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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Coalition parties have heads in the sand on Victorian climate and energy policy

The Victorian opposition released a statement on energy security on Tuesday. It was tweeted out by Shadow Minister for Innovation, Energy and Resources, and Renewables David Southwick MP.

The first thing to note is that it doesn't mention climate change, not even once. Even though climate change contributes to extreme heat events and severe storm events that imperils the safety of Victorians, with the threat increasing over time as temperatures rise.

The second thing to note is it doesn't include energy security in the context of an energy transition already taking place. Energy security, reliability and affordability are all important considerations, but need to be discussed in the context of broad energy transition to a zero carbon economy driven by the imperative of addressing climate change. The statement patently fails Victorians in this regard.

With the threat of protected industrial action against AGL Energy at Loy Yang A and Loy Yang B Power Stations and a counter threat by AGL Energy to lock out workers, the Victorian energy minister Lily D'Ambrosio made the right call with an application to the Fair Work Commission to seek a termination of the industrial action at AGL Loy Yang.

Power stations are essential services but the legitimate grievances by the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) representing workers in a dispute lingering from 2015 needs to be addressed. While AGL Energy have offered substantial pay increases as suger for substantial changes in staffing and work practices in a new workplace agreement, these ambit claims have been rejected by the workers. The dispute is very much not about money, but staffing of the power station.

ETU branch organiser Peter Mooney told Fairfax journalist that the dispute has "never been about money...It's about the minimum number of staffing, contracting and the protection of people's entitlements,"

Clearly this is where we need conciliation and arbitration mechanisms to step in.

Here is the Liberal Party statement in full:

Tuesday, 9 May 2017
Victoria’s energy security continues to be at risk with threats of industrial action and generators failing.

Victoria was once the state which supplied other jurisdictions with electricity, but in the last 24 hours we have had the highest wholesale power prices in the country and have been dependent on other states’ generators to keep our lights on.

Daniel Andrews continues to undermine Victoria’s energy supply, prematurely forcing the Hazelwood Power Station to shutdown that cut 22 per cent of the state’s power generation capacity and sent prices instantly increasing by around 10 per cent.

Intermittent wind and other generation sources produced less than 1 per cent of Victoria’s energy supply today.

Labor’s ideological power policies to replace coal power stations with intermittent energy generators are jeopardising Victoria’s energy security, reliability and affordability.

The Liberal National Parties were in coalition government for 3 years in Victoria, from 2010 to 2014.

On energy they failed to plan for the orderly phaseout of ageing energy generation assets in the La Trobe Valley. Hazelwood end-of-life closure was first mooted by the State Electricity Corporation of Victoria (SECV) in 1992 for 2005. Each state government since then have known of Hazelwood's end-of-life, and should have been planning replacement.

Premier Brumby proposed a phased closure of Hazelwood at 2010 state election and investment in solar thermal power stations in Victoria's north providing clean dispatchable solar power, but was defeated by the Coalition parties that provided a stagnant energy policy.

The Victorian coalition parties after winning the 2010 election emasculated the Climate Change Act that the previous Brumby Labor government had put in place, including state emissions reduction targets, even though they supported its passage through the parliament at the time. Effectively, the Coalition retreated on climate policy.

They failed to encourage the development of large scale solar farms, but instead reduced the residential Feed-in-tariff to 5c per KWh for residential solar PV owners.

They failed to put forward any transition plan that would support workers and communities in the La Trobe Valley in the energy transition under way.

The Baillieu/ Napthine government put draconic planning regulations on the development of wind farms at the behest of a very small group of anti-wind activists. This resulted in substantial investment in wind in Victoria moving to South Australia. One of the results of this was loss of work for Portland wind tower manufacturer Keppel Prince Engineering.

It was the Liberal Government under Jeff Kennett that privatised the State Electricity Commission of Victoria in the mid 1990s. The La Trobe Valley and the town of Morwell suffered substantial lay offs of workers from the privatised energy generators decimating the local economy. Just read my article on Latrobe Valley: Finding Hope in Morwell at climate ground zero.

We were promised cheaper bills under privatisation and a free market, but instead we got progressive electricity bill hikes as the transmission companies gold-plated the centralised focused grid upgrading the poles and wires, ignoring the looming trend for decentralised generation and the possibility for micro-grids and peer-to peer energy.

The Opposition under Matthew Guy and climate change spokesperson David Southwick have the temerity to criticise the Andrews Government on closure of Hazelwood, when this was a business decision taken half a world away in the boardroom of French company Engie, and in Japan by the minority shareholder Mitsui, as a direct result of privatisation by a Liberal Government.

There is no future in coal. The coal market is in structural decline and we have known this for some years.

These power stations in the La Trobe Valley have some of the most intensive carbon dioxide emissions in the industrial world. But they also emit an array of other toxic chemicals and particles that have a deleterious effect on local population health. Even the life expectancy rate for people in the La Trobe Valley is less than the state average.

The 2014 mine fire in the Hazelwood mine highlighted the health impact of this mine incident on the local population but the Napthine Government tried to whitewash the impact on the community. The Andrews Government, to their credit, re-opened the inquiry to admit more evidence on mortality statistics and population health impact, to establish a long term medical study and medical support.

The Opposition parties obviously don't have any answers they can offer to Victorians on energy security while the Andrews Government supports investment in large scale solar farms, development of wind farms, installation of grid batteries, and even the feasibility of pumped hydro in the abandoned mineshafts of Bendigo.

Australia ratified the Paris Agreement in November 2016, a commitment to reduce emissions to keep well below the 2 degree C temperature target. All governments have an imperative to act to reduce emissions. The Federal Government under Prime Ministers Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull are largely failing in their responsibilities. The Victorian Government under Premier Daniel Andrews have stepped up.

The City of Melbourne under Mayor Robert Doyle (a former Liberal Government minister) have taken a proactive approach to climate action. Proof that acting on climate change is not anaethema to conservatives. Many other municipal and shire councils in Victoria are also taking climate action within their means in both mitigation and adaptation.

The world is moving. There is a massive energy transition under way. I wandered among the stalls and sat in the presentations of the Solar Council annual conference exhibition on solar and storage last week and you could feel the excitement of a transformation under way. But Matthew Guy would have us stick to the past and continue on with polluting coal.

The coalition parties would deny Victoria the opportunity of grasping for a clean energy future. Of dealing with the transition issues of integrating intermittent generation sources with grid battery storage, pumped hydro, and using big data to more accurately predict and manage energy demand and supply, and weather forecasting systems like Solcast to manage solar energy in fast changing weather circumstances.

All transitions are painful, but fighting the flow just ensures greater disruption and pain both in the political process and to the community.

Stop trying to score ideologicial political points David Southwick and Mathew Guy and work to smooth the transition to a zero carbon economy. David Southwick needs to live up to his portfolio designation as shadow minister of renewables and support renewables growth and integration into Victoria's energy grid.

Citizens of Victoria are sick of the point scoring that exacerbates an energy crisis that doesn't need to be.

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