low-emission coal-fired plants to replace ageing plants. Japan is Australia’s biggest export market for coal.
To succeed, Albanese must adopt centrist policies, remove Butler from the energy space and bring back Fitzgibbon. He must not sell out Labor’s traditional base on the altar of renewables. And he must include an honest conversation with Australians about a safe nuclear option as potentially the only way to get to net-zero emissions by 2050.