January 30th 2016


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Dyson report only partial answer to union problems

CANBERRA OBSERVED No urgency but Turnbull will want to make his mark

NATIONAL AFFAIRS SA pays price of solar and wind generation

FRENCH POLITICS AND ISLAM Kepel scathing of French elites, Salafists and far-right Islamophobes

ENVIRONMENT New bushfire tragedies: when will we ever learn?

RELIGION IN RUSSIA Betrayal: Curia no friend to Russian Catholics

HISTORY OF TAIWAN From pivot of Dutch trade to Japanese outpost

LIFE ISSUES Victoria enacts law based on lies told to Parliament

LIFE ISSUES Euthanasia: a false start to end-of-life issues

ETHICS Book traces foundations of true civilisation

RELIGION AND SOCIETY A welcome in truth for the same-sex attracted

CINEMA The beauty beyond fear: The Good Dinosaur

BOOK REVIEW Secularism mars insights

BOOK REVIEW A novel for the remnant

LETTERS

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NATIONAL AFFAIRS
SA pays price of solar and wind generation


by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, January 30, 2016

For years, successive governments in South Australia, backed by radical environmentalists, have trumpeted alternative energies such as wind and solar as the future for the energy-starved state.

Leigh Creek township relies almost

entirely on the coalmine.

Unlike the eastern states, which have plentiful supplies of coal for base-load power generation, South Australia has relatively little coal, and its major deposit is found at Leigh Creek, over 500 kilometres north of Adelaide. The source of electricity until the 1940s was the privately owned Adelaide Electricity Supply Company, which refused to use the brown coal from Leigh Creek.

Seventy years ago, when there was no alternative local source of energy, SA’s Playford government decided to develop the low-value brown coal at Leigh Creek, like Victoria’s brown-coal deposits in the Latrobe Valley, and transport it by rail to two power stations built north of Adelaide. A third power station was later built on Torrens Island, in Adelaide, using natural gas.

The Northern and Port Augusta power stations were custom built by the Playford government to meet the need for base-load power in the north of the state, particularly for the cities of Port Augusta and Whyalla.

Cheap, reliable power

By the end of the Playford era in the 1960s, South Australia had one of the cheapest and most efficient electricity networks in the world. However, at the instigation of the Howard government in the late 1990s – as part of its privatisation agenda – the government-owned electricity network in SA was privatised. More recently, the coal-fired power stations in northern SA have been denigrated as the dirtiest in Australia, and governments have invested heavily in alternative energy – particularly solar and wind power.

According to The Australian Financial Review (December 14, 2015), South Australia’s wind generators produced 30 per cent of the state’s gross energy needs in 2014–15, and solar power produced 8 per cent.

With heavy state and federal subsidies, and a national energy market which requires use of renewable energy, renewables have forced out base-load power stations. Under the national energy market, when wind and solar are functioning, the price of base-load power falls effectively to zero, removing the incentive to produce base-load power. Moreover, wind and solar energy receive special subsidies under the renewable energy target.

However, wind and solar power generators operate only intermittently, and when they are not operating, South Australia must import at great expense power generated in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley from brown coal.

With the ageing coal-fired power stations reaching the end of their economic life, the private owner, Alinta, has decided to close them down, exacerbating the extreme fluctuations in electricity prices in South Australia.

According to the AFR, electricity that had been supplied at a base-load price of around $50 per megawatt-hour (mWh), reached a price to the network of $700 to $1,000 per mWh early in November. At other times, the price of peak power has risen far above these levels. This has forced up the average price of electricity in South Australia. Industry users are looking at a price of around $90 per mWh from next year, compared with less than half that figure in the eastern states.

The AFR headlined, “Wind farms trigger SA power crisis”, and pointed out that among other bad effects, the high price of electricity in South Australia was endangering the rebuilding of the Port Pirie smelter, which had been promised access to $291 million of government subsidies.

The Australian Greens are delighted with this situation, calling for the closure of all coal-fired electricity plants in South Australia, and indeed across Australia.

Mark Diesendorf, a NSW academic and Friends of the Earth activist, said that the closure of the coal-fired power plants in SA was “an opportunity for creating many new jobs in renewable energy”.

He said: “The South Australian electricity system could be operated entirely on scaled-up, commercially available, renewable energy sources.

“SA is already the leading Australian state in non-hydro renewable energy, with about 40 per cent of annual electricity consumption now coming from wind and sunshine. … Our calculations show that SA does not need any base-load power stations, such as coal or nuclear.”

Yet, contrary to Diesendorf’s claim, without the large fossil-fuelled gas plant at Torrens Island, SA would be in a permanent state of electricity crisis, characterised by high cost and unreliability of local supply.

Surprisingly, the organisation of professional engineers in Australia, Engineers Australia, has propagated the same line. The head of its Sustainable Engineering Society, Graham Davies, wrote last year that the closure of the state’s last coal-fired power stations could “galvanise South Australia in becoming the iconic turning point for a new future – a future in which Australia again leads in solar development and export; where energy security is based on the sun and not the fossil reserves”.

Some future!




























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