Doomed Planet

When Even Bob Brown Gets It …

Some people think wind turbines are structures of beauty. Bob Brown is no longer among them and we’ve all had fun pointing out his apostasy. The half-million birds which turbines are estimated to kill every year in the US and the 200,000 German bats minced annually by the same machines might also take heart at his belated conversion, although the louder and less intelligent members of another species lately gluing themselves to Brisbane’s roads and elsewhere will probably take longer to absorb the truth about these taxpayer-supported environmental destroyers.

The sad truth is that many still see wind and solar power as the future, displacing those old-fashioned coal and nuclear plants. But even though wind and solar are said to be competitive, their supporters continue to demand increased subsidies, often dressed up as National Energy Guarantees or soft loans from the taxpayers’ greenbank, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Those subsidies have caused commercial coal generators to collapse, doubling the cost electricity and savaging its reliability.

In other words, and even allowing for Brown’s Damascene conversion, idiocy continues to prevail.

Shell has advocated getting rid of coal using measures that include a $250 carbon tax (Gillard’s was only $20), that increases the price of electricity fivefold plus several new Greenbanks to subsidise the batteries that wind and solar need to back-up their intrinsically unreliable output. The Australian Financial Review, which generally supports renewable energy, sardonically noted that Shell CEO Ben van Beurden stepped out of his firm’s greenhouse-gas spewing corporate jet to advocate the emissions plan. Meanwhile, the delightfully named Ursula von Der Leyen, the new EU President,  had herself elected by backing a plan to see a 50 per cent renewables share in the EU by 2030, something Boris Johnson also says he supports.

There’s almost certainly not a megawatt of wind/solar anywhere in the world that has been built without subsidy. And while global construction is slowing, due to lowered Chinese subsidies, the existing momentum means further construction will continue. For Australia, wind/solar is projected to represent 16 per cent of supply this year. Not only is this driven by subsidies and regulations but it requires ever more of them in order to shore up the commercial market that is being poisoned. Hence more subsidies for pumped-storage facilities, like Snowy 2, and the proposal to duplicate the Tasmania-mainland transmission line at a cost of $3 billion to allow a continued expansion of the renewables feeding their inconsistent contributions into the grid.

The latest: we have a “negawatts” proposal to set a baseline level of demand for firms and allow them to sell excess needs back to the grid when the price is high.  This will be subject to considerable gaming as players exaggerate how much they might have used in order to increase their payments. One ludicrous forecast was that it would reduce prices by 25 per cent. Stupid policy, yes indeed, but not entirely new. A variation has long been in the armoury of the market manager under provisions known as the Reserve Trader. Retailers are also able to negotiate with their customers for load shedding.   What is new is that in the first 15 years of the national market, before subsidies started to destroy it, reserve trading never actually occurred.  It has now become common as wind has created massive market price volatility and dangers of black-outs.  The ACCC is promoting the new measure, mistakenly believing it might temper what it sees as generator market power.  But the intervention reflects the damage inflicted on our system by politicians and regulators.

Another non-solution is carbon capture and storage to eliminate emissions from coal generators, championed by  David Byers, the CO2CRC chief executive. Australian taxpayers under Kevin Rudd bankrolled a $700 million initiative for this. Ten years on, there is no carbon-capture commercial plant operating anywhere in the world and, even if the technology were to prove feasible, widespread implementation would double the already staggering cost of electricity.

To get back to commercial normality, abolition of subsidies is essential.  But even this may not be sufficient since, first, the market is poisoned by zero marginal cost renewables preventing coal operating as it should to provide the bedrock of a low-cost, reliable electricity supply system. Secondly, fossil fuel outfits are being demonised not only by green shareholder agitators, such as the group called Market Forces, but also by superannuation funds increasingly controlled by activists, especially union activists.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor thinks that holding firm, not expanding, existing commitments (even keeping the subsidy behind the rapidly expanding increase in rooftop solar). He is deferring a new Commonwealth state ministers meeting, recognising that this is just a means to bring further pressure on the Commonwealth to expand support for renewables.  And he was quick to point out the unacceptably high transmission costs entailed in the wind/solar expansion championed by the Victorian energy minister and the head of AEMO, Audrey Zibelman.

So there you have it. Bob Brown floats gently back to Planet Earth and confronts reality while the policies he once championed continue to take their toll, albeit with what appear to be ministerial reservations. Killing birds by their thousands is one thing. Killing their killers quite another.

 

 

8 comments
  • T B LYNCH

    Nature has been doing the correct amount of carbon capture and storage for billions of years. The process is called coral reefs and their product limestone = calcium carbonate = the White Cliffs of Dover.
    Carbon storage involves stealing away carbon from animals and plants, who actually need it to live.
    Fortunately the Romans started to reverse this process when they invented cement, thus restoring some carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, from whence it came.

  • Davidovich

    There is a massive amount of money behind the renewables industry which is fighting with all its might to further the proliferation of this intermittent and unreliable energy source. The vested interests have no desire to lower the exorbitant electricity costs as all they are interested in is getting maximum returns on their investments. If Angus Taylor understands the problem, he seems unable to resolve it and it is doubtful the newly elected Government has the stomach for a fight with this industry.

  • ianl

    Been clearly stated quite a few times now.

    There is no way of avoiding grid collapse. Nothing we can do will prevent it now. We are yet again giving tax money to private enterprises to *NOT* produce.

    When I first read Catch22, lo many decades ago, I genuinely believed the alfafa farm sequence (where farmers were made rich by being paid out of tax *NOT* to grow alfafa) was just a clever piece of witty sardonicism. How wrong I was.

    Those who self-label as “elite” are truly, truly stupid.

  • pgang

    Ianl grid collapse isn’t the issue as it won’t happen. As prices increase, electricity demand will decrease as our economy hits the wall. What this is leading to is a society of haves and have-nots as only the wealthy few, with well paid employment, will be using much if any electricity.

  • pgang

    Referring to my comment above, I understand that such a scenario is regarded by many as utopian.

  • rod.stuart

    Dr. Brown is entirely consistent, if you recognise that his objectives have nothing relative to the environment, or the cost of electricity, but the destruction of capitalism. Dr. Brown has always opposed any sort of development, including so-called “renewables” beginning with his opposition to the Franklin Dam.

    The State wittingly enticed heavy industry to come with the promise of affordable energy. Once that had been established, allowing for some Tasmanian prosperity, a fringe of the electorate cried foul because heavy industry was enjoying affordable power. That fringe has always been hypocritical.

    Now that much of that industry has been driven off, there is little remaining to export other than the electricity.

    No renewable, including hydro, can provide the reliability, security, and affordability that fossil fueled power generation can. Therefore reliance on hydro requires an alternate source, as Tasmania found out in late 2015. Brown’s original idea of using Fingal Valley coal as an insurance policy is the only one that makes sense.

    Local councils bleat about a “climate emergency”. Where and what is this “climate crisis” supposed to be? The climate of Tasmania has been classified as cfd (Koppen-Geiger) for over a hundred years, and as is the case with every other region on the planet, that classification has not significantly changed. In fact, if one understands the definition of “climate” there has been no significant permanent change in climate in the entire continent since the end of the LIA, and quite possibly before that. (That is, in Kolppen-Geiger classification. There may have been some change in Trewartha classification due to the added greening of the past three or four decades.)

    As for the malarkey about CO2, folks will be pleased to know that just this month no less than FOUR scholarly papers have been published which DISPROVE the notion that atmospheric CO2 is any way shape or form related to the weather. It has been a farce from the very beginning, and the most damaging hoax ever to be foisted on humanity. Not since King James I published his work “Daemonology” has there been such mass hysteria about superstitious nonsense.

  • Bill Martin

    The zealots fervently supporting the concept of renewable energy whatever the cost can be divided into two distinct groups: the “true believers”, motivated by genuine concern for the “future of the planet” on environmental grounds, and the “rentseekers” whose motivation is the opportunity to profit from the process. The first group, including the terrified school children marching and crying in support of the great green programs, are famous for their absolute ignorance of all the relevant facts. The second group, led by the most famous and successful of them all, Al Gore, includes all the scientists whose continuing lucrative employment depends on the churning out of end!ess arrays of terrifying computer models predicting the inevitability of our doom unless we follow their wise counsel, and all the entrepreneurs running enterprises in the service of the lunacy known as CAGW. Some even have a foot in both camps.

  • Russell Potter

    The article conveys the idea that Bob Brown’s concern about birds is that they”ll be hit by wind turbines but, on reading the article to which it links, I get the impression it might be more due to his worry about something like possible disruption to any nearby migration routes

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