What’s left of Australia’s manufacturing industry needs to get its political hands dirty. If it really wants to survive it must do whatever is needed to support those Liberal MPs abused by self-appointed financial guru Alan Kohler as ‘dills’ for their ‘stupidity’ in demanding a reliable hydrocarbon sourced of cheap baseload power rather than depending on unreliable renewables. It is vital that these ‘stupid dills’ succeed in their party-room campaign to ensure that driving down the cost of power remains, in Minister Josh Frydenberg’s words, the government’s ‘overwhelming pre-occupation’ rather than implementing the Finkel mantra, Paris, Renewable Energy Targets or destroying what’s left of our industrial base by a continuation of the state and federal policies that inevitably led to the huge rises in power costs (and lack of reliability) that have brought an energy crisis. And this to a nation whose resources of gas, coal and uranium enabled John Howard only a decade ago to accurately describe it as ‘an energy super-power’. With Frydenberg determined to provide ‘a comprehensive energy policy that will stand the test of time’ and wanting to ‘take all my colleagues with us’, the ‘dills’ need strong support to avoid being swamped by their ‘Labor-lite’ Finkel-following Liberal colleagues, especially as Frydenberg plans to discuss Finkel and other measures at July’s meeting of energy ministers.
While the successful campaign against hydrocarbons’ key role in our prosperity has been led by (foreign-financed) activists, the Greens and Labor, they were aided by the ineffectual (and in some cases contributing) responses by governments and the inaction of many of those energy-consuming industries now suffering the consequences. These are not only the high-profile energy users like the aluminium and steel industries (Bluescope has already warned of an ‘energy catastrophe’) or domestic consumers battling rising costs with stagnant real incomes; the potential for disaster is across the board. This week CSR warned of plant closures and job losses due to electricity price rises, especially those like its Viridian glass operation that faces import competition from nations not suffering such surging power costs. Brickworks reckons energy costs could force it to end a century of brickmaking here and both the big supermarket chains have warned of the impact on their suppliers – and on prices.
But to blinkered ideologues, new technology must mean that coal is near the end and we should be planning a post-coal economy instead of arguing about Finkel’s (absurd) target of 42 per cent of power from renewables within a couple of decades. This rests on the myth that the total absence of investment in new coal-fired power stations in Australia over the past decade (and in gas-fired for the past seven) has nothing to do with the sovereign risk emerging from the political uncertainty generated by global warming activists. Industry has been universally bemoaning the lack of policy certainty in an environment of religious fervour by both climate change believers and deniers. But according to Finkel, this failure to replace ageing and closing hydrocarbon-fuelled power plants is simply because ‘ever cheaper wind and large scale solar are dominating investor interest’. Neither Kohler nor Finkel can explain why this investor reluctance does not apply in Japan, Germany and China which are leading the ‘cleaner coal’ way to reduced carbon emissions as more than 1,200 new generation HELE coal-fired power plants are being built around the world to add to the existing 1,115 – but none in Australia. The result of our ‘investor reluctance’ has been a loss so far of 10 per cent of capacity in the national electricity grid in the past five years, with more to go – so look forward to more price rises and shortages.
But beware the anti-coal rhetoric from energy suppliers like AGL which are riding the renewable bandwagon not simply on a punt on technological change but on the view that renewable projects with a much shorter lifespan than a multi-billion dollar, decades-lasting, low-emissions coal-fired power station, are a more attractive investment in the short-term of the current management’s tenure, no matter what is in their company’s long-term best interests – or the cost and reliability consequences for consumers.
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