Communist Party of Australia  


The Guardian

Current Issue

PDF Archive

Web Archive

Pete's Corner


Press Fund


About Us

Why you should ...

CPA introduction

Contact Us

facebook, twitter

Major Issues





Climate Change



What's On






Books, T-shirts, CDs/DVDs, Badges, Misc


Issue #1796      September 27, 2017


Australia’s tragic energy fiasco

Last week foreign Minister Julie Bishop restated Australia’s commitment to the crucial Paris Climate Change agreement aimed at limiting the 2050 global temperature rise to 2 degrees. The Australian Energy Market Operator says this necessitates cutting coal-fired energy production by 15.5 gigawatts by 2036. However, the government wants energy corporation AGL to keep running the coal-fired Liddell power station until 2027, five years beyond its closure date, or to sell it to someone who will.

AGL wants to replace the station with a new plant using wind and solar power, batteries and back-up gas, but the government may force the company to split its retailing and power generating divisions, thereby damaging its profit levels, if it doesn’t co-operate.

The government’s stated energy policy is to meet its climate commitment but with energy cheap and reliable. However, its unstated policy is to protect the coal industry at all costs, and coal can no longer compete with renewable energy for reliability and economy.

Australia’s coal-fired power stations will close within 20 years. The former Collinsville and Northern stations are being replaced with solar plants that can plug into existing on-site national grid connections, and many energy firms want to do the same when their existing coal-fired stations close down.

Their prime motive is profit, not the environment. State government “gold-plating” infrastructure arrangements have enabled them to repeatedly jack up energy rates. The price of AGL’s Liddell plant was offset by a handsome $768 million state government discount on the price of coal.

Because nature provides renewable energy free of charge and the cost of renewable energy generation facilities has fallen, private energy providers can now boost their profits by building renewable energy plants after the existing power stations close.

But privatisation has left the national electricity grid dangerously unreliable. Private operators are unwilling to maintain the ageing generators. The Liddell plant now operates at only 1,000 megawatts on average (50 percent of its nominal capacity), and occasionally ceases production altogether. Repairs would cost between $500 million and $1 billion.

Last summer the French firm Energie decided to seek profit elsewhere and closed its giant Hazelwood power station in Victoria. The sudden reduction in energy output resulted in “white knuckle” peak periods in which gas and coal-fired generators tripped out and eastern Australia teetered on the edge of widespread blackouts.

But renewable energy proved totally reliable. NSW coalition energy minister Don Harwin commented: “Clean energy performed as forecast, thermal generation did not”.

Australia’s energy policy is being determined by a federal coalition faction led by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and backed by the Minerals Council of Australia and the Murdoch media empire.

Abbott claims the Paris commitment was only “inspirational”, and if private firms won’t build new coal-fired power stations the government should do so. The government says it will release a new energy policy based on the recommendations of Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, but with a larger role for coal.

Finkel recommended accepting a clean energy target, with gas classified as “clean”, despite its carbon emissions, and with renewables having a 42 percent share of energy production by 2030, and coal 53 percent.

That wouldn’t meet Australia’s Paris commitment, but under the government’s plan, coal’s share would be even bigger, close to the anticipated “business as usual” level of 57 percent, with a feeble 35 percent from renewables.

And meanwhile, a climate change crisis is looming. Global temperatures and sea levels are rising. Massive storms have recently wrecked communities in the US, the Caribbean and Bangladesh.

Australia has experienced the warmest September on record. The bushfires that plague us in summer now appear in early spring.

Time is critical. To deal with climate change, the government should be taking control of energy production, replacing coal-fired power stations with renewable energy plants and back up facilities, facilitating the introduction of electric vehicles, protecting our cities against rising sea levels, and taking steps to prevent the spread of tropical diseases and conserve our water resources and agricultural land.

But instead, it’s guarding the fossil industries and slowing down the transition from coal to new clean technology, thereby denying the people of Australia protection from the terrible impacts of climate change.

For the sake of this and future generations, at the earliest opportunity we must replace it with a new government dedicated to winning the climate change struggle at all costs.

Next article – Stop the forced closure

Back to index page

Go to What's On Go to Shop at CPA Go to Australian Marxist Review Go to Join the CPA Go to Subscribe to the Guardian Go to the CPA Maritime Branch website Go to the Resources section of our web site Go to the PDF of the Hot Earth booklet go to the World Federation of Trade Unions web site go to the Solidnet  web site Go to Find out more about the CPA