Monday, July 25, 2016
Conflict of interests over wind and solar power
Changing to "renewables" without conventional backup is a recipe for disaster -- and it's happening in South Australia right now. The Green/Left S.A. government just ignored the risks and forced its coal-fired stations to close down. And South Australians are now paying the price of that. The response of the S.A. energy minister? Blaming other states for not sending enough of their backup power to S.A. Blaming everyone but yourself childish but common
With electricity prices spiralling as South Australia struggles to digest a world-breaking build of wind farms without firm power backup, federal Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg is facing a challenge that defines the conflict and mixed signals of his new super portfolio.
The challenge was delivered on a windswept blustery paddock about 200km west of Melbourne where Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced state approval for the $65 million, 96-turbine Dundonnell wind farm.
What the Premier did not tell reporters was that the 300 megawatt project, claimed to be the state’s biggest, had yet to receive federal government approval under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
If Frydenberg does not give EPBC approval for Dundonnell he can expect a fiery backlash and accusations of turning his back on renewables and new economy jobs.
If he does give EPBC approval Frydenberg will be accused of grand-scale environmental vandalism against the Victorian brolga, which is listed as threatened and nests at the proposed wind farm site.
The New Zealand wind farm developer, Trustpower, claims to have accommodated the brolga in its layout plans. But the planning process for Dundonnell has been long and tortured with accusations of hidden records and dodgy environmental investigations.
The complaints have not come from peak environment groups but local bird enthusiasts because — rather than endangered fauna — organised environmental activists such as Friends of the Earth have preferred to concentrate on the need for renewable energy and a long-running campaign to make permanent the existing moratorium on coal-seam gas exploration in the state.
In the great circle of energy and environmental politics it is all connected.
For Frydenberg, the gas ban is as significant as the brolgas and the windmills.
And it has all been supercharged by the parlous state of South Australia’s electricity network and what it may portend for the rest of the nation, under pressure to roll out of renewable power.
Frydenberg is clearly aware of the scale of the challenge. He argued for amalgamation of energy and environment portfolio responsibilities and he knows Australia must respond to a fundamentally changing energy world.
In an address to the Brookings Institution in the US earlier this year, Frydenberg said “technology will be the swing factor to achieving the world’s climate goals”.
“Home batteries, carbon capture and storage, high-efficiency, low-emissions coal-fired plants, large-scale solar, are all likely to feature going forward,” he said.
But, politically, Frydenberg’s task is to avoid becoming known as the minister for sky-high electricity prices.
Events in South Australia — where wholesale power prices have spiked, household electricity costs are the highest in the nation and industry is threatening to quit— provide a good opportunity for a reality check.
Wholesale prices are usually below $100 per megawatt hour but in South Australia they have repeatedly spiked past $10,000 and sometimes touching the $14,000 limit.
There are many reasons advanced for the unstable electricity situation in South Australia.
These include high demand for electricity and gas during a cold snap, restricted competition, limited interconnector capacity to the national grid and the high costs of transporting gas. The gas squeeze has been exacerbated by fierce objections to coal-seam gas exploration in NSW and Victoria as the giant liquefied natural gas export projects in Queensland suck vast quantities of what used to be domestic supplies.
Clean Energy Council network specialist Tom Butler says the reasons for South Australia’s high power prices compared with the rest of the country remain the same as they were before a single wind turbine or solar panel was installed.
A briefing paper released by the Australian Conservation Foundation says renewable energy wrongly is being blamed.
“In fact the problem is not a failure of renewable energy; it is a failure of the national electricity market,” the ACF says. This may be true. But it is disingenuous to suggest renewable energy is not having a leading impact.
The Australian Energy Market Operator conducted a survey of why wholesale prices spiked during the same period last year.
An analysis of the findings by Frontier Economics says the common denominator was a low level of wind generation at the time.
“As has been long predicted, increasing penetration of wind, and its inherent intermittency, appears to be primarily responsible for the (price spike) events,” the Frontier Economics report says.
“While the events have coincided with relatively high demand conditions in South Australia and some minor restrictions on imports of electricity from Victoria, low wind production levels are the key common feature of every event.
“The market response at such times has been to offer higher-priced capacity to the market, leading to high prices, just as the National Electricity Market was designed to do under conditions of scarcity.”
The Frontier report says the level of wind and solar penetration in South Australia presents a fascinating natural experiment in the impact of intermittent generation on wholesale prices.
“Unfortunately, this test is anything but academic and the people of South Australia are increasingly likely to bear increased electricity costs as wind makes up a greater proportion of South Australian generation,” Frontier says.
“While policymakers may be tempted to act to force thermal and/or wind to behave uneconomically, the likely outcome means South Australian consumers will bear more costs.”
Fast forward 12 months and the same weather conditions have produced the same outcomes in the wholesale market, with higher prices to consumers starting to flow through as well.
In the meantime, Alinta Energy has been forced to close its two coal-fired power stations in South Australia early because their business model has been wrecked by the introduction of low-cost, subsidised wind generation into the wholesale market.
Renewable energy champions have always argued the so-called merit order effect, in which abundant cheap renewable energy suppresses the wholesale market, is a positive for consumers. But the evidence is that there are limits.
South Australia is being watched closely by traditional energy companies and renewable energy specialists worldwide as a test case for what happens when high levels of intermittent energy, such as wind and solar, are introduced into a system that is not fully covered by other sources of readily available power.
Elsewhere, such as Denmark, where there is a high percentage of wind power in a national market there is also access to sufficient baseload power from hydro, nuclear or coal from neighbouring countries available to cover the fluctuations.
In South Australia the backup from the Victorian interconnection is 23 per cent.
Modelling by Deloitte Access Economics suggests that by 2019 the interconnector will be importing all the Victorian electricity it can handle into South Australia for almost 23 hours a day. It does not leave much margin for error if things go wrong.
“The last few weeks in South Australia have been a perfect storm but it shows that we have to be very careful how we design markets and policies to decarbonise,’’ Australian Energy Council policy specialist Kieran Donoghue says.
This is the real challenge for Frydenberg in his new portfolio.
The ACF wants a national plan to manage the transition to clean energy. It says this plan should “deal with intermittent generation and energy security, appropriate interconnections, careful placement of renewable facilities to maximise flexibility, an orderly closure of coal-fired power plants and detailed strategies to help affected communities with the transition”.
“The benefits of renewable energy are numerous, but without national leadership and a national plan to transition our energy sector we are certain to see a rocky transition with more price fluctuations,” the ACF says.
Powerful South Australian senator Nick Xenophon has said he will support a Senate inquiry to examine the mix of renewable energy in Australia.
Australian energy ministers are due to meet soon to consider exactly these issues. But no one has yet put forward a credible plan of how this should be done or what the cost would be.
At best, there will be a Band-Aid solution to the immediate problems in South Australia.
Industry specialists say the Council of Australian Governments certainly will look at options for additional interconnectors to deepen ties between states in the national electricity market.
The cheapest option will be to expand the connection to Victoria, but that is unlikely to give South Australia the sort of diversity of supply it is seeking.
It is further complicated by Victoria’s own plans to lift renewables — through projects such as Dundonnell — and the desire of environment groups nationally that Victoria’s big baseload brown coal generators, which underpin the system, be forcibly retired as soon as possible.
Another option would be to connect to NSW or Tasmania.
The cost of a new interconnector is high, with estimates of up to $3.75 billion for a connection between NSW and South Australia. Experience shows costs can blow out by almost double.
Meanwhile, rapid advances in technology, particularly in battery storage and grid management, make it uncertain whether expensive interconnectors are the right solution for the long term.
South Australian Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis wants the ability to ship his state’s wind power to other states, something coal-fired generators in NSW and Queensland would resist.
The challenge is to stop what is happening in South Australia from occurring elsewhere as the amount of intermittent power is expanded nationally to meet the state-based and federal renewable energy targets.
Already, existing generators are arguing for greater payment for the ancillary services they provide to keep the electricity network stable.
Payments for standby reserve power and voltage regulation that cannot be provided by wind and solar would lessen the dependence of baseload plants on the spot electricity market.
But is this not a Band-Aid solution rather than long-term vision?
Central planning can be a slippery slope.
“It is important to be clearer that this transition is not costless,” Donoghue says.
“Instead of thinking that the wind and sun are free, it would be better to give a more realistic understanding of what the costs will be.”
The more governments mandate things such as the amount of renewable energy in the market, the likelier they are to find themselves having to also support remaining dispatchable generators.
“If they (governments) want to direct the transition they are going to be on the hook for all the infrastructure as well,” Donoghue says.
And under the pathways put forward by the ALP and Greens they are also going to be on the hook for the heavy social transition costs as well.
It remains uncertain what pathway Frydenberg intends to take.
In his Brookings Institution address in February, Frydenberg said it was clear the global energy supply dynamic was moving to lower emission energy sources.
He said country comparisons showed that lowering emissions from the energy sector could not be one-dimensional because countries were starting from different positions and faced different challenges.
“One such challenge will be the need to question traditional energy supply” and “such a discussion is currently taking place in South Australia”, he said.
He was talking about the South Australian royal commission into nuclear energy, which he said had “revived the discussion about the role nuclear power could play in a low carbon economy”.
“Given South Australia has 78 per cent of Australia’s uranium reserves and the stable geology to store high-level waste, this debate is shifting community attitudes and has some way to run,” he said.
The Environment and Energy Minister has a substantial challenge ahead.
Terrified residents of Melbourne neighbourhood who have lived there for decades reveal young African members of Apex gang have left them too frightened to leave their homes
The Africans concerned were rescued from refugee camps in Africa by Australia. Their behaviour is a despicable way to say "thank you". But it does bear out Richard Lynn's comment of pervasive psychopathy among Africans
Residents in the street where a 12-year-old girl who was threatened with death during a violent carjacking linked to the Apex gang say they are terrified to leave their homes.
There has been a violent carjacking every day for the past six days in Melbourne's suburbs.
The 12-year-old girl is now afraid of sleeping in her own bed and her family, who wish to remain anonymous, told Daily Mail Australia the attack terrified them.
She was ripped from her car and threatened with death as her family pulled up to the George Street home in St Albans, in Melbourne's north-west.
The shocking incident has left neighbours so frightened that one couple, who have lived in the street for 40 years, will not leave the house at night. 'I am a man and I am too scared to go for walks in my own street,' the man said.
'It is scary to even sleep - I am keeping a metal bar beside my bed in case they come inside.'
Another neighbour said the area has become 'so scary' in the last year with groups of young teenage boys hanging out in the nearby park drinking. 'They drink and do drugs and are so loud,' she said. 'It makes you not want to live here anymore.'
A young African man who grew up alongside some of the boys in the gang is trying to become a good role model for his community and direct the men away from crime.
Nelly Yoa, 26, does not want the boys to become career criminals and also fears that their actions are having a huge negative effect on the whole African community.
'Now I get pulled over by police when they see me because they think I am driving a stolen car,' Mr Yoa told Daily Mail Australia.
The 26-year-old plays soccer professionally and hopes to start for Melbourne City this year so he can be a better role model.
He recently went to a youth conference held by Victoria's police commissioner only to be pulled over metres down the road.
'When I left the conference I only drive about 500 metres before the police pulled me over,' Mr Yoa said. 'They had to check if the car was stolen and if it just hadn't been reported yet.
'I can understand why they have to do this and I know that there is a lot of fear and they are just doing their job but some people might not and might get angry.'
Mr Yoa is currently working with children in juvenile detention who are connected with the gang and hopes they change what they are doing before they become career criminals.
'Part of the problem is these kids know they can't get in much trouble and will get a slap on the wrist because they are under 18,' he said. 'But it is when they keep going when they turn 18 and get a criminal record and go to jail. 'They come out of being locked up even angrier than they were before and re-offend.'
While the Apex members are a minority numbers-wise in Melbourne - and all come from minority backgrounds - their presence is creating a lot of fear.
Frightened residents across the city - especially in satellite suburbs like St Albans are buying weapons to defend themselves - and patrolling the streets at night in the hope it will keep their families safe.
One man told Daily Mail Australia he had armed his wife and children with bats and hammers, and 'taught his eldest son to defend the family if he wasn't home'.
'The two younger kids know to hide in the cupboard and my 13-year-old has his own little bat,' the man said. 'I taught him not to hit people in the head with it but he knows where it is if he does need to use it.'
HSC: Changes to English, maths scaling, greater focus on Indigenous Australia
There is a vast amount of important things to learn about world history -- so why waste time studying Aboriginal history? They are of no importance to anyone but themselves
The Board of Studies is overhauling the curriculum for Higher School Certificate (HSC) students in NSW, placing a greater focus on Australia and Aboriginal leaders in history, and significantly changing maths and English courses.
President of the Board of Studies Tom Alegounarias said in English courses, the recent tradition of comparing classic texts to modern adaptations will be dropped to allow for a return to a single-text focus.
"We never abandoned the canon but what we did have was frames through which students could study a text, so 'journeys' or 'belongings' were overarching concepts that would be used to create a reference point for kids to help them engage with a text," he said.
"That's seen to be a bit limiting now."
Mr Alegounarias said from now on, he wanted students to have the freedom to focus on "what makes a quality text".
"That may vary from book to book; if it's the subtlety and wit of Jane Austen, then that should be the focus," he said.
In history, there would be a greater emphasis on Australia including Indigenous leaders such as Eddie Mabo and Charles Perkins.
"Those are options for case studies at the beginning of Year 11 where we're introducing to students how to study history," Mr Alegounarias said.
"They're not the central focus of the changes; the central focus is that World War II becomes a core mandatory unit for all."
Maths scaling system to change
The board's president said the scaling system would change for maths students.
"We're creating what we call a common scale, that is we're ensuring that each level of course is on a hierarchy of difficulty and by the time you get to extension two these are really brilliant students," Mr Alegounarias said.
"We're giving them the opportunity to stretch themselves further - it's becoming slightly more complex."
State Opposition spokesman Jihad Dib said he did not think the changes were as significant as they sounded.
"This is what contemporary society would expect - the evolution of the HSC to meet the modern needs of society," he said.
But he questioned the thinking behind dropping the comparative approach in Year 12 English, one that for many years has seen thousands of students study Jane Austen's Emma alongside the 1995 film Clueless.
"In English, I don't think it's such a problem to be able to study the difference between time and place and to compare and contrast," he said.
The former high school principal is also wary of changes to scaling for maths students.
"We have to be careful so we don't set kids up to fail and ask them to choose subjects that they think will get them a better HSC mark regardless of whether they're capable in that subject or not," Mr Dib said.
Earlier this week, the State Government announced that from 2020, students would not be able to get their HSC without first meeting minimum standards of literacy and numeracy.
Dole payments: MP George Christensen wants dole payments cut after six months
DOLE recipients would have their payments cut after six months under a proposal to help offset the cost of keeping more generous superannuation tax concessions for the well off.
LNP MP George Christensen will submit the plan to the Nationals partyroom and raise it directly with Social Services Minister Christian Porter.
Mr Christensen, a strong opponent to the Turnbull Government’s $6 billion superannuation reforms, said the Government could reverse some of the changes by taking an axe to the welfare system. The cost of Newstart — the dole — has reached almost $9 billion a year.
Speaking exclusively to The Sunday Mail, Mr Christensen said people on Newstart and those under the age of 45 years should be given six months to find a job — and if they failed they would be on their own.
Regional areas in Queensland have stubbornly high youth unemployment rates despite local farmers and business requiring backpackers or overseas workers to fill vacancies.
“We squibbed it last time,’’ Mr Christensen said, referring to the first Abbott government budget that tried to force the unemployed to wait six months before getting payments.
“Maybe if they know their dole will run out in six months they’ll go and get a job.”
Asked what the unintended consequences could be, Mr Christensen said he didn’t know, but “you can’t just throw your hands up in the air and say I don’t know what to do”.
He said he was annoyed by the dramatically-high cost of unemployment benefits at a time when farmers had complained a backpacker tax would devastate their businesses. The Government announced in its 2015/16 Budget that it would set a flat tax rate of 32.5 per cent on backpacker earnings.
“We need to take welfare and unemployment benefits,’’ Mr Christensen said.
“We’ve got farmers up our ribs about the backpacker tax. Every single farmer says ‘it will kill us’ because we won’t have any labour.”
He said business owners have told him some unemployed people tried to get sacked after a short period so they could go back on welfare.
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