Rob Idol

I come from a fossil fuel family, but it’s time to switch

fossil

I come from a family who have worked in the fossil fuel sector, but in the face of overwhelming evidence – and apathy from the government – it’s time for a change.

 

 

 

We South Australians are used to being the butt of jokes. It’s not hard to see why; in many ways, we’ve failed to exceed expectations over the past few decades. We’ve become more parochial, less innovative and more economically challenged. We often breed incredible talent, only to watch it walk out the door to look for pastures anew, with fewer of the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) persuasion.

That’s not to say we are without merit. We lead the country in the commercialisation of renewable energy. In the latest figures from the Office of the Chief Economist, we represented almost half of the country’s energy production from wind farms. Our State Government are firmly committed to it as well, setting a target of 50% supply by 2025 – a far more aggressive target than the national 23.5% by 2020 target.

Not everyone is sold on the effects of climate change. But any sane and rational person must accept that we are better off not burning fossil fuels and using renewable alternatives instead. Provided of course that its implementation is sustainable, allows those working in the industry to continue to do so through retraining and doesn’t result in major price increases.

None of which can be achieved without true co-operation from all interested parties.

SA has had a few power issues of late. There were significant blackouts back in September that potentially threatened lives and seriously damaged businesses. This week saw rolling blackouts, or “load shedding” ordered by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) as they claimed that there was a lack of available generation supply in SA; around 90,000 homes were affected.

The SA government had a very different version of events. According to them, AEMO refused or failed to fire up the second generator at the gas powered Pelican Point power station which would have comfortably covered the demand. AEMO refuted this – without further explanation – however, ENGIE, which runs the Pelican Point power station confirmed that they are not allowed to turn anything on unless explicitly directed to by AEMO which leaves a very serious question unanswered.

The Coalition Government jumped on the opportunity and immediately blamed South Australia’s reliance on renewables for the latest issues. Sound familiar? It should. They did the same thing during the September outages despite being told clearly that the issue was nothing to do with SA’s renewables but rather due to damage to the distribution network during a devastating storm.

Again, this week the PM and his team were told by advisers that SA’s renewables had nothing to do with what happened, and again, they ignored the facts and jumped on the issue like rabid dogs. Looking to score political points out of serious issues is certainly nothing new – from either side of the ideological scale. But the Coalition seem determined to fight tooth and nail to stop anyone from making a long-term commitment to the environment.

No matter what side of the fence you stand on with respect to this extremely important issue, I cannot believe that anyone thinks it should be reduced to a joke. To the Coalition, it is exactly that. Not just a means for scoring political points while citizens and businesses they are tasked to represent are in harm’s way, but literally a prop-driven joke.


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This is, without a doubt, a complicated issue. An issue that the people who we have elected to represent us should be discussing and debating like intelligent adults.

If we strip back the hyperbole from Morrison’s performance, he raised one of the main issues surrounding the drive towards renewable energy sources – jobs. The fossil fuel energy industry in this country has provided a lot of them over the years. From those who dig the coal out of the ground to those who work in the plants that turn it into energy.

Believe me, I understand. Three generations of my family worked at the Port Augusta power stations until they were decommissioned last year. Coal driven power has literally put food on the plates, clothes on the back and a roof over the head of a fair portion of my family. I have been as much a beneficiary of coal as the next person. I’m familiar with the problems associated with just jumping off the coal train all too well.

Let’s also be realistic, renewables in their current format are not perfect. South Australia’s insistence that the answer is blowing in the wind is not a full solution. The amount of power fluctuates significantly due to…well…the wind fluctuating significantly. Any plan of attack must have methods employed that store the power generated during high periods and there must be sufficient backups in place…at least for the interim.

For mine, that’s exactly what the SA Government is trying to achieve. They may have shut down their coal stations, but the gas stations are still running. As Premier Jay Weatherill has already indicated, natural gas is a transition offering. It’s nowhere near as environmentally damaging as coal stations, yet the Federal Government seem to only be interested in the pursuit of more coal-based power.

So much so that high-profile academic, author, former Executive Director of The Australia Institute, Professor of Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University and Member of the Order of Australia, Clive Hamilton, this week resigned from the government’s Climate Change authority.

To add insult to injury, the Liberal Opposition in South Australia also came out and promised to scrap SA’s 50% target completely and simply fall into line with Federal targets. Luckily, despite the poor performance of the SA State Government over the past decade or so, the Libs can’t get elected there for love nor money.

Leaders are supposed to have strength, intelligence and strategic nous. We don’t have visionaries leading our country. We have overgrown children throwing around lumps of coal and laughing at their own jokes.

Facing facts, South Australia is giving the country the opportunity to catch up to the rest of the world. Sweden has committed to eliminating fossil fuel usage completely within its borders and are throwing the necessary resources at the problem to achieve the lofty goal. In 2015, 99% of Costa Rica’s electricity came from renewables. Nicaragua achieved 54% of its energy production from renewables in 2015 and are aiming for 90% by 2020.

Scotland produced 97% of its household electricity needs in 2015 from wind power. Germany has been able to achieve as much as 78% of its daily electricity demand from renewables and leads the world in solar production. Denmark produced 42% of its electricity from wind turbines in 2015 and aim to be 100% fossil fuel free by 2050. Even China, the world’s largest carbon emitter, currently has the most installed wind energy capacity – roughly double of second-placed United States. They also now have the second highest installed solar PV capacity.

Meanwhile in Australia, the state attempting to follow suit are attacked and mocked with lumps of coal in Parliament. How can this not be a problem? If the Federal Government supported the initiatives from SA and threw the necessary resources at it, who knows what we could achieve?

The common theme with the countries listed above is commitment. Commitment to treat the issue seriously. Commitment to throw the resources required at the problem so that people don’t find themselves out of work or without power. The resources required to achieve this in a sustainable way that doesn’t blow out the cost for the everyday household.

The only reason I can possibly think of is that the Coalition doesn’t think it’s possible. They don’t believe that we can achieve what so many others are already achieving. The only thing that tells me is that they are incapable, or unwilling, to do their job as leaders of our nation. Leaders are supposed to be visionaries; people that have the strength, intelligence and strategic nous to rally the multitude of resources at their disposal to achieve a goal. We don’t have visionaries leading our country.

We have overgrown children throwing around lumps of coal and laughing at their own jokes.

I don’t find it funny, for their attitude towards this issue is a microcosm of their attitude overall. The multitude of social and economic issues that this country is currently facing are being dealt with in one of three ways – blame shifting, denial or straight out incompetence. The Turnbull Government may not have started the joke, but they are dragging out the punchline, and repeating it, while those on the other end wait for realisation cracking across their smiling faces that the joke, is indeed, on them.

 

Rob Idol

Rob is an aspiring writer who balances his time between a “real” job and his passion for politics, social justice and all things creative. He has an MBA, an unhealthy obsession with current events, an even unhealthier obsession with pop culture and has been known to offer favourable food reviews in exchange for free meals. www.robidol.com.au

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