Normally I waste many hours of my working day sitting in a big red chamber while something mistakenly called Question Time drags on. Like many things in government Question Time actually is the opposite of what it says, questions are not asked and answers are not given.
It at least gives me time to reflect on some real questions. Like how are the lights on in this building when it is a still and cloudy day? Hasn’t the ACT declared that it is powered by 100 per cent renewable energy?
Of course, the ACT has not cut its umbilical cord to the coal-fired power stations of New South Wales. Those that say they rely on 100 per cent green power never do. I think we should call this Moore’s Law of Environmental Politics, as Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Planet of the Humans, highlights this phenomenon with comedic regularity.
The movie cuts to footage from the 2015 ‘Global Citizen’ Earth Day concert in Washington DC. Thousands of green activists can be seen rocking to Usher and Gwen Stefani surrounded by the huge amplifiers and light shows seen at major rock concerts. Soon David Hayes, founder of Earth Day, appears on stage to assure the crowd that this ‘entire event’ is being powered with solar energy. We know where this is going.
Out the back the intrepid documentary maker, Jeff Gibbs, interviews the installers of the solar panels. One says that one row of the panels could just power the 1200W toaster they are running. Another admits that the solar panels can’t power the concert, instead that is being done by a diesel generator that he points out.
This is funny, or at least it would be, if these scams, peddled by politicians, banks and green businesses, had not cost us billions. Here in Australia the Renewable Energy Target (the so-called RET) cost us almost $2 billion last year.
The way this works requires explanation. The Renewable Energy Target is a government scheme that requires companies that generate electricity to buy a prescribed amount of ‘Renewable Energy Certificates’ or RECs every year. A single REC is valued at about $35 at the moment and there were 54 million RECs created last year. The total cost of the scheme therefore is $1.9 billion.
At least from next year, the RET will be closed to new entrants, but pre-2020 investors will continue to collect certificates for the next 10 years. That will continue to make all of our electricity bills more expensive.
These costs may have been a luxury we could afford but with the coronavirus sending our unemployment rate above 10 per cent in a matter of weeks it is time to get real. If we can’t end the RET because we have to honour past investments, surely the economic pain of the coronavirus should be spread to the renewable energy industry too.
With that in mind I propose that we seek to reduce the number of RET certificates over the next 10 years by 20 per cent. That will reduce the costs of the RET by a fifth and bring down electricity prices.
I am aware of proposals for politicians to take a 20 per cent pay cut. I would happily take that cut too. So if there is a bill for the pay of politicians to be cut I will move an amendment to impose a similar cut on the investors of renewable energy too.
The fundamental problem with green energy is not just its cost, it is that it does not deliver what it promises. Green energy is no different to energy from other colours. It doesn’t charge my phone faster or make my TV brighter. It is the same electrons.
On the production side, green energy is not reliable. So as jurisdictions like the ACT discover, green energy cannot end their reliance on fossil fuels without leading to intolerable interruptions to their energy supply.
Even when it does work, however, green energy is not all that green. As Michael Moore’s documentary points out, solar and wind require huge amounts of coal simply to manufacture the structures and equipment. The sun and wind might be renewable but solar panels and wind turbines are not.
To make the silicon that forms a solar panel film you need to heat quartz up to 1800 degrees Celsius. To hit those temperatures you need to use good, old trusty coal. And the main reason that solar panels have come down in cost is thanks to mass production in China, whose factories are powered by, you guessed it, coal.
Wind can be even more carbon intensive. Each megawatt of wind power generated requires 870 cubic metres of concrete and 460 tonnes of steel. In comparison, each megawatt of natural gas requires 27 cubic metres of concrete and 3.3 tonnes of steel.
So unless the ACT plans to return to the dark ages, it is not going fossil fuel free.
The problem with the climate change debate is that the choices before us have been intentionally hidden for too long. Too many claim that technology can easily allow us to reduce carbon emissions even though global carbon emissions continue to rise as renewable energy investments have increased. This convenient lie helps many businesses and banks make billions from investments in green energy all paid for by unsuspecting consumers. We can no longer afford not to face the tough questions. The facts are we have a choice.
One choice is to restore the strength of our economy and to do that we must restore our natural advantage in cheap energy. That will mean dumping our obsession with expensive and ineffective forms of renewable energy.
The other choice is to pursue costly emission reduction policies that may not even deliver the desired result if other countries desert their commitments.
Michael Moore and his fearless documentary makers have done a useful service by making these choices clear.