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Issue #1800      October 25, 2017

Fossilised

Is there a more ludicrous sight than the prime minister of this wealthy, first-world country on the campaign trail in the 21st century, promising people that their lights won’t go out this Summer? Australia is a sparsely-populated nation of only 22 million people with an abundance of means to deliver power to the homes of every person. So, how does such a peculiar situation arise?

For a start, both major parties, Liberal and Labor, are owned by the big mining transnationals; their subservience to the demands of fossil fuel purveyors have prevented the necessary renewable energy delivery being put in place.

The recently announced Frydenberg/Turnbull National Energy Guarantee (NEG) sets out to restrict the development and use of carbon neutral, renewable energy and promote coal-fired power stations and guarantee the future of coal and gas mining. NEG is yet another market-based approach based on private ownership of energy production and distribution.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his right-wing gang are also pushing uranium as a source of energy as they do the dirty work of the mining industry that is still in the driving seat on energy policy.

The clean energy target, supported by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, will be dumped under the NEG, which the government claims will cut power bills and reduce emissions.

The government claims that the NEG will guarantee lower prices and no blackouts. It has whipped up a fear campaign fuelled by lies about the causes of South Australia’s recent blackouts, which were not due to renewables, and how it will keep the lights on.

Markets over science

Science is replaced by “market expertise”. Under the NEG the government would shed its responsibilities to provide affordable and reliable energy to domestic and other users. The NEG still relies on the profit-based energy markets that created the crisis to deliver on prices and reliability.

The NEG would impose two obligations on energy retailers.

The first is to buy a minimum percentage of their energy from what is referred to as “dispatchable sources”. These are sources that have the flexibility to meet sudden changes in demand. At present this is presented as baseload sources such as from coal-fired power stations.

The aim is to prop up fossil fuels, ignoring the renewables with their growing potential for storage in the coming years. It will also affect gas producers in that they may have to make some reduction in their exports to meet domestic needs or increase production. While gas is not as large an emitter of greenhouse gases as dirty coal, it none-the-less is a fossil fuel that contributes to climate change.

These could be baseload sources such as coal, gas or pumped hydro, but also potentially wind and solar power, traditionally sources of intermittent power only usable immediately but becoming dispatchable as storage technologies improve.

That guarantee would have to be legislated at the state level, requiring state governments’ support just as the existing national electricity market does.

The second part of the NEG is the emissions guarantee, which would be imposed under federal legislation. Retailers would also have to ensure their overall energy mix from combined sources did not exceed a set level of emissions.

They would be required to supply energy at specified emission levels with the aim of meeting Australia’s Paris commitment to reduce overall emissions by 26-28 percent on 2005 levels by 2030. This might be an international obligation, but it is an abysmally low target, reflecting the government’s pro-fossil fuel policies.

Peanuts at best

As for the “savings” the government keeps boasting about, don’t hold your breath! According to the Australian Energy Market Commission’s head John Pierce, the different modelling scenarios indicate that the savings for a typical household bill could be as low as $25. The government claims they would be between $110 and $115 a year over the 2020- 2030 period.

The government is not even claiming that there will be any immediate relief for the thousands of families already relying on charities to pay their bills. The source of those claimed savings is not clear.

Will it be from reduced usage as more people are forced to turn their heating or fans off? Will it be from lower prices? There is no evidence to suggest the latter while we continue to rely on fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, the COALition government is doing little to encourage or support a reduction in the usage of electricity. It plans to cut all subsidies to renewable energy schemes by 2020. There is no talk of cutting the billions of dollars in subsidies and tax concessions to the fossil fuel industry.

Way forward

The government, instead of absolving itself of all responsibility for a green future, should be encouraging and subsidising the spread of solar panels, the installation of insulation in homes, factories and other businesses and carbon neutral renewable energy.

No private enterprise should have the power to arbitrarily shut down a plant.

Instead of handing responsibility over to the profit-driven private sector to use as a cash cow, the government should be nationalising energy production and distribution.

Energy is a crucial national asset that should be planned, owned and managed by government, for the benefit of all.

Carbon neutral, renewable energy is the only way forward. It will create many more jobs and provide a greater boost to the economy. At the same time is vital to mitigating climate change and leaving future generations a planet fit to inhabit.

This government must go and be replaced by a government that is not beholden to or prepared to sell its soul to the mining corporations or fossil fuel energy producers.

The most important step in the climate change struggle is to replace the Turnbull regime as rapidly as possible with a new, bold and environmentally-inspired government that will impose rigid controls over the private energy corporations – towards direct control over the industry – and dramatically cut our emissions in the interests of the nation and the planet.

Next article – Editorial – Unity is the key

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