Grapeshot Q&A: The Future of Australian Energy

Image Credit: News Corp

Satyajeet Marar, Member of the MQ Liberal Club

When political elites dictate lofty renewable energy targets and push ill-thought interventionist policies to achieve them, it is the poor who suffer the most and the rich who stand to benefit from the subsidies. Surging power prices in South Australia which receives 41% of its energy from the heavily-subsidised renewable energy sector confirm this. The state is currently planning to shut down its one remaining coal-fired power generator and wants to grow its wind farm industry with Premier Jay Wetherill committing SA to a 50% renewable energy target by 2025 and promising that thousands of jobs in the new industry would be created. 2 years after that promise was made, the vast number of jobs have not materialised and SA has one of the highest unemployment rates of any Australian state or territory at 7%.

To make matters worse, some of the state’s largest employers including BHP Biliton have announced that they may have to cease operations in South Australia due to power supply instability. The fact is that when power outage events occur, old-school power stations have to be called upon to reboot things because wind turbines are incapable of turning themselves on if there is a dearth in supply. The same principle applies to solar energy – if the sun isn’t shining and the skies are rather cloudy, energy simply cannot be produced. The closure of coal-based power generation in the state is hence a worrying prospect.

Though the recent blackouts were triggered by a one-off weather event and not by a failure of wind turbines, over-reliance on this industry which is currently more expensive and less reliable than conventional carbon-based energy sources fails to offer a sustainable solution to the energy needs of the state or to provide certainty of a stable power supply demanded by businesses. This is further evident in South Australia’s reliance upon an interconnector in Victoria to meet its power needs. What point is there in spending government funds on artificially propping up the renewable energy industry when the state can’t even be self-sufficient in meeting its energy needs?

There will be a time when it is appropriate to switch to renewable energy sources. But at a time when Australia still holds rich reserves of carbon-based energy capable of providing a cheap and efficient way to meet the needs of our people and when renewable energy remains expensive enough that it cannot compete against other energy industries without government handing out taxpayer money, that time definitely isn’t now.

Our state governments do a great disservice to the people when they prioritise well-intentioned renewable energy targets over energy security and reducing the heavy costs borne by individuals and businesses. PM Turnbull is right in arguing that state governments should stop playing political games by competing to promise increasing renewable energy targets and should instead commit to a viable national energy target that is cogent of practical realities. How is it fair for South Australia to commit itself to a target that might force it to rely upon other states to meet its needs as it strives for that target?

Our bureaucrats are out on a moral crusade for clean energy, yet lack the cojones to advocate for nuclear power – the cleanest energy source there is and an energy source for which Australia possess reserves aplenty. Instead they would push costly policies connoting energy insecurity upon Australians and dictate to us that we must ‘ration our consumption’ when these policies cause price surges.

Lizzie Green, President of MQU Labor

The renewable energy debate was resparked after wild weather in South Australia caused a statewide blackout. South Australia’s use of renewable energy came under attack by climate change skeptics and our own Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and this instantly became the blame for the blackout.

Energy experts were quick to rule out the use of renewables as the cause for the blackout. “It’s basically just unlucky in terms of both timing and location. It could happen in NSW, it just so happens it happened to be in the state with the most political discussion around renewable energy recently,” Dylan McConnell, a research fellow at the Melbourne Energy Institute at the University of Melbourne told AAP. He added that even if SA’s two coal power stations, that have been closed, had been operating they wouldn’t have helped because they’re on the other side of where the infrastructure was damaged.

But PM Turnbull is still continuing to say SA’s blackout was a “real wake-up call” about renewable energy and that energy security must come before the “dramatic” use of renewable energy.

Now this is the same Malcolm Turnbull who, back before he sold himself to the right wing of his party, believed that we should be investing more in renewable energy. He even praised South Australia on its leadership in renewable energy only a couple of months ago!

Following his comments in the days following the blackout, Buzzfeed found a speech of Mr Turnbull’s from 2010, when he launched a clean energy report which called for 100% renewable energy by 2050. It showed the then backbencher argued “almost all” of Australia’s energy needs to be renewable by 2050 if the nation is to take appropriate action to halt the advance of climate change.

The backflip performed by Turnbull has shown how much he has given into people to the right of the Liberal Party who aren’t in favour of renewable energy being implemented in Australia.

This attack on renewable energy because of a obvious storm that has been labelled as a natural disaster is just proof of how this is politics for the Liberals.

The Labor Party, on the other hand, is committed to a target of 50% renewable energy by 2030. This includes not just large-scale renewables but small and industry based generation. By investing in renewable energy, we will see more jobs for Australians, lower power bills for families and small business and reducing pollution and decarbonising our economy.

If we as a country are serious about climate change, we should be looking at more investment into renewable energy, and making sure we keep up with the world, particularly in line with the Paris climate change conference’s targets earlier this year.

Individual states are serious about climate change, and reaching targets – we’ve seen it in SA, Victoria and Queensland. But why isn’t our Prime Minister serious in helping our target be reached nationally?

Malcolm should remember what he believed in his previous life before he became the Prime Minister, and make a serious argument for clean renewable energy in our country before it’s too late, not just politicise serious natural disasters and backflip to suit the puppeteers of his party.