Recent efforts by solar activists to force the South Australian government to replace the current coal-fired station at Port Augusta with a solar thermal power station appear to have borne some fruit. Last week SA Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis announced the setting up of an inquiry into the feasibility of building a solar thermal power plant to replace the ageing fossil fuel plants that currently supply 40 percent of SA’s energy.
A high-powered and sophisticated activist campaign, including a march to Adelaide from Port Augusta to put pressure on the government to turn to renewable energy, seems to have forced the Labor government’s hand.
“This Government agreed to establish this inquiry because we support the greater use of renewable technologies such as solar power to generate electricity,” Mr Koutsantonis said to reporters during the week.
Spruiking his government’s renewable energy credentials he added:
“We have set an ambitious target to make renewable technology the source of 33 percent of our energy generation by 2020. Already, if South Australia was a country we would be second in the world when it comes to generating power through renewable technology.”
The announcement of the inquiry from the halls of power in Adelaide and the selection of The Great and the Good to front this committee all sounds like a breakthrough doesn’t it solar fans?
However cynics amongst us, particularly those who are fans of the UK TV series “Yes Minister” and the sequel “Yes Prime Minister” would suggest that this news from the minister is not as great as it appears.
They would quote Permanent Private Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby’s assertion that inquiries weren’t really independent but indeed acted like trains: they only moved along the tracks that that were placed in front of them. The “tracks” of course being the terms of reference set out by the relevant minister to the inquiry.
In case this didn’t work, Sir Humphrey’s preferred back up modus operandi was to select as committee chairman an academic or business leader who was keen on a knighthood or lucrative appointment. The appointee could therefore could be”persuaded” to bring down the “right” decision. The “right” decision for the government that is.
Now none of this is to suggest that the same methods would be used by SA’s redoubtable Minister for Energy or his mandarins to swing the inquiry result to (dare I say) look after vested fossil fuel interests? Nor would this column dare to cast doubt on the independence of the inquiry members.
But would there be the slightest chance that undue influence be brought to bear on these erstwhile members of the select committee?
As Sir Humphrey once said: “Yes and no Minister”.
Let’s keep the pressure on the pollies to make this a truly independent inquiry and be ready to call out any untruths that the fossil fuel lobby throws at it.