Last week in Australia was bloody hot. Temperatures in some parts of the country exceeded 50C. Airconditioners cranked and fans spun around the country.
Except, of course, on Wednesday night in South Australia.
The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) decided that 40,000 homes and businesses would go without power at 6.33pm on Wednesday despite temperatures in the affected areas still sitting above 40C. The rolling blackouts (which lasted about 45 minutes) hit parts of the state capital Adelaide and areas to the south east of the state, down to the border with Victoria. Businesses were forced to close. No relief from the heat was available for the elderly and sick. NSW and the ACT were told that they’d be next unless they cut down on power usage. Reserve power supplies could have been turned on at the Pelican Point gas powered station in SA but weren’t due to a lack of time to turn it on. All up a complete shit show.
Rewind back to September 28 2016 when wild storms destroyed 3 transmission lines in SA, causing blackouts. Although the blackouts were caused by extreme weather, the LNP blamed South Australia’s use of renewable energy. The Labor government of South Australia has heavily backed solar and wind power as cheaper, cleaner alternatives to coal. This makes them the ideological enemy of an LNP which has increasingly been less a government and more a cheer squad for the mining industry. Although the obvious cause of the blackouts could not be ignored, PM Malcolm Turnbull still said that “the introduction of a massive amount of wind energy, so variable renewable energy, made the South Australian grid very vulnerable, very, very vulnerable indeed”. He took a natural disaster and politicised it.
Well, they’ve been at it again.
The day after the latest SA blackouts Treasurer Scott Morrison bought a lump of coal into parliament to publicly profess his deep, unwavering love for the fossil fuel. Turnbull blamed renewables for the blackout as did Minister of Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg. Yet due to emails obtained through the freedom of information act, the government were briefed in September that South Australia’s high renewable energy target had nothing to do with the blackouts and because of the Pelican Point gas power generator sitting idle we know renewables had nothing to do with the blackouts again in February.
So why all the lies? Well first there’s money, something the Liberal Party are struggling with at the moment. The NSW Liberal party had to take out two multi million dollar loans in 2016 to simply pay wages and stay afloat. During the 2016 election campaign the biggest single donor to the LNP was the Prime Minister himself (Turnbull donated $1.75M to the party) however in 2015 mining magnate Paul Marks donated $1.3M. While donations to the LNP may have dried up elsewhere, the mining business is still there to pick up the tab. Then there’s ideology. The Liberal Party like fossil fuels because the big end of town like digging them up. Even though global markets are turning away from fossil fuels at a rapid rate the fact is that in Australia we have a whole lot of coal to dig up and as long as the mining industry are allowed to do it then the LNP get to stay in business. One hand washes the other. To hell with what the global markets are saying.
The sheer acceptance of climate science is a sore point with the current government. Former PM Tony Abbott straight up didn’t believe it was real. Turnbull hates talking about it. Discussing climate science with members of the LNP provokes the same reaction as discussing naughty uncle Ivan around the dinner table at the Milat family Christmas. It’s best to not. This is a party who has cut funding to the CSIRO (among other research institutions) and amalgamated the Science portfolio into the broader Industry, Innovation and Science ministry. Their tactic to deal with the very real spectre of climate change is to block their ears and collectively ‘LALALALALALALA’ it away. It’s not about jobs, it’s about donations and the electorate should be universally pissed off about it.
However, the electorate can’t do much about this for the next two years. Summers are getting hotter and this will force more pressure on the current electricity grid. Investment in renewables is more important than it ever has been, not only to curb the effects of climate change but to provide more energy options for a market which is hungrier for power than it ever has been. Airconditioners are being installed at a more rapid rate than ever before. Colder winters in some parts of the country are forcing more and more households to increase their use of electrical heaters and install boiler systems which use huge amounts of power. The reluctance for big business and banking to invest in coal power stations reflects a global market which has all but abandoned the technology of coal, yet the LNP are still ideologically and financially tethered to the coal industry.
Until either the government changes or the culture and attitude of the LNP modernises to catch up to the global markets, expect more ideology, more lies and more pro fossil fuel propaganda. Until then we can expect elected government ministers preaching the economic advantages of a flat earth while temperatures rise and science is ignored.
By Jasper Clifford-Smith – follow him on Twitter