Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Open Letter to David Southwick, Victorian Shadow Minister for Renewables



Dear David Southwick
State MP for Caulfield, Parliament of Victoria.
Shadow Minister for Innovation, Energy and Resources, and Renewables.

In February 2016 you said that Liberals really do care and that you will work to get the best outcome on energy and renewables. "Renewables are absolutely crucial to the future of Victoria and Australia." you said. Fast forward by a year and you are playing vicious partisan politics with Victorian climate and energy policy.

On Friday Victoria's Minister for Energy Lily D'Ambrosio announced a public tender for building a 20MW battery as part of the Victorian electricity grid. The grid-scale battery will be constructed either in north-west or south-west Victoria, at a location where the energy market operator has identified it could improve grid reliability.

This is something to be applauded.


Grid-scale batteries will help in integrating solar and wind renewable energy generation, and ensure reliability of supply and help in capping wholesale power prices during demand spikes such as the recent heatwave.

“We are in the midst of a major global transformation and we’re making sure Victoria is equipped with the next generation of energy technologies that will support a resilient energy system.” said Minister for Energy, Environment & Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio.

“The 20MW battery will be the first of its kind for Australia, it will help to modernise Victoria’s electricity grid, enhance energy security and deliver affordable energy. We’re taking the action required to ensure reliable and affordable energy supply for Victorians while we deliver on our renewable energy targets.” said Minister D'Ambrosio.

The project will be specified to meet the criteria for ARENA funding for projects involving large scale storage and flexible capacity.

The timeline for this project? Expressions of interest from utility-scale battery storage businesses are being sought by 1 March 2017 with the hope to finalise a tender that will be issued publically in April 2017.

This follows an announcement at the end of January of $5 million funding from the Andrews Labor Government to support Victorian large-scale energy storage initiatives.

Part of this funding will help determine the best locations for storage and the best way to support the deployment of up to 5400 MW of new renewable energy generation in Victoria.

Closure of Hazelwood


As you rightly point out, from the 1st of April the 1600MW Hazelwood power station will be closed by it's owners, Engie. This should be welcomed as a difficult but necessary decision. The Government of Victoria needs to build upon this as a tremendous energy transition opportunity.

The SECV in 1992 announced that Hazelwood should be retired in 2005, to follow older plants at Newport and Yallourn. So, it has generated profits for well over a decade from it's original retirement date. It is long past due to be retired.

The Hazelwood power station is ageing, highly polluting and inefficient. The mine fire in 2014 had an appreciable impact on the health of people of Morwell. Coal is a very real health issue. Even life expectancy is less for people in the LaTrobe Valley as compared to the statewide average. It is time this was addressed.

Many workers will loose their jobs with the closure. It is a social upheaval, and it is up to the rest of us, through the State Government, to minimise any hardship this entails through transition planning.

The La Trobe Valley community and workers need support in this transition, not more political attacks that create an atmosphere of business uncertainty for investment in transforming energy infrastructure.

A significant portion of this workforce will be needed for several years in decommissioning the power plant and mine rehabilitation. A staged closure, as you proposed in your media release (tweet) of 31st January, might have been a good idea in 2010, in fact phased closure was proposed by Labor's John Brumby in 2010. But the Baillieu/Napthine government scotched that idea.

We knew Hazelwood would eventually close, but where is the Transition plan? What is YOUR party's transition plan, David, if not for Hazelwood, then for the next coal power station to close? We haven't got a national plan and it seems we don't have a state plan. Throwing pebbles at others is easy, but far from being constructive.

It is too late for phased closure now. The need to reduce emissions is the driving force, that the Baillieu/Napthine government ignored for far too long, just like the Baillieu/Napthine government stymied wind farms by extraordinary restrictive planning controls pandering to a very small group of anti-wind lobbyists.

Why do I say this? because I have been following the science and policy debate for the last decade. I realize the urgency we need to take to avoid damaging climate impacts in the near future. Actually, we already see those impacts in more intense heatwaves in Melbourne, longer and more intense bushfires, and in more damaging storms and torrential rainfall causing flooding.

I have witnessed both the science and policy at an international level as an NGO observer at both COP21 in Paris in 2015, and COP22 in Marrakech in 2016.

Your party at the Federal level are already criticizing the Victorian Government with a war on renewables adopting a political and ideological approach that is at odds with a smooth transition to low carbon emissions to meet our international commitments of the Paris Agreement which the Turnbull government signed us up for.

We know from Peta Cedlin's recent comments that the attack on Labor's carbon pricing policy was all politics, to achieve power. No consideration was given to long term climate and energy policy for Australia.



"Along comes a carbon tax. It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know. It was many other things in nomenclature terms but we made it a carbon tax. We made it a fight about the hip pocket and not about the environment. That was brutal retail politics and it took Abbott about six months to cut through and when he cut through, Gillard was gone." said Credlin.

David, please don't taking voters for fools.

The attacks by you and your leader Matthew Guy on renewables and the Victorian Renewable Energy Targets are motivated by short term politics. I listened and watched you in February 2016 and thought you understood what was at stake with climate, energy and renewables policy. But it seems you have done a complete about face.




I saw your tweets opposing the VRET and a strong Victorian climate and energy policy. They are filled with the same hip-pocket emotional fears as Tony Abbott's 'Axe the Tax'.



It seems that renewables in South Australia haven't been the cause for higher electricity prices, but, if anything a moderator of price rises. The latest study by ANU academics, reported by RenewEconomy, shows that in the last ten years electricity prices have risen much more in coal based states like Victoria and Queensland, than in South Australia. Sounds like an argument for more renewables, than less.

David, I think you need to be proposing positive solutions for Victorians and Australians. Make it a policy race of competing for the best innovative solutions, not trying to preserve jobs in a failing, polluting industry. So at the start of this I detailed Ms D'Ambrosio's 20MW grid battery. Here are two further proposals that need support and championing

For the La Trobe Valley community you would be better arguing for the Victorian government seriously investigating pumped hydro to make use of the Hazelwood mine, after it's closure. A pumped hydro facility at Hazelwood of up to 1000MW might be possible, and would keep jobs in energy and make use of the mine after rehabilitation. It would add dispatchable power adding stability to a grid with increasing renewables. I don't know the costings, but it might provide one solution to move Victoria forward reducing coal use while increasing renewables, while not compromising on energy security.

Pie in the sky? Well, a report in RenewEconomy advises that EnergyAustralia outlined plans for 100MW pumped hydro plant in SA using seawater along Spencer's Gulf.

For Victoria's north, David, you should be arguing for solar tower power: concentrated solar thermal power stations with energy storage, which would add dispatchable power, stability to the grid and energy security. This would create thousands of jobs during the construction phase, and a smaller number of ongoing positions, as well as being a boon to the regional economy. All emissions free.

Don't try to parrot your Federal counterparts on clean coal. It doesn't make sense on financial grounds, and especially for carbon emissions and pollution. Ultra Super critical coal plants with Carbon capture and storage would massively increase retail electricity if ever built in Australia. The CCS technology is very expensive and far from economical.

Just read Giles Parkinson at RenewEconomy on Why new coal? Solar towers + storage beats it on all counts. Still don't believe me? Then listen to CS Energy CEO Martin Moore interviewed at the ABC 7.30pm Report. He runs the Callide Supercritical coal plant in Queensland.

David, renewable energy remains very popular with the public. Just read the latest The Guardian Essential report: More than 70% believe Coalition not doing enough on energy – poll.

On the cause of blackouts, 45 percent of people answered that the power black outs are due mainly to failures of the energy market in responding to extreme weather events, and only 16 percent said the power black outs are the result of too much reliance on renewable energy. 19 percent thought the power black outs are due mainly to the privatization of electricity supply.

I think people are pissed off when a blackout happens, but they don't like it when the issue becomes politicised like you are doing.

On the Federal Labor Party committment to a target of 50 percent renewable energy by 2030, recent polling shows 65 per cent approval rating and 18 per cent disapproval rating. That includes 55 percent approval and 32 percent disapproval from your own Liberal National Party, David.

Another polling question was whether renewable energy is the solution to our future energy needs or a threat to our future energy supply? 64 percent thought it was a solution, just 14 percent a threat. Voters for your party split 58 percent to 20 per cent.

The energy transition is needed and is happening, David. It is your job on the Opposition benches to keep the government honest, to push them on good policy, criticise bad policy. No government gets everything right.

Do your job, but just don't treat us Victorian voters like fools in giving us bad, retrograde destructive policy to score a few cheap political points.

You can help smooth this transition and create a healthier, safer climate future for Victorians, or be like a little boy throwing pebbles at the passing train.