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Issue #1759      November 30, 2016

Climate change action NOW!

Mitigating climate change requires changing global energy production from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources as rapidly as possible. And the world is reacting. The demand for coal is falling heavily, and many new renewable energy power generation plants are under construction. China has introduced a ban on construction of new coal-fired power plants until 2018. The ban will probably remain indefinitely.

In sharp contrast, the Turnbull government has supported the fossil fuel industries while paying lip service to environmental considerations. It has approved construction of vast new coal mines and ports for the export of coal, most of which will be shipped perilously across the already-threatened Great Barrier Reef.

The coalition government is promoting gas, including coal seam gas, to replace coal as an energy source. It wants to strip the Australian Renewable Energy Agency of $1 billion funding, which would devastate the renewable energy industry. It has stripped the CSIRO of funding, resulting in a loss of 300 scientific positions.

Its proposed energy security review won’t consider the impact of climate change, and it still promotes the hopelessly ineffective “Direct Action” program which pays polluting corporations, in the vain hope they’ll cut their carbon emissions.

State governments have also failed the test. Some state governments have sold off their publicly-owned electricity generation, pricing and/or distribution networks, and have left it to the private sector to construct new power stations.

Electrical power installations are crucial for our national security. They should not be sold off to private interests, and the South Australian power crisis demonstrated the importance of having government control over energy supply, rather than relying on greedy, self-interested private power providers.

A new report describes the condition of the Great Barrier Reef as much more serious than three years ago, and states unequivocally that the primary cause of its deterioration is a rise in the global ocean temperature owing to climate change.

The Turnbull coalition government has failed to take effective steps to mitigate climate change. In order to achieve the coalition’s primary objectives, including its anti union legislation, Turnbull has sought the support of key opposition Senators like One Nation’s Pauline Hanson, and the still bitterly-resentful pro-Abbott faction, which opposes any action that would undermine the dominant position of the fossil fuel industries.

Hanson and Abbott are notorious climate change deniers, Abbott remarking “Climate change is crap”. The coalition is arguing for the slowest possible replacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy sources. It also took full propaganda advantage of two power failures in South Australia, which now derives 41 percent of its energy from renewable sources, mostly wind farms.

Under the current national energy arrangements, the eastern states can purchase extra electricity from another state through energy interconnectors near the state borders.

In May this year an energy shortage occurred in South Australia, and problems with the Victorian interconnector forced some SA heavy industry consumers who had “spot price” market contracts to purchase energy from privately-owned gas-fired power generators.

However, demand from local and overseas purchasers was extremely high, and the industry consumers were desperate, so suppliers stung them with power rates up to $1,400 per kilowatt hour, more than 100 times the yearly average rate.

The primary problem was obviously the ruthless “charge whatever you can get away with” market approach of the private energy suppliers, but the Turnbull government launched a phoney scare campaign against renewable energy.

The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association joined in, predicting that reliance on renewables rather than gas would doom the state to repeated crises. Dow Chemical’s managing director described the South Australian energy policy as a “train wreck”.

On August 28 in South Australia a violent storm wrecked 23 energy transmission towers, the state’s wind power stations automatically shut down to prevent their overheating, and the Victorian interconnector failed to provide supplementary power. Some areas of the state were without power for several days.

The crisis would have occurred even if the state had been powered solely by coal or gas generators. Nevertheless, the wind stations again got the blame. The energy problems demonstrated in South Australia in May did not originate in inadequate supply. There was enough gas to meet the demands of industry when extra power was needed, and the price surge was caused by the private energy suppliers wringing as much profit as possible from their customers.

Nor did the problem lie in unsolvable technical difficulties associated with renewable energy. The SA crisis was triggered by the structural collapse of the transmission towers, a problem easily solved by more robust construction. Extra interconnectors could also be built at state borders.

The Turnbull government blamed the SA energy crises on the intermittent nature of wind and sunlight. However, with careful planning these energy sources can meet normally anticipated demands. Moreover, during emergencies grid-scale energy storage technology, which already exists, could provide power much more quickly than gas generators during periods of low wind or inadequate sunshine, or during fierce weather like the July storm in SA.

But installing energy storage systems initially involves substantial extra cost, and private companies that contribute to the SA grid regard energy storage as commercially unviable. The problem with energy storage doesn’t lie in technical feasibility but in the profit motive.

What must be done?

The state governments have committed to ambitious renewable energy targets, eg 50 percent by 2020 in South Australia. In contrast, the Turnbull government now wants all the states to accept its feeble goal of a mere 26 to 28 percent carbon emission reduction by 2030, and its pathetic renewable energy target of 23.5 percent by 2020, which Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg described as “set in stone ... because it drives investment in the market ...”.

The origin of Australia’s energy problems clearly lies in the corrupt motivation of the federal government, and the solution lies in removing the government from power at the earliest opportunity.

Next article – Editorial – Racism and the fear factor

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