Australian news, and some related international items

Scott Morrison turns to socialism, with his new religion, not coal, but “gas-led recovery”

It’s a small church that sings the gas gospel, Canberra Times, Michelle Grattan, 18 Sep 20, 

If Labor were threatening to build a power station, the Liberals would likely be screaming “socialists”.

As for a Coalition government contemplating such a thing – well, to say the obvious, it hardly fits with the Liberals’ stated free-market, private-enterprise philosophy. But hey, neither does the hyper-Keynesian support package to cushion the economy through the pandemic.

Only a few within its own ranks would dispute the government’s COVID-19 mega-spending, whatever the ideological contradiction. And they’re keeping their voices to private whispers.

The gas power plant is another matter, and it will be fascinating to see how the debate plays out if the threat turns into reality.

The threat is part of the go-with-gas policy unveiled by Scott Morrison this week, spruiked as driving a “gas-fired” recovery, especially for manufacturing. This sounds suspiciously like a three-word slogan that promises more than it is likely to deliver.

But Morrison has signed up to the church of gas, whose pastors include Nev Power, chairman of the Prime Minister’s COVID-19 commission, and Andrew Liveris, the head of its (now defunct) manufacturing taskforce, which delivered a pro-gas report.

Much of the gas plan is broad and aspirational at this stage. But the threat is specific enough.

Morrison said the electricity sector must lock in by April investments to deliver 1000MW of new dispatchable energy to replace the Liddell coal-fired power station before it closes in 2023. Or else. The government-owned Snowy Hydro was working on options, he said.

Going back to Malcolm Turnbull’s time, the government conducted – and lost – a bitter battle with AGL over the planned Liddell closure. It exerted maximum pressure on the company to extend the life of the station, or alternatively to sell it, but to no avail.

The gas policy, especially the threat, hasn’t gone down well – with the energy sector or environmentalists. And it’s come under criticism from experts and even from within Coalition ranks.

The Australian Energy Council, representing investors and generators, warned the spectre of a government gas generator could put off private investors.

Environmentalists are against gas anyway, whoever produces it, because it is a fossil fuel and therefore has emissions, albeit not as bad as coal.

The Nationals’ Matt Canavan, who not so long ago was resources minister, says if a new power station is to be built in the Hunter region it should be coal-fired.

And the director of the Grattan Institute’s energy program, Tony Wood, says the government’s claim that 1000MW of new dispatchable capacity is needed isn’t supported by the advice from its own Liddell taskforce.

More generally, Wood argues the idea of a gas-led recovery is “a mirage”.

He says east-coast gas prices are unlikely to fall to very low levels and anyway, even very low prices would not stimulate major economic activity. “Investing in more gas infrastructure in the face of climate change looks more like a herd of stampeding white elephants” is Wood’s blunt assessment…….

Critics don’t like the proposed expansion of the remit of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation beyond supporting renewables.

September 19, 2020 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, climate change - global warming, politics

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