Media

An Extended Romp Down the Green Garden Path

If you have ever wondered how green absurdities become articles of faith and public policy, look no further than the mainstream and specialist media, which has long ignored the maxim that if something seems too good to be true then it probably is. Case in point: the rise of Sanjeev Gupta (above) and, just at the moment, the state of the “green steel” titan’s empire as it wobbles on the brink. For those who haven’t been following the story, the BBC has a very good primer on the Indian tycoon’s woes, albeit focusing almost exclusively on his UK operations.

Closer to home,  those who look askance at the way woke world fantasies of cheap renewable energy are endorsed with taxpayer cash will know of Gupta from his much-lauded arrival in Whyalla, the purported saviour of that down-at-heel South Australian steel town. The ABC’s Stephen Long, for example, was one of many gushing nonsense without qualification in October 2018. “It’s a remnant of the Northern Power Station,” he began his report after noting a lonely chimney rearing above a bare plain, explaining it had been “one of two defunct coal-fired plants here that used to supply more than a third of South Australia’s electricity. Its boilers were detonated last December.”

The wisdom of blowing up key vertebrae in the backbone of South Australia’s energy supply left unquestioned, Long presented more green boosterism from the town’s mayor:

“In 2015 when they announced the closure of the [Northern] coal-fired power station, I said that Port Augusta would become the renewables capital of Australia,” Sam Johnson, the mayor of Port Augusta, said.

“Three years on, I think we have.”

Or soon will be.

That white light on the outskirts of town is a mere taste of the technology coming to Port Augusta on a far grander scale.

Thirteen renewable energy projects are underway or under consideration — from wind farms and pumped hydro-electric power to solar with storage that can shift electricity made when the sun’s shining to meet peak demand in the evening.

It is perhaps unfair to cite only the ABC correspondent’s wide-eyed gullibility because he had plenty of company then and later. The Guardian (of course) thought the entire scheme was a gee-whiz beaut idea, the then-Fairfax papers also raised no eyebrows even when, in 2019, Gupta sought federal government subsidies to keep Whyalla’s green transformation viable. Factor in the clamour of green rent-seekers’ shills — Renew Economy and the like — and the space that should have been reserved in public fora for reasonable and reasoned doubt went almost entirely unfilled.

How could so many have been so thoroughly incurious? Perhaps because the non-specialist media organs took their cues from the financial press. It is here the Australian Financial Review must necessarily utter a ‘guilty, m’lord’, as its pages over recent years have been peppered with reports observed through the distorting dark green lens of unquestioning innocence. The AFR online archive lists more than 200 articles on Sanjeev Gupta, almost all  gushing with praise for his foresight in recognising that the future of the economy in general, and  the steel industry in particular, resides with green electricity.

In September 2017, correspondent Simon Evans said, ”Mr Gupta has plans to upgrade the Whyalla plant and lift its output to tap into burgeoning demand from an infrastructure boom under way in Australia’.

In October 2017, Ben Potter enthused over Sanjeev Gupta’s $700 million solar-battery-hydro bet to power Whyalla green steel and how Mr Gupta — who took over as chairman of ZEN Energy from energy-industry promoter Ross Garnaut anticipated “the solar, battery, demand response and pumped hydro facilities would reduce energy costs for Liberty OneSteel and other industrial users”.

In December 2017, Simon Evans reported “Sanjeev Gupta reveals $1  billion expansion plan for Whyalla steelworks” but added that more government funding than the $50 million offered by South Australia would be needed.

On New Year’s Day 2018, Simon Evans reported again on Mr Gupta, this time quoting Garnaut as saying, “Our energy business is probably going to be the largest business we do in Australia,”

In February 2018, Ben Potter’s “Memo Josh Frydenberg, SA is well on way to 75 per cent renewables”.  That was assuming “Gupta proceeds with the entire 680 MW of solar PV generating capacity (planned for) Whyalla to power the steelworks it bought from the administrator of Arrium last year”.

In March 2018, Ben Potter effused over Mr Gupta’s billion dollar plans in a piece headlined “South Australian energy: Sanjeev Gupta full steam ahead on ‘green steel’ plant”.

In May 2018, Ben Potter reported, “Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance and France’s Neoen Australia have struck a deal to work on the clean energy “revolution of the century”, starting with solar power for GFG’s Laverton steelworks.”  He approvingly quoted Mr Gupta saying, “Renewable energy is at the heart of our Greensteel and Greenaluminium strategies, designed to make metal production and engineering competitive again in developed countries.”

In the same month, Simon Evans reported, “Billionaire Sanjeev Gupta plans Australia’s first battery plant.” And that Mr Gupta also revealed that “GFG would likely be in production with a niche electric vehicle within three years in Australia, with an annual production run of about 30,000”.

In June 2018, Simon Evans reported “Sanjeev Gupta plans $5 billion investment in North American steel”.

In August 2018, criticising “pro-coal power government backbenchers and coal power fans”, Ben Potter wrote, “Mr Gupta this week announced a 280-megawatt solar farm at Cultana in South Australia – the first stage of a $1.4 billion plan to power LibertyOneSteel’s Whyalla steelworks with up to a gigawatt of solar backed up by gas, a huge battery and pumped hydro storage.” This, it was said, would allow solar power backed by gas or storage to make it dispatchable at $40-$50/MWh or “half what we pay now”

In October 2018, Simon Evans reported “Professor Ross Garnaut, the president of the renewable energy company SIMEC ZEN Energy, majority owned by British billionaire Sanjeev Gupta, said Mr Gupta’s vision of revitalising the steel industry via cheap renewables reinforced where Australia should be headed.”

In June 2019, China correspondent Michael Smith wrote, “Sanjeev Gupta says a deal to build Australia’s largest solar plant with Chinese funding and technology heralds a ‘new era’ in economic co-operation between the two countries”.

In October 2019, a Simon Evans article praised “Sanjeev Gupta aims for carbon neutral steel in big restructure”.

On the eve of the present decade (Dec 27, 2019) Angus Grigg listed Gupta as one of the 10 people to watch – the AFR got that one right, especially with the caveat, “The challenge this decade will be to maintain the confidence of his lenders.”

By June 10, 2020, doubts were growing about the Gupta miracle, with the AFR’s Simon Evans reporting that “an expert team will oversee a three-month review of Whyalla to rip out costs for the next three years, while a new ‘green steel’ plant is built”.

It took until March 21 this year for the penny to drop, with the Financial Times asking, “How Sanjeev Gupta lived large on the back of rickety financing”, prompting the AFR‘s  Jemima Whyte and Simon Evans (yes, the same Simon Evans, no longer quite so enthusiastic) to concede “The high-flying world of Sanjeev Gupta was too good to be true”. 

It takes a long time for activist journalists to smell a fraud and the AFR, which claims to be the nation’s business journal of record, is short of people who can report news through a filter that detects self-interest when it is clothed in green garments. Sad, isn’t it that, instead of hard questions and deserved scrutiny, today’s media is so very eager to be led down the green garden path.

10 comments
  • Michael

    The renewables-powered green steel vision was from the beginning pretty obviously snake-oil salesmanship, fuelled by doggy finance, but like all good cons was one the marks wanted to believe. It is an inditement on the curiosity and scepticism of our journalists that they did not more thoroughly question and probe the credibility of the upbeat announcements.

  • Greg Williams

    Journalists are like dog owners and cyclists. There are enough bad ones around to give all of them a bad name!

  • Alice Thermopolis

    Professor Garnaut decided to go his own wholly-owned way into the sunset last August, after two years working – or trying to work – with Mr Gupta.

    Ross Garnaut’s Sunshot takes charge as Zen Energy splits from Sanjeev Gupta

    Giles Parkinson and Michael Mazengarb 12 August 2020

    Leading economist Professor Ross Garnaut is set to take a more hands-on role in Australia’s low-carbon economy, announcing he will retake control of project developer Zen Energy in what he describes as a “friendly” de-merger from Sanjeev Gupta’s Simec group of companies.

    Garnaut will re-emerge as the major shareholder in Zen Energy, this time through the Sunshot Energy business he has established with business partner Raymond Spencer.

    The de-merger with Gupta’s Simec will see the UK steel billionaire retain control of several key projects, including the 280MW Cultana solar farm, the Playford big battery, and the Middleback Ranges pumped hydro project, all of which are destined to help reduce emissions and lower costs for Gupta’s Whyalla steelworks.

    Garnaut and his two subsidiaries will reclaim the retail licence in each state, the existing retail business with Zen, and wholesale and project development capacity, and a pipeline of wind, solar and storage projects within Sunshot.

    “We didn’t have exactly the same goals,” Garnaut told RenewEconomy. He said Gupta was focusing on lowering costs and emissions for his industrial sites, but Garnaut has bigger and broader intentions.
    “We (at Sunshot and Zen) are interested in playing a role in making Australia a super-power in a low carbon world,” Garnaut said. “I will continue to give him (Gupta) good advice, we remain friends.

  • Elizabeth Beare

    It’s a long way from ‘I think we have’ to ‘soon will be’. lol.
    And now the move further on to ‘isn’t really, yet anyway’.
    For goodness sakes, why won’t some sensible politician join forces with some money interests to finance a new HILE coal-fired power station in Whyalla to revitalise the defunct steel industry? Instead, the chimera of French submarines is supposed to drag South Australia out of the doldrums and into the gales of the future.
    Good luck with all of that green energy super-power stuff. Let’s have some real power instead.

  • Elizabeth Beare

    It’s just like the NBN. There too the journalists had both a surprising lack of financial curiosity coupled with a far too deep disinterest in informing themselves of technical realities concerning linking fibre cable to premises. They also seemed unaware of huge developments in wireless technologies and very few in the computer industries told them of these at that time, and if they did, they were not listened to in the rush of millennials to get their streaming video games up and running hard wired.

  • Adelagado

    South Australia and, I think, Victoria have announced big plans to become ‘Hydrogen superpowers’ in the near future. I predict this will prove to be yet another fantasy.

  • ianl

    Elizabeth

    We are way too deep into the well of “climate change fantasy energy” for HELE coal-fired generators now. Our current grid will collapse at some point, making a very big dangerous mess, but the combination of Covid controls with unsackable bureaucrats and pension-for-life after two terms politicians will happily let us endure that.

    Voting per se now only determines the rate of decline -fast (Photios) or faster (Plibersek). I’d add that the few realists with access to high-ratings media don’t really help much, as they are mostly technically illiterate. Prime example is the distinction between watts (KW, MW, GW) and watt-hours (KWh, MWh, GWh) … critical because the big battery babies cannot sustain drainage beyond a few hours, yet most MSM propaganda tells the gullible that a few of these $100m dreamboats will replace Liddell, or Eraring, or Yallourn, or Loy Yang, or any of the Q’ld anchors …

  • Ian MacKenzie

    Renewables is one of the largest taxpayer funded troughs in town. As some very senior Liberals and their families have their snouts deeply in that trough, there is no hope whatever of reform anytime soon. Least anyone on the Left gloat at their own virtue, the other main trough in Australia is superannuation, whereby workers have their wages garnisheed to fund the lifestyles of senior members of the ALP. The financial corruption within our main political parties runs very deep indeed.

  • en passant

    If I were not confined to the Victorian Gulag over an almost non-existent sniffle I would be overseas enjoying the benefits of the Sun, gentle breezes and reliable electricity 24 x 7 cheap electricity from one of the world’s largest coal-fired power stations. Instead I have to live in a state and country run by asylum-ready sexual and / or money grubbing predators.
    Not my Oz any more.

  • Harry Lee

    We could learn a good lesson:
    During the several decades of the rise of the climate/renewable energy sham/scam, no amount of facts and logic can overcome the hysteria of non-scientific “scientists” and the naive, gullible public, nor the Leftist political forces in the Parliaments, in the news/opinion media, and in the education systems.
    So:
    If proper scientific method, facts and logic cannot halt this hysterical sham-scam and its associated wealth-destroying scooping of nett tax-payers’ money by fake “renewables entrepreneurs”, what can?
    Obvious:
    The climate/renewables sham-scam is a campaign in the wider neo-marxist campaign to destroy the Western free enterprise system and its individual freedoms -and enable a Global Government.
    And in Australia, the ALP and the Greens have led the way, and the Lib-Nats must follow-
    -follow the naive, gullible voters.

Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.