Identifying Political Centre, Usage of Renewables

Climate Change Policy and Trump

We are in a period when there is an increased need to check reports and interpretations of political policies and announcements appearing in the media and even those made by supposedly independent government agencies. This applies particularly to policies on climate change, where there exists a divergence of opinion about dangerous warming unless governments reduce/eliminate emissions of CO2.

That divergence continues even after Trump has announced major appointees on US environmental policy who do not accept the dangerous warming thesis and seem set to reverse Obama’s policies. However, despite this apparently major impending policy change by a major emitter, we experienced surprisingly quiet editorial treatment in The Australian on climate change immediately prior to 15 December. I also failed in that period  to have published three letters in The Australian suggesting the need to review Australia’s policy.

It is difficult to say whether this apparent change in regard to climate change had anything to do with Andrew Bolt’s disclosure of an apparent supportive arrangement secured by Turnbull with The Australian’s Paul Kelly, who  Bolt had described as a “Turnbull man”. However, Kelly’s article of 14 December argued that there has been a “tearing apart of the political centre” on both the left and right and that Turnbull is running the centre line (see Kelly on Political Centre). I differed and succeeded on this occasion in having the letter below published in The Australian. Note that it refers to “our now dated policy on climate change”.

PM has done little to bring us smaller government

(Letter published in The Australian, 15 Dec 2016. Bits in square brackets deleted by Ed)

It is surprising that, after asserting there has been a “the tearing apart of the political centre” in 2016, [experienced journalist] Paul Kelly then has to ask “where is the centre ground now” (14/12). He rightly concludes that in Australia neither Malcolm Turnbull nor Bill Shorten are convincing. But [surely] their attitudes and policies provide the clue[?

First, at a time when unions are much less relevant [in Australian society], Shorten’s centre supports an increased role for the union movement. Second, at a time when the Coalition says it supports a smaller role for government, Turnbull’s centre has failed to do anything of substance to reduce that role[, let alone convey the benefits of such policies. Yet Kelly fails to address either of these major deficiencies].

The reality of 2016 is that the political centre has shifted towards support for a smaller role for government [both] domestically and internationally. It maybe that the election in America of Donald Trump occurred with the use of impolite language. But there can be little doubt that his election is sending the 2016 message.

Yet the Turnbull government has failed to recognise the implications for existing policies of getting spending  down so that company tax can be cut, and of our now dated policy on climate change which is deterring business investment and reducing our competitiveness.

There is no threat to us all from an “erosion of the political centre”: what Kelly and others should recognise is its shift.

Des Moore, South Yarra, Vic

Climate Change Policy & Renewable Fuel Usage

On Friday 16 December important developments also emerged both from the draft report by the Australian Energy Market Commission ( the national electricity regulator) on power system security when renewable sources are used as a major source of fuel and from the editorial in The Australian .

According the AEMC report, renewable power sources cannot cope with rapid or large changes in frequency and, if these occur (when for example the wind stops), they can cause the disconnection of generation, potentially leading to cascading failures and ultimately a “black system”, as happened in South Australia. By contrast, spinning generators, motors and other devices synchronised to the frequency of the electricity system have in the past naturally provided the inertia necessary to allow the system to cope with uncontrolled changes in frequency. But technologies such as wind or solar have no or low ­inertia and have limited ability to dampen rapid changes in frequency.

The AEMC indicates that it is working on five rule changes that address immediate concerns on emergency protection in relation to SA’s current frequency issues as well as new mechanisms to allow security to be maintained across the entire NEM. “This review puts an umbrella over many issues being raised by stakeholders in relation to the power system’s ability to keep the lights on while maintaining its frequency at a constant level,” AEMC chairman Jim Pierce said. “The review will consider both policy mechanisms that are in place now, and analyse how many of the feasible emissions reduction policies may impact the future power system.”  The review, which will deliver its final report in June next year, focused on the ability to maintain control over power system frequency after a major event such as the loss of a large generator, load or a transmission line (see AEMC on Usage of Renewables).

It appears that this AEMC report means that renewables should not be used as a major fuel source for electricity, and that South Australia will have to take special measures (such as installing additional back-ups from gas), until new rules are devised, assuming that is feasible. Obviously, other states which have renewable targets should halt any further usage. More generally, Turnbull’s attack on such states for “excessive resort” to renewable, and his attack also on Shorten’s “excessive” target, will now be supported by the report. But at the same time he faces a problem in that, first, his government has set a renewables target of 23 per cent by 2020 and, second, the achievement of the emissions reduction target of 26-28 per cent by 2030 will require increased resort to renewables.  In a word, Australia’s climate change policy is in a chaotic state.

Relevant here is The Australian’s editorial on 16 Dec (see below), which points out that “it is important to understand that issues of energy cost and supply are dilemmas that we have created. These are not problems of supply or demand, of scarcity or distance, but of policy. The nation needs to weigh its priorities and take the necessary action”. The editorial also says that Australia needs to reclaim its natural advantage of low energy cost ie use of coal.

It seems clear that, even if it is not politically possible to immediately effect a major change in existing climate change policy, there needs to be a review which includes not only the Chief Scientist but climate experts who do not accept the dangerous warming thesis.

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