Australia’s Renewable Energy Target: Pure Political Poison for PM, Malcolm Turnbull

Not for the first time and not for the last time, Australia’s PM, Malcolm Turnbull is facing a nemesis of his own creation.

The first time round, as Liberal opposition leader, Turnbull’s innate desire to pander to inner-city lefties had him snuggle up to Labor (the party he was naturally designed to lead) and advocate for a broad-based Federal tax on CO2 emissions.

That dalliance cost him the leadership, as Tony Abbott fronted the Liberal/National party room, vowed to reject any kind of ‘carbon tax’ put up by Labor and to repeal any such tax if in government: Abbott took the leadership baton by a single vote. Abbott went on to win a landslide victory in 2013 and scrapped Labor’s ‘carbon tax’ the following year.

This time round, Tony Abbott (having been knifed as a sitting PM by Turnbull in September 2015) is merrily throwing hand grenades from the back bench, lobbing them into the Turnbull camp’s tent and watching the PM’s few die-hard loyalists squirm.

The best target Tony has is the target that has all but destroyed Australia’s once cheap and reliable power supplies: the Federal government’s Large-Scale Renewable Energy Target.

Tony Abbott has been excoriated in the press for ‘undermining’ Turnbull, by demanding that the LRET be capped where it is (fixed at the total annual contribution of wind and large-scale solar, which is currently around 16,000 GWh), demanding an end to subsidies for wind and solar and pushing for the construction high-efficiency, low-emissions (HELE) coal-fired plant.

All sensible stuff, in a country where retail power prices have just risen 20%, year-on-year, power costs to businesses have tripled in 3 years and that wind power ‘power-house’, South Australia has been forced to urgently ship in 100, 2MW diesel generators (at a cost of more than $100m) to prevent a recurrence of the mass blackouts and load-shedding that occurred after its hapless Labor government gleefully allowed its last coal-fired plant to close last May. It could have kept the Northern plant at Port Augusta chugging along for less than $25 million, and avoided hundreds of millions in losses caused to business by wind power output collapses and the ensuing blackouts and load-shedding.

If anything, Tony Abbott is doing his Country a service by going after the elephant in the room: the one which has all but destroyed Turnbull’s grip on the leadership of the Liberals; and, if not tackled now, the one which will destroy the Liberal party, for good.

Graham Richardson was renowned as a Labor ‘numbers man’ (read ‘head-kicker’) in the Hawke/Keating era. These days, he’s a talking head on Sky News and columnist for The Australian. Here he is casting his (once) discerning eye over the poisonous politics of power.

Clean energy target political poison for PM
The Australian
Graham Richardson
7 July 2017

That document has caused great angst within both the Liberal Party and the Nationals. In a period when not much has gone their way, many Liberals saw Labor’s renewable energy target of 50 per cent by 2030 as perhaps the only real political advantage the Coalition could use in an election campaign. The target was seen as absurdly large and as impossible to implement. Tony Abbott as prime minister had signed up to 23 per cent and the vast difference between a target twice as large gave hope to the Coalition.

Given the catastrophic failures to keep the lights on in South Australia and the closure of the Hazelwood power plant in Victoria, the Liberals believed that a climate had been created in which there was every chance Labor’s lead in the polls could be pulled back.

The old saying is that you should never hold an inquiry unless you are certain of its results. Obviously, Malcolm Turnbull must have some misgivings about the Finkel report even if his private leanings tend towards believing in climate change. For a start, he had made so many promises and undertakings to the right of his partyroom that he could not seek to bat on with real adherence to a belief in climate change. If the right believed the Prime Minister had broken faith with it over what it sees as a fundamental issue, then his leadership was bound to come under real pressure. The talk of a coup would have been more about “when” rather than “if”.

When the Liberals’ Angus Taylor told me on Richo on Sky News a few weeks back that there were 99 recommendations in the Finkel report, my response was there was only one that mattered. When Finkel used the number of 42.5 per cent as a clean energy target, Labor received a most unexpected windfall. It could so easily accept the 42.5 figure because it had already acknowledged that its own 50 per cent RET was unrealistic and unachievable.

A couple of months ago Chris Bowen changed Labor’s rhetoric on this issue. He began to refer to the RET as an aspirational aim rather than a binding target. This was clever politics from the Treasury spokesman because he turned the 50 per cent figure, which was the source of so much media and political criticism, into a non-event. For Labor, Finkel’s report was manna from heaven.

When your political fortunes are at historically low levels, losing an advantage such as this is a bitter pill to swallow. On the very first day that the Finkel report was presented to the joint partyroom, 22 dissidents recognised instantly the dangers inherent in accepting the report. Turnbull and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg have been desperately trying to navigate their way through a newly laid minefield. It seems to me that the only way forward for them is to dump the Finkel target and pretend it never existed. By adopting the more harmless recommendations of the report, Alan Finkel can be offered a fig leaf to cover up what is left of his reputation.

This exercise may have begun with Finkel universally acclaimed as Australia’s Chief Scientist but it has not ended well for him. Henry Ergas on this page has seriously questioned the modelling used by Finkel in preparing his report, and it will prove politically suicidal to adopt the single most important recommendation he delivered.

I would love to have been a fly on the wall during this week’s cabinet deliberations. The competing views around that table will have risen to shrieking pitch and the result will be eagerly awaited. I can’t see any way the Finkel CET can be adopted.

As Frydenberg wrestles with this one, spare a thought for him as he tries to find a solution to the reliability, affordability and sources of our future energy mix.

Finkel suggests that batteries can only provide up to 1½ hours of power per day. Despite its proponents taking it up, battery technology is many years away from being reliable enough to be counted on as any part of baseload power.

It seems to me that there will be a two or three-decade need for coal-fired base power. Given the number of coal-fired power stations coming off line due to retirement because of age, something must be done about new coal-fired power. If the country does have a gap in its energy needs that can only be filled by coal-fired generation then government intervention in the market may well be needed. It may well be that the business case for building a coalfired power generator will not cover an asset that has only two or three decades to run to pay back a sufficient return for its investors. Government guarantees may prove to be a minimum requirement for such an enterprise.

None of this will be easy for the government, as long as Labor and the Greens continue their implacable opposition to anything related to coal. As Paul Murray from Sky News discovered this week when he went to Townsville to bring his program to the regions, in far north Queensland a large majority of people favour coalmines and coal-fired power generators.

Where jobs are needed, the punters have little time for the effete pursuits of inner-city elites.

Up there in the real world, the costs of those pursuits are borne by people hungry for work and their fair share of the good life.

Where jobs are needed, punters have little time for the effete pursuits of inner-city elites.
The Australian

Alan Finkel: enemy of the Australian people.


Graham Richardson once had one of the sharpest political eyes in the business. However, that he is still contemplating Josh Frydenberg as part of the solution, indicates that Richardson has lost the edge.

Josh Frydenberg is part of the problem, not part of the solution. He continues to mouth odes to non-existent grid-scale battery storage and spouts rubbish such as, the technology of wind power is ‘improving all the time’.

Melbourne born and bred, as a big-city boy, Frydenberg might not appreciate that the ‘technology of meteorology’ is just as fickle as it has been since the dawn of time. He might start by asking his mates at Infigen who, yet again, blamed ‘poor wind conditions’ as the reason for their mounting, consecutive multi-million-dollar losses: Shock, Horror! Wind Power Output Depends on Wind: Infigen Blames ‘Lack of Wind’ for Losses

But at least Richardson hasn’t fallen for the ‘giant batteries will save us mantra’.

Which brings us to notice the hysterical (in every sense of that word) media frenzy that surrounded yet another ‘announcement’ about South Australia signing up to purchase a mega-battery from Californian carpetbagger, Elon Musk.

Every one of his businesses exists, and only exists, by reason of massive state and federal government subsidies. Notwithstanding, US taxpayer largesse worth billions of dollars, Tesla shares slumped by 20% in the week before his showboating trip to South Australia, wiping $7.18 billion from Tesla’s market value in just two trading sessions.

As someone apparently programmed to run on other people’s money and, yet, still capable of losing $billions, Elon Musk has found a natural home in Australia’s perpetual mendicant State, South Australia. Little wonder he was so warmly embraced by Jay Weatherill last week. For an example of how cynical SA’s Labor government is and how gullible Australia’s media are, see this fawning piece of propaganda from the ABC: Elon Musk: Is his ‘100 days or it’s free’ promise actually legitimate?

There still seems to be some confusion about just how big Musk’s mega-battery is meant to be.

Some articles have referred to it being 100 MW (a fixed total capacity), while Musk himself claims it will 129 MWh (a rate of delivery of a volume of power over time).

Bear in mind that the next largest battery storage system is a mere 30 MW and that the combined (notional) capacity of SA’s 18 wind farms is 1,698 MW. Even if the (yet to be built) battery system were to deliver 129 MWh, the hullabaloo in the media over Musk’s mega-battery is not so much a storm in a teacup, as a zephyr in a thimble.

The usual suspects – The Guardian, SBS, and the Fairfax press – collectively heralded Musk’s battery as the ‘death of coal’ and, therefore, the salvation of their beloved but embattled wind power.

Not so fast.

Reports of the ‘death of coal’ have been greatly exaggerated plenty of times before, by a class of people who haven’t the faintest clue about how power is generated, distributed or even used.

Mathematics isn’t one of their strongest points, either.

So, here is a short lesson on just what Musk’s mega-battery might actually do.

For the record, there is no grid-scale battery storage system operating anywhere in the world; and when we say ‘grid-scale’ we mean capable of storing hundreds of MWhs, rather than the 100-129 MWh being touted by Tesla.

Also for the record, batteries do not generate power they simply store it; the power put into them has to come from some generation source at a cost, they take time to charge and discharge only as fast the laws of physics, namely thermodynamics, permits. Moreover, as every mobile phone owner knows, batteries have a limited lifespan measured in ‘cycles’: the number of times that a battery can be charged and its energy discharged before it ceases to hold any meaningful charge.

For a State that can’t make a decision on setting up a facility to store nuclear waste, it will be interesting to see how its bumbling Labor government handles hundreds of tons of toxic, heavy-metal filled batteries at the end of their economic life, assumed to be little more than 7 years.

For ease of example we’ll start on the assumption that the battery in question would have a capacity of 100 MWh; on that basis, Musk’s battery would last all of four minutes if being used to satisfy the bottom end of South Australia’s daily demand of 1,500 MW.

The maths is pretty simple.

If the volume of power being delivered by generation sources over one hour is 1,500 MW, then a battery aiming to deliver 100 MW over that same hour represents 1/15 of the power being delivered by generators during that hour: 100/1,500 x 60 minutes = 4 minutes. Four minutes is barely enough time for South Australians to find their matches and secure their candles.

Another reference point are those occasions when wind power output suddenly collapses, tripping the interconnectors with Victoria which supply SA with reliable, base-load coal-fired power from Victoria, resulting in the loss of around 500 MW in an instant (see our post here).

A 100 MWh battery would last 12 minutes, if being used to plug that 500 MW gap: 100/500 x 60 minutes = 12 minutes. 12 minutes would be just enough time to fire up an OCGT from a hot start.

Now, let’s assume the battery is capable of delivering 129 MWh (such that after 1 hour it will have dumped its load, be exhausted and require recharging). The battery would then supply SA’s minimum demand for a little over 5 minutes: 129/1,500 x 60 minutes = 5.16 minutes.

But those numbers flatter Musk’s mega-battery.

A better test is to calculate how long it would last when SA’s demand hits its summer time peak.

One example was on 8 February this year when demand peaked at over 3,000 MW: it was over 42°C across SA, breathless and ACs were being cranked up as people returned to their stifling homes  – hence a 1,000 MW collapse in wind power output late that afternoon, resulted in mass load-shedding, that left 90,000 families boiling in the dark (see our post here).

On such an occasion, Musk’s battery wouldn’t power SA long enough to boil an egg: 129/3,000 x 60 minutes = 2.58 minutes. OK, a soft-boiled egg, maybe.

No one is saying how long it would take to recharge the battery after it is spent; or how many discharge/re-charge cycles might be expected from it and therefore its economic lifespan. And no one has stopped to work out a cost comparison using much cheaper lead-acid batteries. But we are, after all, talking about a cynical government controlling a merry band of useful idiots in the press.

Anyone claiming that battery storage is an economic means of providing electricity at any meaningful scale is deluding themselves, as South Australia’s political leaders and media pack most certainly are.

There is a reason that there is no grid-scale battery storage operating anywhere in the world. At enormous cost, South Australians are about to learn precisely why that is the case.

Weatherill’s worship of Musk and his long-promised battery should be seen for what it is: energy security theatre.

Quietly, with no fanfare at all, South Australia is busily setting up 200 MW of diesel generation capacity, capable of providing that volume of power around-the-clock.

SA’s diesel generation fleet won’t go flat, won’t require recharging and will help keep the lights on and ACs running for just as long as SA Power Networks determines to pour millions of litres of diesel in the tank.

SA’s fleet of diesel generators will swing in alongside the 500-700 MW of coal-fired power produced in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley, delivered daily, on-demand, via the Heywood and MurrayLink interconnectors; another troublesome fact for Weatherill, well-suppressed by the wind cult in SA.

For Jay Weatherill and his loyal press pack, coal-fired power from Victoria and hundreds of local diesel generators, spewing out tonnes of the dreaded CO2 gas – along with a whole bunch of real nasties – don’t fit the narrative: that’s what’s called in the trade, an ‘inconvenient truth’.

An inconvenient truth: no fanfare for what will actually power SA.

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.


  1. estherfonc says:


    Here’s the link to the Petition on the Federal Government website for Australia to Withdraw from The Paris Climate Agreement.

    Please Sign it by clicking on the link below and please also share it with everyone you know.

    There are only 2259 signatures to date, so it needs to move FAST !

    ONLY 2 DAYS left to sign Petition – Closes on 19/7/17.



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