Sunday, October 11, 2009

Ferguson's double-standard on renewables and coal

After reading energy and resources minister Martin Ferguson's 7 October letter in response to an article about the Solar Systems collapse in The Melbourne Times, the less well informed might take home the message that solar just can't cut the commercial mustard, that it's failing to achieve milestone after milestone, and that the Australian Government is bending over backwards to help the industry get off the ground to help tackle climate change.

To quote Ferguson, the financial state of Solar Systems 'is unfortunate but is wholly linked to the commercial viability of this company and not a reflection on government policy related to renewable energy'. Well, according to Paddy Manning writing in The Age, this is not the kind of tough-minded, financially accountable commercialism that is being applied to the coal industry.

Manning points out that up to $10 billion could be destined for the coffers of our dirtiest coal-fired power generators if we add to the $3.5 billion compensation under the existing CPRS the Opposition push for a further $6.5 billion in its bid to amend the scheme to make it even more coal-friendly.

And while - unlike renewables - coal-fired power makes a monstrous contribution to carbon emissions and therefore to climate change, in no way can it be said that so-called 'clean coal' technologies are anywhere near implementation on a commercial scale anywhere in the world.

This was recently highlighted by the Four Corners program, 'The Coal Nightmare', and one can only conclude that the sheer scale of the Australian Government's proposed compensation to the industry is a huge vote of no confidence in the viability of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. If CCS were viable and allowed low-emission commercial exploitation of coal even with an appropriate price on carbon, why would compensation be considered?

As Manning points out in his most recent column, the viability of combined wind and solar is a different story according to a recent Deakin lecture by Dr David Mills, Chief Scientific Officer with US solar thermal developer Ausra, whom he quotes as follows:
We are finding that solar and wind are a beautiful match for each other and together can carry almost the entire electrical load of a large economy
Ferguson is fond of referring to 'energy security', but this argument for dirty fossil fuels is rapidly disappearing, and in any case has always ignored the pressing need to secure our global climate. It is in fact viable to provide baseload power supply by combining wind and technologies such as molten salt storage for solar thermal generation, and thereby secure our energy and climate at the same time.

As the development of truly clean renewable technologies increasingly outpaces the empty promises of 'clean' coal, Ferguson will be forced to admit that he's not really talking about energy security at all, but instead protecting the profits of the coal industry. As I've said before, if the coal barons owned the sun and the wind, it would be a different story, but they can't stand to leave their dirty coal in the ground when there's profit to be had. Too bad for the global climate.

Further commentary on the Solar Systems collapse at the ABC and David, a worker from the plant, is interviewed onsite here.

Read more about Martin Ferguson on this blog.

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