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old King Coal « Previous | |Next »
June 19, 2011

Australia has an incredible supply of sunshine, a host of technologies that could meet our needs, and the 5% emissions-cut target that we need to meet. So why, given all the rhetoric about a clean energy future, is Australia's commitment to solar so half-hearted? Why the stop and start state programmes for the small scale, decentralized rooftop solar (PV) for households? Why the failure to shift to large-scale solar to power regional cities?

solarpower.jpg A concentrating solar power (CSP) plant in Spain that uses panels to reflect light on to a central tower to produce electricity.

What is ignored by those who attack the subsidies for solar power is the current economic subsidies to fossil fuels that amount to at least $10 billion per year nationally. So the issue is not one about government subsidies for the renewable industry versus no subsidies.

Mark Diesendorf, the deputy director, Institute of Environmental Studies at University of New South Wales, says:

There is really only one plausible explanation for Australia’s piecemeal and ineffective set of solar policies: the immense political power of Australia’s big greenhouse polluters.If you want to point a finger, point it at the coal industry.

The choice of new electricity generation technology is not between nuclear and coal, but instead is between nuclear and a combination of energy efficiency and renewable energy, with gas playing a transitional role as back-up. Given its very high capital costs the current economics of nuclear power make it an unattractive option for new generating capacity. Embarking upon a nuclear energy program entails very large economic risks and potential losses of billions of dollars per reactor compared with a mix of energy efficiency, renewable energy and gas.

That leaves renewable energy. Hence the attempts to strangle this new form of energy by the fossil fuel industry---solar is dismissed as cute, niche technology, there is a concerted campaign to scrap the Feed in Tariffs (FITS), and restrict the government funding to large-scale installations.

We shouldn't forget that the rarely acknowledged but irreconcilable conflict of interest when the mining industry on the one hand calls for expanded nuclear power to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while on the other hand the same companies producing uranium in Australia are even more rapidly expanding their coal mines in eastern Australia. That is, the two dominant uranium exporters, BHP Billiton from Olympic Dam and Rio Tinto through their majority (~68%) share of Energy Resources of Australia who operate the Ranger mine in the Northern Territory, both earn considerably more profits from coal than they do from uranium exports.

Secondly, the problem is that much of Australia’s, and especially Victoria’s, coal fired capacity is getting old---eg., Hazelwood and Yallourn stations provide 30% of the state’s capacity and are both past or nearing their use-by date. These old stations have essentially been paid for, and are now running on just operation and maintenance costs. If If Australia is to be serious about cutting its greenhouse emissions, then the existing brown-coal-fired power plants such as Hazelwood and Yallourn have to close as soon as possible.

Eventually the old plants like Hazelwood will be retired, new plants (either gas or renewable) will have to be built and financed, and financing costs money. So even without climate change and a carbon tax, as the old plants are retired and new infrastructure is built to replace the old, we will see a substantial increase in electricity prices.

Increased generating and distribution costs are the main drivers, due to an aging fleet of power plants and a change in the demand pattern---the demand is on the hottest summer days, and the increase is mainly due to increased use of air-conditioners. So it makes sense to invest in solar--both small and large scale since what it produces can match increased demand.

The question then becomes: Will the Latrobe Valley necessarily remain an energy hub? Can it survive in a carbon-constrained world? What are the economic alternatives? If carbon capture proves viable 'it could make Gippsland the centre of a major national industry''. It is a big ''if'' and a huge gamble for Gippsland that may not pay off since carbon capture may never be viable. Clean coal will not save the Latrobe Valley.

So how does the Latrobe Valley reinvent itself?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:14 AM | | Comments (20)


One of the criticism from the fossil fuel shrills is that the sun doesn't shine at night.

They forget that in hot sunny countries like Australia the peak production coincides almost exactly to peak demand; that solar power can be stored during the day and then used at night in hybrid configuration with gas (or even coal); and that power generated by the fossil fuel industry will continue, though its market share will gradually decline.

The fossil fuel shrills come across as Luddites.

Feed in Tariffs (FITS have been introduced as a market priming initiative.

Based on the model successfully deployed in Germany in 2000 they were not intended to be capped, but to be progressively reduced year on year as the take up of solar PV and other renewable energy technologies grew, and installation costs fell.

The reason why the tariffs were set at very attractive levels at the outset was to encourage a variety of investors to engage and install renewable energy generators.

The main aim of FITS has been to encourage and accelerate the rapid growth of the Australian renewable energy sector

Powerful vested interests in the form of the fossil fuel industry have lobbied behind the scenes to try to top renewable energy projects that they don't own from gaining a foothold. Hence the attack on FITs in NSW by the O'Farrell Government.

The irony is that there is and has been massive interest from householders already in the FIT scheme and so the O'Farrell Government has had to partially back down.

Looks like the Moree Solar Farm will get up and running with it being a chosen project for govt subsidy - oops, I mean funding.

Should be an excellent project, Moree is apparently well suited with a combination of strong sun and predominantly clear days. We might be able to market our cotton as being processed with green power too. Certainly a lot of support for the project up here.

I think a similar project approved in Chinchilla, Qld.

a team at melbourne uni has plans ready to go for renewables.all they need is a bit of support.

I suppose the main downer with the sun is we cant dig it up and sell it to solve our immediate problem. Which is a need for money. Coal give us that solution and is very lucrative.
Mining the sun through solar power is a long way off being as viable as digging a hole in the ground. Yes its cleaner but thats not the point of profit.

From what I can gather is that there is a conflict within the multiparty talks about a carbon tax in Canberra over the level of support to be given to the renewable industry.

The Greens want to drive the development of the renewable industry and use some of the the money from the carbon tax. Labor, as expected is resistant. It wants to support the coal fired power energy producers big time.

Australia has a target of 5% emissions. Germany has a 35% target and it is pouring money into renewable energy to replace the energy produced from the dirty old coal-fired power stations.

John Humphreys, the editor-in-chief of Menzies House, says at The Drum that:

for people interested in evidence-based policy the conclusion is clear: a carbon price is bad policy. If we want to see action taken on climate change, we need to start considering "no regret" policies. And nuclear power.

Peer review in science is seen by Menzies House as pal review. This is one tactic of the climate change denialists. "Pal review" implies junk science. Therefore, no scientific justification exists for emissions regulation.

Germany, Switzerland and Italy have all turned away from nuclear power. Its future in Europe is bleak. So how come it is the only solution in Australia? Humphrey doesn't even mention what investing in renewable energy has to offer Australia. He's an ideologue.

I understand that the large scale Moree Solar Farm in western NSW is based on large photovoltaic cells using trackers. The 150 MW Moree Solar Farm has had a subsidy of $306 million in funds from the federal government through its solar flagship program, and $120 million from the state government. It is driven by Spain’s Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV) with BP Solar and Pacific Hydro as the consortium minority partners.

It will be completed around 2015, if it can obtain a power purchase agreement and is able to lock in a banking syndicate for another $500m. It is a phased development and it is hoped that it will begin producing around 2013.

I understand that the solar dawn project at Chinchilla in Queensland--hybrid/gas solar thermal--- was also given the go ahead under Round 1 of the Australian Government’s $1.5 billion Solar Flagships program. Irony of ironies, it is driven by the French nuclear giant Areva with help from Wind Prospect CWP and operated by CS Energy.

I agree with the Greens when they say:

(1) that industrial scale solar power is booming in Europe and America where they have either technology-specific feed-in tariffs or loan guarantees.
(2) That is the kind of systemic but low-cost policy that is needed, not a one-off and highly conditional cash splash.
(3) Australia needs to put in place well-designed policies and funding streams that will create a flourishing industry and start building solar power stations in Australia.
(4) what is needed in the second round of the Solar flagships program is a dozen or more smaller projects of around 50MW to test the various technologies, conditions, grid connections in the country.

Where was Tony Abbott when the large scale solar projects was announced? Why, at a coal mine in the Hunter Valley complaining about a carbon price destroying businesses and bankrupting households. Says it all.

solar is a very flexible technology and Australia has got the best solar resources--all that sunshine-- of any country in the world.

We can use it on residential roofs, on commercial roofs and on large scale power plants, such as the recently announced photovoltaic Moree Solar Farm in NSW and the Solar Thermal project at Chinchilla in Queensland.

Solar power is very useful.

Who that comments here has it on their roof. Do you?

you can see on the thread of this earlier post. fred has also commented on this post about his experiences. Here is an article in The Age on solar complaints.

Les, we have solar panels recently put on our shed roof, about 1.5Kw capacity. Have been a bit too busy with harvest to have taken notice on how they are performing mid-winter.

Gary, our local Nationals MP in NSW Kevin Humphries was very involved in getting solar power on the political table and getting behind Moree as a potential site. I don't think there is any political ill-will toward solar, we know it is expensive but we also know fossil fuel is finite. Not every country is as fortunate, so Abbott shouldn't worry too much about the miners.

There wouldn't be too many countries better suited to solar power than Australia. Start up costs are high, but running costs are very low - as long as the plants lifetime is long. Our main concern will be hailstorms, though the tracking system panels may be able to rotate out of harms way.

One small drawback will be that it would take about 500 Moree sized plants to supply Australias current electricity demand in terms of outright annual production vs consumption. Leaving aside night, cloudy weather etc issues that is.

The Moree site is 1000ha from memory, so I think the future is more likely to be in rooftop solar where there will be less dedicated land required.

you mean by 'local' your state MP-- the Member for Barwin?

I note that in his inaugural speech in 2007 to the NSW Parliament Kevin Humphries says in the context of the cut backs to the Namoi Valley's historical overallocation of water that:

It is my belief that the process undertaken in the Namoi was a disaster not only for those affected but also for environmental outcomes in general.
A mistrust is now pervading the relationship between resource management authorities and farming communities. The lack of consistent policy direction, due process and management of water is also reflected in land management. New South Wales has had a period of government that reflects an anti-farming mentality, driven by an extreme point of view, a poor understanding of modem farming practice, a populist belief of what constitutes a green credit and a general disconnect from the fact we live largely in a wide brown land.
At a recent forum held in Dubbo on invasive native scrub, the Chair of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Don Burke, said,' It is the extreme environmentalists who are the greatest danger to the environment.' The best people to look after our land and environment are the people who live there, our farmers.

Yeah right. He's got that wrong. In 2007 Don Burke was the Chair of the Australian Environment Foundation--not the ACF. The AEF are no friends of renewable energy. They are vocal in a range of areas, including support for the logging and nuclear industries, and in opposition to 'draconian' native vegetation legislation to curtail broadscale land clearing.

It is the Greens who have consistently fought in Canberra for large scale investment in renewable energy as an infant industry in Australia and coherent energy policies to facilitate the emergence of a renewable energy industry. Not the Nationals. Barnaby Joyce travels the country as a fair ground clown mocking the possibility of a renewable energy industry and green jobs. It's all a mirage and powder dust he says.

So the Nationals say one thing in Canberra and do something completely different on the local ground. Or is Humphries more akin to a Tony Windsor--someone able to think for himself about what is best for his local electorate in regional Australia?

It's good to see that some state National MPs --like Kevin Humphries--can see the significance of renewable energy for regional Australia's economy, and are prepared to act on their beliefs and do their bit to help get these projects up and running.

I thought that it was only the regional Independents such as Tony Windsor who were the ones who talked that kind of sense; had a grasp of what the future of regional Australia could be; and how to achieve it.

There are constant attacks on the credibility of renewable technologies (solar and wind) in the media in spite of the strong public support for renewable energy and their desire for more renewable energy.

Over the last few months, attacks from some sections of the media have increased in both volume and venom. These attacks range from being poorly informed, to outright misinformation.

All are orchestrated in a way that suggests that a series of well-funded, politically-motivated campaigns are underway.

This suggests an opposition to an Australia with a clean energy future., which is what Australians want.

It sounds like the coal industry has leant from the tobacco industry. The coal industry is basically attacking any threat to their dominance of electricity generation in Australia.

It is only a matter of time before the Hazelwood power station in there La Trobe Victoria is closed down. It would deliver a big carbon reduction as it is e least carbon efficient power station in the OECD nations. It now averages up to 16.0 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year (the second highest emitter in the Latrobe Valley), which is 3 % of Australia's total carbon dioxide emissions, and 9 % of Australia's total CO2 from electricity generation.[

It's crunch time, though as Hazelwood has a 1,600 megawatt capacity and supplies up to 25 per cent of Victoria's base load electricity and more than 5 per cent of Australia's total energy demand.

Gary, yes Kevin is state MP for Barwon. I'm not really into politics, but I do recognise when someone pushes hard to get things done. I do think he works for his electorate, and it doesn't seem to clash with party ideology.

Some of the Namoi farmers lost 87% of their groundwater entitlement. Perhaps they had to, however it was poorly and unsympathetically handled by the various depts.

Does the AEF still exist? I reckon Kevin would have been dropping Don Burkes name more than that of the AEF(or ACF for that matter). People still remembered Don at that stage.