Tasmanian energy crisis an argument for renewables

January 21, 2016
Musselroe wind farm.

Tasmania is in the grip of an energy crisis as drought reduces output from its hydro-electric dams and the undersea power cable — which had been providing up to 40% of its power needs from Victoria — is shut down.

Basslink is planning a major operation to repair its undersea power cable, which was shut down after a fault was discovered about 100 kilometres off the Tasmanian coast.

Tasmanian energy minister Matthew Groom said the government had instructed Hydro to suspend the proposed sale of the Tamar Valley Power Station as a result. He said power will be supplied through Hydro Tasmania's water storages, wind facilities and the Tamar Valley Power Station.

But Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU) Tasmania secretary Trevor Gauld has labelled as “naive and disingenuous” the William Hodgman government's attempts to attribute the state's looming energy supply crisis to drought conditions or Basslink faults, instead of confronting the real issues of policy failure, market dysfunction and ideological hostility in the Coalition towards renewable energy.

Gauld said the state government's distaste for renewables, along with those of their Coalition allies in Canberra, were to blame for the impending possibility of rolling blackouts in the island state.

“[Prime Minister] Tony Abbott's decision to end incentives and benefits afforded to the clean energy industries created the perfect storm to incentivise the depletion of Tasmania's hydro-electric dam reserves,” he said.

“Hydro aggressively over-generated electricity for the purpose of inflating profits, knowing that once the repeal of the Emissions Trading Scheme and changes to the Renewable Energy Target were implemented, margins would be much tighter.”

Gauld explained that instead of generating base-load electricity to satisfy Tasmanian consumers, Hydro spent much of 2013 and 2014 aggressively generating close to 30% excess electricity for export to the mainland, while importing dirtier, more expensive electricity from Victoria's coal-fired power stations for Tasmania's consumption.

“We are seeing the cost of this reckless policy now. We are facing the very real threat of blackouts within months and a situation where either family homes or Tasmania's manufacturing or mining industries may have to go without power,” he said.

Tasmania could easily meet its energy needs from a combination of non-fossil fuel sources, without the need to import power generated from dirty brown coal. A combination of hydro, wind and solar thermal for baseload power, with tidal, biomass from agricultural wastes and geothermal power as backup would mean Tasmania could source all its energy from renewables.

Beyond Zero Emissions has produced a detailed plan for this transition. It shows all of Australia could move to zero-carbon energy in a decade. The $370 billion cost is less than 4% of annual GDP — by 2040, the investment in renewables would save the economy $1.6 trillion in energy costs.

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