One of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s grand announcements early in the pandemic was the formation of a group of business and technical experts to plan the way out of the (then assumed) deep economic pandemic recession. The theory was this group of ‘experts’ would develop the mitigation strategy for managing the economics around COVID-19 and the ‘climb out of the abyss’ when an eventual ‘cure’ to COVID was identified. In September 2020, the glossy marketing information and the press release promoting a ‘gas fired’ recovery was the result. If you want to see the Government’s Press Release it’s here but neither Morrison, Energy Minister Angus Taylor or Northern Australia Minister Keith Pitt mention the environmental impacts of burning more fossil fuels.
While burning gas isn’t as devastating to the environment as burning coal – the end result could be compared to being a ‘little bit pregnant’ – there is no halfway, just as pregnancy is an ‘all or nothing’ event, burning fossil fuels is damaging to the environment. Part of Morrison’s plan was the opening of various probable reserves of natural gas for exploration and exploitation by mining and energy companies, the same group of people that had representation on the Morrison’s advisory panel. Despite the rhetoric, no one seems to be particularly interested in ‘owning’ the decision – except for Morrison.
We recently discussed the lack of private capital interest in the proposed Kurri Kurri (NSW Hunter Valley) gas fired power plant that Morrison claims is absolutely necessary for electricity supply on the almost National Grid despite ‘the market’ claiming it might be switched on for 2% of the year, if at all. Of course the claim of the coal crusaders across both major political parties is that we need fossil fuelled power generation for the baseload.
The recent catastrophic failure of a turbine at the Callide C power station near Biloela in Central Queensland demonstrates that even ‘reliable’ coal fired power generation is not something that we should bank on. Callide C is one of the newest power stations in the country and the turbine in question was overhauled last year to, as the reports suggest, ‘operate safely and reliably’.
Baseload, however, is not a virtue. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the minimum required amount of electricity to keep the lights on.
It’s the opposite. It instead describes one of the fundamental shortcomings of coal-fired electricity generators and the inflexibility of steam engines. You can only turn them down to a certain point – the baseload – beyond which, you have to shut them down. They then take weeks to fire back up.
The railways swapped to diesel and electric traction decades ago to overcome the same issue. It’s far easier and cheaper for the operator to turn up, turn the machine on and go. A gas-fired power plant can also be switched on and off at will, so Morrison’s gas plan does have one advantage over coal fired power generation. Pity there are also some deal breakers with burning stuff to make electricity.
Where’s the gas coming from? Morrison’s open invitation to prospectors to invest in potential gas-producing assets is probably going nowhere when the large energy companies such as Shell, Chevon and Exxon Mobil are being ordered by courts or their own shareholders to substantially reduce carbon emissions almost immediately. His ‘gas-fired’ power plant will initially operate on diesel as there is no gas extraction in the area and seemingly no private concern that will commit the funding to make it happen.
The economics don’t stack up. Regardless of the traditional wisdom, political will or the honestly held beliefs of some members of the community, renewable energy is cheaper to produce than energy produced by fossil fuel and in most cases is dispatchable, hardly the case with coal fired generators. True, the sun doesn’t shine at midnight, but wind continues as do the action of the waves. There is also existing and well understood technology to store solar power for ’later on’ – not all of it being large scale batteries, although large scale batteries also play a pivotal role in stabilising the grid.
The Australian Federal Court has ruled that the Nation’s Environment Minister and Government “has a legal duty not to cause harm to young people of Australia by exacerbating climate change when approving coal mining projects.” While the case will eventually get to the High Court, it is hard to make a logical argument that expansion or creation of infrastructure that produces fossil fuel for consumption doesn’t also increase carbon emissions.
Maybe the answer is literally staring at us in the face. Air is a gas, those that are actively promoting further environmental damage despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary are producing hot air. So is Morrison’s ‘gas-fired’ recovery just hot air and all about impressing those around him while trying to recover from the ‘damage’ he caused to the Conservative’s ‘small government’ and ‘budget surplus’ mantras?
What do you think?
This article was originally published on The Political Sword
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