Posts Tagged ‘Renewables’

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Good news from China (maybe)

7 February 2013

Last week China announced what might be a rare bit of good news on climate change – or is it too good to be true?

The Chinese government State Council has set a cap on total energy use for 2011-2015, which it claims will cause Chinese coal consumption to peak below 4 billion tonnes per year, a target that has been rumored for a while. According to the Chinese government, coal-fired electricity generation would continue to grow at a slower pace while the steel industry would suffer.

Last year China burned 3.9 billion tonnes of coal, a 163% increase since 2000 and nearly as much as the rest of the world combined. Greenpeace recently identified the projected expansion of coal mining in northwestern Chinese provinces as the world’s largest “carbon bomb” (followed by Australian coal export expansion).

coal Read the rest of this entry ?

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Liberals Part 2: Their “Direct Action” is neither

13 January 2013

This is the second part of a series examining the Liberal Party of Australia. Part 1 covers the party’s climate change denial and intention to abolish various existing climate policies. This part examines the climate policies they promise to introduce.

The first question to ask about the Liberal Party’s climate policy is “what is it?” This question is a lot more difficult to answer than you might think. One of the reasons why I have not focused on the Liberals is because although they are aggressive on process, their policies are vague if not contradictory. If they weren’t favored by nearly half of Australian voters, I would say the Liberals are the parliamentary clowns. Nevertheless, I will examine the few details they have provided.

The Liberals propose a set of measures they spin as a “Direct Action Plan”, a frame that has been uncritically adopted by many journalists. While the phrase “direct action” brings to mind images of protestors chained to bulldozers, the content of the Direct Action Plan is rather less exciting, neither particularly direct nor very active.

The plan is mainly articulated in a policy document released before the last election (all quotes below are taken from this document unless otherwise attributed). It is unclear how current this document is: it is nearly three years old so the timeline will obviously need to be condensed to meet the 2020 deadline, and the Liberals have since mentioned various revisions and reinterpretations, some of which I may have missed. Presumably a full updated policy will be released before the next election; in the meantime I have assumed the old document is accurate except where I am aware of later changes.

The plan is supposed to directly cut CO2 emissions 5% below 1990 by 2020, very similar to Labor’s meaningless target (with the positive difference that the Liberals would not use international offsets, a point I will come back to in Part 3). The Liberals also ostensibly support Labor’s conditional target range of 5-25%, though they have not mentioned it for a long time. Indeed, they rubbish their own 5% target. Liberal leader Tony Abbott has described it as “crazy” in the context of China’s increasing emissions. On other occasions Abbott has gone even further (which a leaked list of talking points shows was scripted), claiming the target will not reduce global temperature for 1000 years (missing that the point of climate action is to limit the rise of global temperature). The Liberals can’t have it both ways: is a 5% target insignificant or Liberal policy? Read the rest of this entry ?

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Australia embraces Paris Hilton’s energy policy

24 December 2012

The Australian government last month released the final version of its long-awaited Energy White Paper. Energy Minister Martin Ferguson’s speech to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) launching the White Paper was interrupted by Quit Coal protesters, one playing a fictional mining magnate thanking Ferguson for supporting the coal industry. After the protesters were removed from the stage, the audience (evidently a bunch of dinosaurs) applauded Ferguson’s retort that the demonstration said something about the education of young people and he would resume discussing “how we create wealth to create economic opportunities for those young people”. Let’s look at how the government intends to do this.

The Energy White Paper is a dry document, in more than one sense of the word. Once again I am struck by the contrast between the way the Labor government is portrayed by the likes of News Corporation, and the government’s true policies and priorities.

On the surface, the final White Paper somewhat improves on the draft version (and on the dogmatic anti-renewables stance Labor took in Multi-Party Climate Change Committee negotiations) by acknowledging the falling prices and growing role of renewables and proposing demand-management measures. This is possibly thanks to the increasing clout of the renewable energy lobby. It’s certainly an improvement on the Howard government’s 2004 Energy White Paper, which placed all of its climate eggs in the CCS basket (mainly through a $500 million Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Program which has been perpetually delayed). But instead of advocating further action as is urgently needed, the White Paper merely reaffirms inadequate existing climate policies, claiming “the Australian Government has already put in place the key mechanisms to drive a transformation to cleaner energy”.

The big picture is that the government’s fossil fuel addiction remains as strong as ever. The Energy White Paper’s key priorities include “developing Australia’s critical energy resources, particularly gas resources” (p xviii). It plans to facilitate the expansion of fossil fuel mining and export industries at a time when they should be phased out as fast as possible. It boldly says (p. 66): “Coal is, and will remain an integral part of Australia’s economy.” Gas and coal rate far more mentions in the White Paper than any renewable energy technology. In a nutshell, the shift from Howard’s Energy White Paper to Gillard’s one is from a fossil-fuel-only approach to an all-of-the-above policy analogous to Obama’s, which seems to have originated from a spoof campaign video by Paris Hilton, of all people. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Response to RET Review

19 December 2012

Today the Climate Change Authority (CCA) released the final report of its Renewable Energy Target review. It repeats all the same arguments I debunked in my response to the discussion paper released in October, and makes similar recommendations (though some of the details have been refined).

The RET Review fails to acknowledge that Australia and the world urgently need to phase out fossil fuel burning to avoid dangerous climate change, and the policies in place are completely inadequate to do so. Instead, on most matters it insists the status quo must be maintained to minimize policy uncertainty. But climate policy will be subject to uncertainty for the foreseeable future anyway, because it challenges powerful interests, so the best way to design the RET is to send the strongest signal possible to incentivize investment in renewable energy. The reason for the existence of a Climate Change Authority and regularly scheduled reviews is to provide regular opportunities to strengthen Australia’s climate policies and thus accelerate decarbonization over time. CCA’s rigid determination to recommend little change is creating the ludicrous situation where the body is making itself irrelevant.

CCA refuses to recommend increasing or strengthening the Large-Scale Renewable Energy Target (LRET). It recommends future reviews be scheduled at four-year instead of two-year intervals (though fortunately unscheduled reviews can be commissioned at any time by the Minister, the Parliament, or CCA itself). It envisages the 2016 review will consider the issue of post-2020 targets, and rules out consideration of accelerating renewable energy deployment before 2020 except “in the event of extenuating circumstances” (p. xi); it is unclear what would qualify as such a circumstance. The problem with this is that the RET is currently inadequate, a higher target is needed to incentivize new projects, and accelerating action cannot wait until 2016 or 2020. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Climate deregulation still on agenda

6 December 2012

It’s called the COAG Taskforce on Regulatory and Competition Reform, and don’t be fooled by the boring name: it could be the gravestone of Australian climate policies and environmental regulation. Today Prime Minister Julia Gillard meets with the unelected Business Advisory Forum (BAF), and tomorrow with the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), to advance this radical corporate-driven deregulation agenda.

I was going to write that the federal government intended to hand over its environmental approval powers to the states tomorrow. Fortunately that has been delayed following a campaign by the Greens and environmental groups, though it remains very much on the agenda. Instead this blog post will focus on another, even more important aspect of the COAG Taskforce program, which has received less attention but presumably rolls on inexorably toward an imminent conclusion: reviewing almost all climate policies with a view to axing them.

The process is completely opaque and undemocratic. Federal and state governments are advised by business lobbyists, with no comparable consultation of anyone else, and the public are not told what is happening apart from vague communiqués following decisions at BAF and COAG meetings.

It is not even clear why the BAF was created in the first place, though I can offer an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory. Throughout 2011, business lobbyists campaigned against the Gillard government for daring to rock the boat even slightly by introducing a carbon price (never mind that it was full of holes). Some supported the Liberals’ campaign for an election and no carbon price, and I imagine behind the scenes some supported Kevin Rudd’s leadership plot in return for Rudd’s promise to weaken the carbon price. When Rudd was decisively defeated, the Business Council of Australia called for “a renewed commitment to make Australia more competitive and productive” including “a regulatory environment that encourages business to invest, adapt, and innovate”. Within a week, Gillard announced the formation of the Business Advisory Forum. The whole thing had a vibe of Gillard desperately trying to win the support of business. And what better way to atone for the carbon price than to dismantle all other climate and environment policies? Read the rest of this entry ?

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Response to RET Review discussion paper

15 November 2012

I have submitted feedback (which you can read here) to the Climate Change Authority (CCA) on its Renewable Energy Target review discussion paper, released last month containing draft recommendations. A report with final recommendations will be released by 31 December.

In September, I wrote:

The RET review will be a key test of the Greens’ climate strategy. The Greens argued the independent reviews would provide regular opportunities to improve climate policies in future. The RET review is the first test of whether it will play out that way, or if the reviews will instead be regular opportunities for polluting industries to sabotage climate policies. The role of the Climate Change Authority is crucial, as in 2014 it will be tasked with recommending five years of emissions targets. The Authority is as yet an unknown quantity (though I am concerned that two board members have conflicts of interests). Will the Authority prove to be a strong advocate for climate action, or will it fall prey to the siren songs of vested interests?

So far, it appears the answer is neither, with a bit of the latter. On the one hand, the discussion paper rejects the proposals by 25% of submissions (almost all from businesses and business lobby groups) to abolish the RET or decrease the 2020 Large-scale Renewable Energy Target (LRET). It acknowledges the RET plays an important role and the possibility of overachieving is not a bad thing (CCA estimates renewables will meet 25% of demand in 2020 instead of 20%). On the other hand, it completely ignored the 41% of submissions calling for the RET to be increased and/or strengthened (99% if you count the 8,500 submissions in the GetUp! campaign to increase the 2020 target and the Hepburn Wind campaign for a post-2020 target). It recommends neither increasing the 2020 target, nor introducing post-2020 targets, nor making Clean Energy Finance Corporation investments additional, nor strengthening the policy in any other way. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The fossil-fuelled war on renewables

24 October 2012

In recent months, ~2 GW of Australian coal-fired electricity generation has been closed temporarily or permanently (~2.5 GW in winter), comparable to the 2 GW that would have been closed by the abandoned policy of contracts-for closure. Some might conclude Australia is finally beginning its transition to a low- or zero-carbon economy, and we can sit back and watch the federal carbon price and Renewable Energy Target (RET) drive it. But even if decarbonization was occurring fast enough (which is nowhere near the case), now is not the time to sit back, because the established electricity companies see their traditional business model disappearing down the drain, and they are fighting back. Read the rest of this entry ?