Australia’s Renewable Energy Experiment a Monumental Disaster

Experience is the most expensive teacher there is.

For those gifted with our good friends, logic and reason, the principal lesson learned from failures suffered is to avoid their repetition at all costs.

Not so, when it comes to energy policy in Australia.

Despite monumental and irreversible failures such as Australia’s so-called wind power capital, South Australia, now the butt of international jokes; a 140% increase in the number of homes disconnected from the Australian grid because they are no longer able to pay rocketing power bills; year-on-year retail power price increases of 20%; a tripling of power costs to businesses in just on two years; and the threat of mass blackouts this summer (mimicking those suffered in South Australia following the closure of its last coal-fired power plant in May 2016, that occur whenever there is a total and totally unpredictable collapse in wind power output), there is a class programmed to ignore evidence and blunder on regardless.

The polished ignorance required for the deliberate repetition of the same course of action, in the light of disastrous results, is probably down to the fact that those in charge of Australia’s energy calamity are paid handsomely to squander other people’s money, rather than their own: experience may be a costly teacher, but not if somebody else is picking up the tab.

In this wrap up, Alan Moran takes a stick to those still pushing the delusion that Australia can run on sunshine and breezes and still remain a prosperous nation.

Electricity: All Hope is Lost
Quadrant Online
Alan Moran
13 July 2017

Alan Finkel’s otherworldly prognosis is bad enough. But toss in Malcolm Turnbull’s advocacy of renewables and then add an imported American chief regulator who would have been happier working for Hillary Clinton and where are you? The simple answer: thoroughly stuffed.

With Australian electricity prices now approaching world-beating highs, we have on Friday another meeting of the Council of Australian Government (CoAG) energy ministers who have created the current energy catastrophe.

They are to examine the Finkel report into electricity. Among the many counter-productive recommendations this report offered was an increase in the electricity market’s “governance”. This is a demand for even more of the political tinkering which, in the space of just 15 years, transformed the Australian electricity industry from the cheapest in the world to one of the dearest. Distortionary subsidies to renewable energy, which have also undermined reliability, are paramount in this.

Finkel decided that renewables are inevitable (which is why Malcolm Turnbull appointed him) and commissioned economic research to demonstrate that this is so. The modelling showed future lower prices from the substitution of wind/solar for lower cost coal. It did so by using two mechanisms.

First, it has the renewables subsidised and with priority access to the grid, meaning coal powered stations have either to run at a loss or close down. The optimists assume coal will run at a loss in an oversupplied market then close down in an ‘orderly’ manner.

In theory, this allows a second mechanism – forecast cost reductions of wind and solar – to swing in.

One shortcoming of this picture is that if the coal stations hit major expenditure needs at an inconvenient time, they will be forced to close down. This was the case with Hazelwood, which was operating in the face of Worksafe notices and requiring perhaps a billion dollars for new boilers. Finkel’s solution (adopted by politicians) of requiring three years notice of closure is absurd and unworkable.

Moreover, the fabled and imminent onset of cheap renewables will not occur, just as it has not ocurred through the past 30 years of similar erroneous predictions. Ah, but batteries will save the day, I hear some say. But no, they won’t. Batteries are simply a costly way of smoothing out the peaks of renewables’ intermittency.

Compared with the cost of coal at below $50 per MWh for new power stations and less than that for existing ones, wind is at least $90 plus the costs of storage ($14 according to the totally inadequate estimates published by Minister Josh Frydenberg) and requires aditional transmission expenditure.

With current policies having brought wholesale prices to around $100 per MWh, Finkel decided to airbrush from history the sub-$40 prices that prevailed until the renewable subsidies started to bite in 2016.

It is easy to forget the changes that the deregulation of energy created, before politics overturned its competitive nature.

With the reforms initiated in Victoria, some of them even underway from 1990 during a left-wing ALP government’s tenure, management of the power stations (and poles and wires) was taken away from the de facto union control that had developed over the previous quarter of a century. Benefits of the system’s reform were amplified by the privatisations.

Between 1990 and 2002, labour productivity in Victoria’s electricity generators (including contractors as well as employees,) rose from six man years per GWh to 36 GWh. The increased efficiency was also manifest in the generators’ “availability to run” which was lifted from under 80% to 95%, an outcome that effectively increased capacity by one fifth.

As the national market started to emerge, state-owned generators in New South Wales and South Australia were forced to follow the same cost-cutting path that the new rivals in Victoria had pioneered. The outcome was the low prices that did so much to engender the remarkable economic resurrection of Australia in the two decades to 2015.

It is hard to see how this, the free-market norm, can be recaptured. Green activists and subsidy seekers have combined to destroy Australia’s developed endowment of cheap coal-generated electricity.

Even the Australian Energy Market Manager (AEMO), the institution set up provide a technology neutral market management, has been undermined. The present head, Audrey Zibelman, filled the big shoes of predecessor Matt Zema when she came to Australia as a refugee from Hillary Clinton’s presidential defeat. The AEMO role is management rather than policy promotion and Zema was guarded in offering advice which ventured into politics.

By contrast Zibelman has flung herself into the political deep end. She has urged the adoption of the 42% renewable energy target favoured by Finkel, lifting the wind/solar subsidised component from its current 9%. At its current level, subsidised wind has already brought a doubling of wholesale prices and an unreliability that has offered an opening for notorious subsidy harvesters, think here of Elon Musk, to offer expensive panaceas.

Ms Zibelman says she wants us to get beyond the point when energy isn’t such an emotional issue. But this is shorthand for saying, “accept my position and let’s move on”. She likens her role with CoAG ministers to that of Google’s management which is “constantly planning and investing in their networks”. It is of course something of a stretch to compare a failed government monopoly institution to a globally successful outfit operating in a highly competitive market.

Energy ministers, with the partial exception of Frydenberg, continue to demonstrate their utter ignorance of markets in general and electricity in particular by rising to support and intensify the on-going market poisoning by government regulatory controls.
Quadrant Online

About stopthesethings

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

Comments

  1. Luckily for the rest of the world there is one dumb country stupid enough to try out all the theories on to see it they work. Older people can remember the wooden rod mathematics counting system that left a whole Australian generation math’s illiterate, then there was the get small and concentrate on your core work in businesses that sent a lot of them to the wall, another Harvard business theory, then there was the globalization theory taken on Hollis bolas by keating and his competition policy to see what would be the last business left standing in Australia. The list goes on and on as do the incompetent half witted Australian politicians who follow this rubbish because they have no ideas of their own. Now we are going to see Australia deindustrialised and rely on 10th century wind power. What Australia needs is a good examination by a reputable psychiatrist to see what has happened to a once prosperous country that has turned it into a fool’s paradise run by a bunch of failed lawyers.

  2. There is a financial angle here that should be mentioned, very evident here in the UK where the transmission system operator (National Grid) is a privatised company that advocates for more renewables because they make a lot of money from the extra poles/wires/controls needed. No industry wants stasis, because that restricts profits, but stasis is what consumers and the economy needs. There is an unholy alliance between capitalism and largely anti-capitalist politicians, and the only way to break it is via the power of consumers.

  3. Dumb and dumber

  4. Reading your blog leaves me cold and sick with frustration. I hope every MP is copied with your blog and updates. That so many so-called peoples representatives have been blind-sided by renewables as the panacea for our energy needs is utterly mind-boggling. Isn’t there anyone in government or on the opposition side of politics that can do the math without looking through Gaia glasses?

  5. Terry Conn says:

    Zibelman orchestrated, with no regret whatsoever, the destabilising of power to New York and a 55% higher price hike for electricity than the rest of the US in the years 2013-2016. A long time proponent of renewables it seems she intends to go down in history as actually putting the final nails in Australia’s coffin. How did she get this gig, and what can be done about it? Only the Australian people can fix this as the politicians are too witless and/or too gutless.

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