The SA Election: Energy Policies Compared

Election 2018 South Australia - Energy Policies

On Saturday the 17th of March South Australians will head to school, church, the RSL, or where ever their local polling booth happens to be to cast their ballot in the state government election.  I’ve already received the piece of colored  paper I’m supposed to bring with me so I can vote.  It’s very different from the good old days in Queensland when the only paper you needed to make your vote count was brown and in the form of a bag full of cash.

Fortunately, these days Australia is fairly free of cash in a brown paper bag style corruption.  I know many people will find that statement hard to believe, but the fact is there are politicians who are quite happy to watch the world burn for free.

I have been told that politicians have personalities, but I am not going to delve into that.  Politicians are mostly people who thrive on conflict whereas I thrive on rolling my eyes at people who thrive on conflict and so we never really see eye to eye.  Mainly on account of how my eyes are usually rolled so far back they can see the contours of my brain.

What I am going to do in this article is look at the energy policies of the 6 largest parties contesting the election and see how they compare.

The parties and how many electorates they have candidates in are:

  • Labor  (every electorate)
  • The Liberals (every electorate)
  • The Greens (every electorate)
  • SA Best (36 out of 47 electorates)
  • Conservatives (33 our of 47 electorates)
  • The Dignity Party (30 out of 47 electorates)

There are also some independents and members of very small parties but I am going to do democracy a disservice and ignore them.

What They Have In Common

While the differences between parties are naturally accentuated at election time, all politicians in Australia are united in that not one of them knows what it means to create a job.  From the way they talk you’d think jobs are magically created by politicians cutting ribbons at opening ceremonies and if they didn’t release the employment trapped inside those ribbons then no-one  involved in the project would have worked another day in their lives.

What actually determines the level of employment in an economy is a bit more complex. But I am not going to go into it because I know just enough to know that I don’t know enough to explain it to you.

The South Australian Labor Party

South Australian Labor - Energy Policy

First up the incumbents.  Labor has been in power since 2002 and in that time South Australia has gone from next to no renewable energy to having half the electricity generated in the state come from wind energy and rooftop solar power.  This makes Labor look like stalwart champions of renewables.  But while they have done some things to help renewable energy, for the most part they have simply not gotten in the way while the state’s high wholesale electricity prices and the national Renewable Energy Target did the heavy lifting.

But this is no longer the case.  They now really are stalwart champions of renewables and this is entirely because Tony Abbott decided that he wanted to be remembered for his opposition to renewable energy1.  Under him, the Federal Government continually attacked South Australia for simply having renewables and the attacks have continued under Turnbull.

Remember what I said about politicians thriving on conflict?  Well, SA Labor has gone from taking a mostly hands off approach and simply enjoying the new investment renewables were bringing into the state, to putting on boxing gloves and coming out swinging like a wind turbine, hitting with the force of a thousand exploding suns.

In the past year SA Labor has:

One year ago I wrote we shouldn’t build the big battery because spending the money elsewhere would cut emissions more.  My focus was on reducing emissions as quickly and as efficiently as possible, but Labor went ahead with the battery because their focus was on winning the conflict.

Labor Claims $300 Reduction In Electricity Bills

SA Labor states the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) says South Australian households will have an average decrease of $300 in annual electricity bills over the next two years thanks to lower retail electricity prices resulting from expanding renewable capacity and increased electricity market competition.

Labor’s Natural Gas Insanity

Labor says they will give $48 million in incentives to extract more natural gas in South Australia.  I don’t know the details of the plan, so maybe there is something in it that will stop me from thinking this is completely insane, but I doubt it.

Australia is the 12th largest producer of natural gas in the world.  It is the largest exporter of liquid natural gas5.  Australia doesn’t need state money to produce more natural gas. Further, because South Australia is now linked to international markets any extra natural gas production will only be exported and will do next to nothing to lower domestic prices.  It makes no sense at all.

Labor’s Hydrogen Roadmap To Maybe Nowhere

Labor boasts about having a hydrogen roadmap.  I hope they are also releasing a bell bottoms and frisbee roadmap too. Hydrogen is so seventies it has wood paneling on the sides.  Prime Minister Abe may have visited from Japan and shown interest in hydrogen but that isn’t the same as having a trade deal lined up.

Hopefully this roadmap only means Labor won’t get in the way of any hydrogen developments or maybe just give it a little nudge as they did with wind power.  Hydrogen may end up an important store of energy in the future, but the economics of it aren’t looking good at the moment6.  My impression is the hydrogen roadmap is simply an indication SA Labor is open to business investment in that area. It is not likely to be a large sink of money.

The South Australian Greens

South Australian Greens - Energy Policy

The SA Greens have a big stand out policy which is their target of 100% renewable energy by 20257.  Now that’s impressive and that’s how you win conflicts.  You aim high and you fight until you reach your goals and you never ever surrender.

But this is where I get picky and say that’s not necessarily the most efficient way to reduce emissions.  It would make more sense to get South Australia to 90% renewable energy, then put our money and effort into getting other states to 90% renewables before making the final push to 100%.  Or it may be cheaper to go 99% renewable then suck the CO2 emissions from that final 1% out of the atmosphere and sequester it.

My obsession with doing things efficiently is probably why I’ve never been offered the leadership of a major political party despite my dashing good looks.  But if I had to choose between 100% renewable electricity by 2025 or 70% renewable electricity for decades to come, I would take the 100% option.  Moving so quickly may result in some extra cost, but we are far richer than most of the world’s countries and we can easily afford it.  If necessary I will slightly reduce the tonnage of my annual chocolate intake to help pay for it.

The Greens Have Plenty Of Green Policies

The Greens have many policies of the type that freaks who are in favor of a stable climate are likely to approve of.  These include:

  • Higher solar feed-in tariffs.
  • The end of direct and indirect subsidies to fossil fuels.  Depending on what they mean by “indirect” this could mean a hefty carbon price8
  • Opposition to coal and natural gas extraction.
  • Creating a publicly owned electricity retailer that guarantees lowest prices for low-income households.

They say they want to encourage battery installation by homes and businesses but don’t give details of what the encouragement will consist of.  At this time batteries are not a cost-effective method of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and will usually raise emissions.  So I hope they don’t intend to go overboard on battery subsidies.

On one page on their site they say they will build an interconnector with NSW while on another they say they will consider it.  But if they are going to have a strong focus on energy storage that will reduce the need and economic case for that new interconnector.

SA Best

SA Best - Nick Xenophon - Energy Policy

SA Best is Nick Xenophon’s Party.  Their website automatically starts playing video when you go to it which is an odd choice for a political party.  I only got internet that can handle such bandwidth this year.  I hope they realize how many people in South Australia still have atrocious internet access.

SA Best supports building the solar thermal power station north of Port Augusta and Xenophon helped secure a $110 million dollar loan at 3% interest for the project by supporting the federal government’s Company Tax cut.

SA Best is in favor of renewable energy but their site makes no mention of wind power which now provides over 40% of the electricity generated in the state.  This is probably because Nick Xenophon isn’t very fond of wind power9.  In the past he has said it causes health problems, but no medical study has ever produced evidence that wind farms have negative health effects on humans.

Xenophon now appears to realize he has mostly lost this conflict and says:

“Wind power is here to stay, it is an important part of our renewable energy future but they need to be built in a way that minimizes community impact.”

This statement still worries me because in Victoria they used to have laws supposedly “minimized the community impact” of wind power making it possible to build piggeries and gas fracking wells much closer to homes than wind farms.  These laws restricted wind power development  in a state where almost all generation is from coal despite a vast amount of evidence that burning coal results in negative health effects.

SA Best Wants To Lower Electricity Bills

To lower electricity bills for South Australians SA Best says they will:

  • Create a new electricity retailer.
  • Support the thermal solar power station north of Port Augusta.
  • Support the large Virtual Power Station State Labor is trialing.
  • Create more competition in the electricity market.

They say this will cut household electricity costs by around 10%.

Nick Xenophon agrees with me that retail electricity plans are too confusing and should be simplified so it’s nice to see we have a common interest we can build a relationship on if we ever start dating.

SA Best Will Consider Gas Reservation

SA Best says they will consider reserving 15% of the natural gas produced in South Australia for in-state use to lower its price if wholesale electricity prices haven’t fallen by 20% in two years time.  I’m not sure 15% reservation would be enough but the amount could be adjusted as required.

Personally, I think it would be more efficient to simply sell the gas and use the money to stop using so much gas, possibly by building or converting an existing generator into a synchronous condenser to provide spinning reserve if other methods aren’t considered sufficient for grid stability.  But that’s just me and my efficiency fetish.

The Dignity Party

Dignity Party - Energy Policy

The Dignity Party has a 100% renewable energy goal.  They are also against increased natural gas extraction in the state.  But their main focus is on dignity and they don’t have the same energy policy depth as the other parties contesting the election.

Nuclear Power Is Irrelevant

Both the Greens and the Dignity Party state they will prohibit nuclear power.  But this is irrelevant as no company wants to build a nuclear power station anywhere in Australia.  It is not competitive with renewable energy and the only way it could be built is with massive government subsidies that will not be provided.  The parties may as well state they have a policy prohibiting supermarkets from selling chimpanzee meat.

The Conservatives

Australian Conservatives - Energy Policy

The Australian Conservatives are Cory Bernardi’s party.  Bernardi says global warming is a man-made myth, as opposed to all those animal made myths out there, and is against renewable energy.  He wants to build a high-efficiency, low-emission one gigawatt coal power station in South Australia.  No explanation is given why it needs to be low emission if global warming is a myth.  Alternatively, he wants a much smaller 285 megawatt nuclear power station which, according to his figures, will cost more than the one gigawatt coal power plant.

He wants to end all state subsidies for renewable energy, which will be easy because there are none.

Bernardi also wants to build a nuclear waste dump in South Australia.  As far as I am concerned there is nothing wrong with a nuclear waste dump.  It’s not highly dangerous as many people assume it is.  You just put up some signs saying, “Nuclear Waste Dump — Children should be very careful when playing here.”  But Bernardi has no idea how to run a waste disposal business.  You don’t say that you will build nuclear dump, you say, “I could build a nuclear disposal facility… How much is it worth to you?”. If you commit to it before making deals then foreign governments have you over a barrel. They know you’ll have to accept waste to prevent looking like an idiot and they will break your balls.

It’s not as if there is an accepted market price for nuclear waste disposal out there.

South Australian Liberals

Liberal South Australia - Energy Policy

Reading the Liberal Energy Solution document was a depressing experience.  Maybe I could have overlooked the negative tone of the document that stems from so much Labor bashing.  I can understand how 16 years of opposition could result in some bitterness.  But what I cannot forgive is that the document is not internally logically consistent.

  • They blame Labor for not having enough back up power but are against the state-owned power plant that provides back up power10.
  • They say they support free market11 policies but blame Labor for not interfering in the market to prevent a private company from closing a coal power station.
  • The document claims the SA grid is unreliable but also says the state-owned power plant is a waste of money because the grid is so reliable it will only get used an average of once every 10 years.
  • They have nothing good to say about Labor, but many policies they say they will follow are similar to what Labor is doing.

The SA Liberals main differences from Labor are:

  • The establishment of a $200 million dollar fund for an interconnector with NSW.  Although they don’t say this, the real cost of the interconnector would be $500 million to $1 billion with NSW presumably paying half that.
  • A massive $100 million subsidy for home batteries of around $2,500 per household.  So apparently they are in favor of free market solutions but not when it comes to home batteries.
  • A $50 million grid storage fund.  Will someone please tell them that subsidizing energy storage like this is not free market?

Home Batteries: Liberal Vs. Labor

The Liberal’s $100 million subsidy will, according to them, be enough for around 40,000 homes.  In contrast, Labor’s virtual power plant will cost taxpayers $2 million for a trial plus a loan of $30 million which they should get back with interest.  The rest of the funding will come from private investors.  This is expected to put batteries in 50,000+ homes along with solar panels at no cost to the households.  So presumably more battery storage will be installed with much less government investment.

SA Liberals Don’t Oppose Renewable Energy

What I found surprising is that, while they lament the end of coal in South Australia, the Liberals have no plans to build new coal power stations and say they support the development of renewable energy.  But, like Labor, they intend to increase gas production in the state, although they don’t give a figure for how much they intend to spend to do this.  Like Labor’s plan, this is insane.

$300 Savings A Year — Eventually

The Liberals say their plan will save households $300 a year.  The same amount as Labor claims households will save within 2 years.  But this will depend upon the interconnector with NSW being built and that is likely to take more than 2 years.

Who Should I Vote For?

Let’s say your only objective is to clean up South Australia’s energy sector.  How should you vote to achieve this?

Well, I would say your first preference should go to the Greens.  I did say the Greens’ plan to get to 100% renewable electricity by 2025 may not be the most efficient way to go about things, but this doesn’t matter because the simple fact is they are not going to get enough seats to form a majority government and be free to pursue their goal.  But they will use whatever seats they do get to push for clean energy and their influence could be very strong if they are part of a minority government.

Then your second preference should go to Labor and your third to the Dignity Party if they are an option.  You might ask why I don’t say put the Dignity Party in second place ahead of Labor since they have a 100% renewable target and are against extracting more natural gas?  Well, that’s just the way the political preference cookie crumbles.  If you like the Dignity Party you should give them your first preference and put Labor second to maximize the chance of keeping the least environmentally friendly parties out.

Then you can put SA Best if they are contesting your electorate.  I put them in this fairly low position because I don’t trust them not to attempt to block the development of wind power.

Then there are the Liberals and Australian Conservatives.  The Australian Conservatives definitely deserve to go last because at least the Liberals don’t think it’s a good idea to go back to burning coal.  If you want to put the Conservatives second last as a tactical move because you don’t think they have any chance of winning your seat, that’s up to you, but the chance of this making a difference is pretty insignificant.

But in the end it all comes down to who individual voters think is best.  This Saturday South Australians should go out and vote for who they believe will be the best for the state, the country, and the world.  After, of course, first carefully and rationally considering their options and reading up on the risks of unchecked global warming.

Footnotes

  1. This is especially tragic given that his sister is a wind turbine.
  2. It’s called a state owned power plant even though it consists of dual fuel diesel/gas generators that have a “lease-to-buy” arrangement.
  3. The news stories you may have heard about it being the largest solar thermal power station in the world were incorrect.
  4. This really will be the world’s largest.
  5. Australia is not the world’s largest exporter of natural gas as is sometimes reported.  Other countries export far more natural gas through pipelines.  For example, Russia exports huge amounts of natural gas to Europe and is completely at the mercy of the European Union, which has both the technology and money to stop importing the gas any time they like.
  6. With a 5 cent per kilowatt-hour cost of electricity, 80% conversion efficiency, and no other costs considered, it is still twice as expensive as natural gas is today in Adelaide per unit of energy and is more difficult and expensive to transport.
  7. I presume they mean 100% renewable electricity.  Getting to 100% renewable energy would be much more difficult as we’d have to stop using petrol and diesel in vehicles within 7 years.
  8. A carbon price can be either a carbon emissions trading scheme or a carbon tax.  Australia has never had a carbon tax.
  9. So I guess you could say he’s not a big fan of big fans?
  10. The document refers to back up power but I think it’s better to call it what it actually is — dispatchable power that in this case is part of a capacity market that only gets used when supply cannot be met by normal means.
  11. There’s no such thing as a free market when it comes to natural monopolies such as electricity supply but I’ll assume they mean the artificial simulation of a free market we currently have.

About Ronald Brakels

Many years ago now, Ronald Brakels was born in Toowoomba. He first rose to international prominence when his township took up a collection to send him to Japan, which was the furthest they could manage with the money they raised. He became passionately interested in environmental matters upon his return to Australia when the local Mayor met him at the airport and explained it was far too dangerous for him to return to Toowoomba on account of climate change and mutant attack goats. Ronald then moved to a property in the Adelaide Hills where he now lives with his horse, Tonto 23.

Comments

  1. Nuclear waste storage for other countries is really stupid.
    If China sends us tons of high level waste and stops paying the bills in 100 years time how on earth do we enforce payment or return the waste. We are stuck with it for hundreds if not thousands more years.
    So you need payment in full up front for the life of the contract. but the upfront payment would make every nuclear project totally uneconomic.
    If you were really keen you could just take the land payment up front and have a 100% loan from the nation that wants to have it’s storage in Aust and have the loan repayments offsettable against the storage charges, but that would man the loan would have to be for say a thousand years and the faciity would probably need rebuilding several times over that period.

    It really is a stupid business plan to store any other country’s high level nuclear waste.

  2. TJ Roberts says:

    Great article… the political landscape looks as tumultuous as the USA’s. Good luck, Ronald. The old Thomas Edison quote always comes to mind — I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.

  3. Ezza Terrick says:

    Great How To Vote Card amongst the major Parties. And to our very good friends in SA , I wish you well, I hope many SA voters read this.
    If only I could get SA voters to understand how much this election means to renewable development in the East.

  4. TSK TSK TSK ! “VOTE” you say??? “For a politician” mean??
    BLU-U-R-C-K!!! I say!
    A country full of masochists banding together to elect a bunch of sadists because they need wanking instructions!

    • Ronald Brakels says:

      Well, my family tried Nazism for a while, involuntarily, and I can’t say it turned out well for them.

  5. Jim Dieu says:

    Labor said will save $300 in power bill.As every bill come just saw the price up..up..and some energy company mislead the customer by saying you will save 10pc off if paid due time.I am sicked off seeing the politicians said but never happened.

  6. joe lihou says:

    Forget the Libs and forget Bernadi and Nick take your chances with the rest But at least labor is and has tried to improve things

  7. Thanks for this write-up. It was a great read even though I find myself residing in the hazy, brown coal wasteland that is Victoria. SA is hugely important because it is the trailblazer that other states and nations will follow – painfully slowly, of course.

    It’s good to see that there’s only one truly horrible party in the pack, run by a bunch of Trump wannabes. So long as they fail as they and their fossil fuel lobby donors deserve to, our only remaining problem will be having to share a planet with the real Trump.

    Personally, I’ve tended to vote Labor over Greens in recent years with the logic that they at least have a chance of winning. Either way should be a good choice.

  8. The best way to stabilize the climate and reduce energy costs is to work on energy efficient and demand management. Instead of fretting about how we can make more power and beat price rises, let’s use less energy and invest in infrastructure that allows us to use it flexibly when there is an excess of renewables. None of the parties have a solid energy efficiency policy sadly.

Speak Your Mind

*