Activists blacklist energy white paper

March 16, 2012
Rising Tide took part in a protest outside a mining conference last August.

Climate activists like Newcastle group Rising Tide have labelled December’s draft Energy White Paper (EWP), which charts the federal government’s plan for Australia’s future energy mix, a “black” paper. The group says the paper “plans to further expand fossil fuel extraction (both domestically and for exports) at the expense of renewable [energy]”.

The future for fossil fuels in the paper includes more than tripling coal exports. Australia is already the world’s largest coal exporter. The EWP refers to the “entirely new coal precinct opening up in Queensland’s Galilee Basin”.

The China First mine, developed by mining magnate Clive Palmer, is the first project in the Galilee Basin. Locals are trying to stop the mine, which will decimate the 8000 hectare Bimblebox Nature Refuge.

Liquid natural gas (LNG) exports are also projected to quadruple, making Australia the world’s second-largest LNG exporter.

The growth in coal seam gas mining in Queensland and NSW is driving this expansion, alongside projects like Woodside’s proposed giant gas hub in the Kimberley, near Broome.

The EWP also backs nuclear power. Energy minister Martin Ferguson said as he launched the paper: “If we get to the end of this debate some years in the future, and we haven’t made the necessary breakthrough on clean energy at a low-cost outcome, then nuclear is there for Australia to buy off the shelf after a debate.”

Yet the figures for costs of solar panels used in the paper have been criticised for being far too high and years out of date. Greens spokesperson Christine Milne said: “The minister’s bias against renewable energy is evident throughout. The figures the paper cites on the cost of solar are out by a factor of at least two or three.”

Taegen Edwards and Pablo Brait filled out the background to the overstated solar figures in February’s Arena magazine.

“Research by the University of Melbourne’s Energy Research Institute, commissioned by Ross Garnaut in May 2011, showed that the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism was consistently overestimating prices for renewable energy. In the case of rooftop solar panels, the study showed that they are already cheaper than the prices Ferguson’s department predicted they would fall to in the year 2030 …

“One week after the EWP was launched, finance analysts at Bloomberg revealed that the cost of wind power had been exaggerated by 50%, and the price of solar power by 300% in EWP modelling.”

Despite getting the figures so wrong on clean, renewable technology, the paper adopts what Edwards and Brait call “a rose-coloured glasses approach when it comes to the future price of fossil fuels”.

The paper also criticises the policies that have actually supported renewable energy deployment so far. On launching the EWP, Ferguson announced the scrapping of emissions standards for new coal generators. He has criticised the state feed-in tariffs that subsidise home solar panel installation as a “market distortion”.

Future projections for renewable energy are dismal in the EWP. The target for 2050 includes only 3% from large-scale solar — a proven generation technology with enormous potential in sunny Australia. Wind is a paltry 13-15% despite already providing more than 20% of South Australia’s energy today.

Geothermal energy is projected at a relatively high 13-23%. This is despite the fact that Australia’s main geothermal potential is from unproven “Hot Dry Rock” beds, not conventional geothermal resources.

Even more hypothetical is so-called “clean coal” (carbon capture) technology — but the paper relies on it for its future “clean energy” mix.

Edwards and Brait concluded: “The vision put forward in Ferguson’s EWP is one of a nation continuing to expand its fossil fuel use and exports, albeit under the Orwellian banner of a ‘clean energy transformation’.”

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