Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Australian government lobbies company board to force coal-fired power plant to continue operating

The company thinks it can make more profits by converting the plant to subsidized renewables.  They are probably waiting for a subsidy for coal generation  to change their minds

The energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, has all but confirmed he had personally lobbied board members of AGL Energy in an effort to force a sale of the ageing Liddell power plant.

Sources have told Guardian Australia Frydenberg has been calling individual board members in an effort to crash through management opposition to offloading the coal-fired facility in New South Wales to a competitor, the Hong Kong-owned Alinta Energy, which is looking to expand its market share.

The prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, contacted the chairman of the company last Tuesday.

When it was put to Frydenberg on Sunday that he was also involved in the highly unusual practice of speaking personally to board members, the energy minister said: “Well, we’ve made it very clear that it’s in the interests of the company to consider this offer.”

Last week the AGL chief executive, Andy Vesey, insisted the company would proceed with plans to transform the Liddell site into a renewables hub, saying it will bring cheaper, greener and more reliable energy, while providing quality, long-term jobs for decades.

The government has for months been trying to persuade AGL to sweat the Liddell asset for longer and keep the plant operating beyond its scheduled closure in 2022.

While both the competition watchdog and the Australian Energy Market Operator have argued that more competition in the NSW energy market would be beneficial to consumers, the federal government has no power to force AGL to do anything with the asset it acquired from the state government in 2014.

So the government is subjecting the company to an extraordinary campaign of public pressure and private intervention in an effort to force its hand.

Former deputy prime minister and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce last week accused AGL of “shorting” the market by hanging on to Liddell rather than selling it to a competitor prepared to extend its operating life – a charge the company rejects.

The public pressure on the company has perturbed institutional investors. The Investor Group on Climate Change – a group that represents over 68 Australian and New Zealand institutional investors with more than $2tn in funds under management – wrote to Vesey last week validating the company’s approach.

“Many of IGCC’s members are direct investors in AGL and have engaged with AGL over many years on the significant challenges inherent in delivering capacity to market, managing price impacts for consumers and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in line with Australia’s commitments under the Paris agreement,” the IGCC chief executive, Emma Herd, said.

“Long-term planning, an early and unambiguous notification to the market of intention to close, strategic investment in the repurposing of infrastructure and the adoption of new technologies to deliver increased generation capacity is exactly the kind of business planning that investors want to see from companies managing climate change impacts for their business.

“IGCC notes that this is the approach that AGL has adopted in providing seven years’ notice to market of intention to close Liddell power station, while investing in alternative renewable energy generation, repurposing the existing infrastructure and continuing to play a role in the local community.

“A divergence away from this plan, particularly one that does not provide a long-term vision for future uses of the Liddell power station site, its infrastructure and its workforce, would be of considerable concern to investors due to the risks and uncertainty it would create.”


Australian homes can now access 'fibre-like' speeds from a new type of NBN connection

More than 1000 homes in Melbourne and Sydney were today connected to the first commercially available fibre-to-the-curb (FTTC) NBN service.

FTTC is similar to fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) in that it uses copper wiring to connect households. But as the wire is laid from a telecoms pit rather than a powered node, the shorter distance to the home means it can potentially deliver much higher speeds.

The homes, in Coburg, North Melbourne, and Miranda, South Sydney, can soon access what device supplier NetComm Wireless calls “fibre-like” speeds.

In its current form, FTTC can deliver speeds of up to 100/40Mbps, but a new copper acceleration technology, G.fast, which NBN Co plans to launch in selected areas by the end of the year, has the potential offer higher speeds.

NetComm says the use of its reverse powered Distribution Point Unit (DPU) and Network Connection Device (NCD) technologies is a “world-first”.

The NCD is self-installed by the customer and combines a Gfast and VDSL modem as well as a reverse power feed to power the DPU from inside the premises and save on the cost of running a powerline to individual units.

NetComm says the NCD will support the upgrade path to gigabit speeds.

“It is the product of Australian innovation and ingenuity and the benefits to Australian households and businesses will be profound,” NetComm CEO Ken Sheridan said.

The new rollout has been installed instead of the widely criticised FTTN option, and NBN estimates up to a million homes will take up the option.

NBN’s chief customer officer (residential), Brad Whitcomb said the FTTC option demonstrated that “NBN Co is an adopter of new and innovative technologies to provide Australians with access to fast broadband”.

“As with the introduction of any new technology, we will continue to gain insights as we navigate the complexity of the build as well as potential issues which can arise when people connect to the network.”

Speeds are dependent on internet service providers. The NBN says FTTC offers a choice of wholesale speeds for ISPs to choose from and build a range of plans.


A tiny spark of realism: South Sudan, Somalia and Iran excluded from one of Australia's refugee programs

But other problem countries -- Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Bhutan, Syria and Iraq -- still OK

Humanitarian migrants from eight countries will be prioritised under one of Australia’s refugee resettlement programs, with other nationalities told their applications are highly unlikely to be accepted.

The Guardian understands the priority countries are: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Bhutan, Syria and Iraq. Nationals of several other specific countries that were previously considered for resettlement, such as South Sudan, Somalia and Iran, are now excluded and will not be able to access the program. The move has been condemned by some community leaders as “clear discrimination”.

The resettlement scheme, known as the Community Support Program, is one element of Australia’s broader humanitarian program, which, this year, offers up to 1,000 places, taken from within the broader program of 16,250 places.

It allows community groups, businesses, families or individuals to sponsor and support a refugee to come to Australia. But each privately sponsored place reduces by one the government’s resettlement commitment.

The program was previously the Community Proposal Pilot, started in 2013.

The department’s guidelines do not explicitly restrict nationalities but sponsoring organisations have told the Guardian they have been informed of an “unofficial list” of countries of origin from which people will be considered for resettlement under the CSP.

Officially, the department says, “applicants must reside in a priority resettlement country as determined by the Australian government”.

A spokesman for the Department of Home Affairs told the Guardian that settlement priorities for Australia’s humanitarian program, including the Community Support Program, are determined each year by the government.

“People in humanitarian situations from the Middle East, Africa and Asia continue to be a resettlement priority under Australia’s 2017-18 humanitarian program.”

Priority will also be given to refugees who will be settled in regional and rural areas, outside of capital cities.

The unofficial list of priority countries has been circulating among settlement services providers and pre-vetted sponsoring organisations, known as “approved proposing organisations”.


Australia's immigration rate should be cut in half, Leftist Bob Carr says

The former foreign affairs minister Bob Carr has called for Australia to cut its immigration rate in half, declaring that the country’s experiment of running the fastest rate of immigration in the world was an experiment that was failing.

Monday’s ABC Q&A program concentrated on just one issue: Australia’s immigration levels and the pressures on our cities. As well as Bob Carr, the panel included experts on housing, development, the environment and migration policy.

The audience included over a third of people drawn from the growth hotspots in Sydney, who gave voice to concerns about traffic congestion, overdevelopment and pressure on schools and services.

A faultline quickly developed among the panellists over whether it was a question of the level of immigration or the failure of governments to adequately plan and invest in the infrastructure needed to cope with the population.

As premier of New South Wales between 1995 and 2005, Carr famously declared that “Sydney was full”. At that stage the city’s population was approaching four million and his government was under pressure over transport and infrastructure.

But while Sydney was one of the great melting pots of the world, which Carr acknowledged – “37% of the population of Sydney was born overseas, we celebrate it” – he said even immigrants were asking whether Australia could achieve the same benefits from migration at a less dramatic pace.

“Do we really want to be adding a million to our population every three and a half years? Would it be such a departure from God’s eternal plan for this continent if we took six years about acquiring an extra million?” he asked.

Carr pointed to a poll – he did not say which one – which had shown that “74% of Australians think there is enough of us already”.

But John Daley from the Grattan Institute argued strongly that the concern in Australian cities was not about levels of migration per se, but its impacts, such as skyrocketing house prices and congestion. He argued that Singapore had achieved relatively low levels of congestion on its roads by imposing unpalatable taxes to prevent people driving from or into the city.

“Australia’s transport system is not that bad,” he said. There are plenty of roads, there are plenty of large roads, the issue is how much road space have we got relative to how many cars are trying to get around.”

Tim Flannery from the Climate Council highlighted Australia’s fragile environment. “We are a big country and Canada is a big country and Antarctica is a big continent as well – the habitability is the thing,” he said.

“It’s a big land but it is not a fertile land. We have to look at all of those factors as we grow. With the impacts of climate change, western Sydney will start feeling the heat because the heatwaves are getting longer, hotter and more frequent. The infrastructure we are building isn’t fit for purpose for that future. And I think we will struggle.”

Asked by a woman about the pressure on schools, Daley said planners had not envisaged that people with kids would live in the inner and middle rings of our cities. “I don’t think that people 15 years ago believed that there would be families. Now, things have changed. A lot more families are prepared to live there. And so we need to make sure that politicians get behind that and invest the money in schools.”

The Grattan Institute has forecast that Victoria needs 220 new schools in the next 10 years, with 213 for NSW and nearly 200 for Queensland.

Carr pointed to the often hypocritical nature of politicians and business figures who call for heightened levels of immigration in the interests of economic growth but who were insulated from its effects by living in suburbs like Point Piper – where Malcolm Turnbull has his home

”Barry O’Farrell [a Liberal NSW premier] declared he was a great supporter of a big Australia, he wanted more ambitious immigration and one of his first acts was to cancel plans for highrise in his electorate along the north shore rail line.”

Carr also asserted that migrants were pushing down wages. “We had the Reserve Bank tell us that wages are too low. There is not enough growth in wages. And the reason is, the reason is we’ve got extraordinarily high immigration as part of our economic system.”

But Daley and another panellist, Dr Jay Song, disputed this. Daley said the consensus among economists was that skilled migration tended to push wages up. Song said 60% were skilled migrants and Australian businesses needed them to address skills shortages.

But Daley conceded that migration did drive up house prices.

Jane Fitzgerald, from the NSW Property Council said the answer was to do the planning on jobs, transport and housing. She strongly agreed with the Reserve Bank paper that said the planning system had added more than $498,000 to the price of each house.

One questioner asked why we had not developed high-speed rail links to regional centres such as Newcastle and Wollongong to encourage decentralisation. Daley said despite 117 years of official policy to do that, the record was 117 years of failure.

“If we think we’re doing it because we are making Newcastle and Wollongong dormitory towns for Sydney, that is doable,” he said. But he added that it would be better to increase the density in the middle rings of Sydney.

Flannery said the issue was marshalling enough resources in regional centres, and that even agricultural resources were often too thin to attract business to regional Australian towns.

Several people pointed to the importance of universities in activating these towns. Daley said the problem was employers who congregated in big cities closer to other service industries.

One young woman raised the issue of global population growth, which is forecast to reach 9.4 billion people by 2075. She asked whether Australia had a moral obligation to accommodate some of them.

Daley agreed there was a moral imperative. “They probably will live much better lives if they come to Australia. That is not just because there are other options, it is because Australia has a whole series of existing high-quality institutions and by global standards is a genius for integrating migrants into our community.”

But Carr said our obligation to the world was best expressed by us managing “this vast and beautiful continent” sustainably.

The better path was to become “so prosperous that through our overseas development assistance program we can be regarded as the most generous of the world’s wealthy countries. And not least by running an aid program with a feature of family planning in it.”


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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