Profile: Giles Parkinson

Australian’s  Opposition leader needs to heed what the US President is saying and doing. Messages like this come every day for politicians, business leaders and people in the street. Direct. Current. Climate and energy connected. Giles Parkinson is a journalist/editor who knows his stuff and isn’t afraid to spread the word. He’s also one of the 100 Global Sustain Ability Leaders.  Read more

Obama’s new global warming push leaves Abbott in the cold

By Giles Parkinson in RenewEconomy (14 February 2013):

Barack Obama championed a cap-and-trade scheme on climate change yesterday. With a hostile Congress, he’ll struggle to achieve it. Still it leaves the Tea Party-esque Tony Abbott behind on climate policy.

Here’s a statistic that Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, the former trainee Catholic seminarian who insists that no other nation is pricing carbon, might find interesting. The number of people living in countries with carbon taxes or emission trading schemes will rise to about one billion by the end of the year. There are almost as many of them in the world as there are Catholics.

Abbott may wish this fact out of existence, but if US President Barack Obama has his way — as announced in his State of the Union (SOTU) address yesterday — and the world’s biggest economy introduces a market-based system to limit carbon emissions, that global carbon headcount would jump by 300 million or so by the end of 2014.

If China goes ahead with its pilot carbon schemes in a bunch of provinces and cities, and prepares for a wider scheme, that would add another 1.4 billion. Abbott may find himself taking Australian voters to a double dissolution election — where he would seek to win what would would effectively be a referendum on climate action — by pretending the world is not acting on climate change. To paraphrase and lightly censor a remark made by Climate Change Minister Greg Combet yesterday, it’s a load of bollocks.

So what did Obama say yesterday?

“I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”

Obama was expected to focus on climate change policies in SOTU, after making it a central point of his inauguration address, but the fact that he so specifically championed cap-and-trade has taken many by surprise.

Of course, Obama has said this before. His message after his first election and in the lead-up to the UN’s Copenhagen climate conference was: the climate science was in, the world needed to act, the US could not afford China and others to get ahead on clean energy; and if a carbon price wasn’t approved by Congress, Obama would take other measures.

Here he is saying much the same thing. He didn’t invest much in climate change in his first presidency because he expended so much political capital on Obamacare — and the fear is that he might do the same on gun control.

But this time, Obama does not have to worry about seeking re-election, and this is a President very much focused on his legacy. Even in his first term, behind the scenes Obama was making good on at least some of his vows to regulate on climate; the extension of tax credits to renewable energy, an extensive loans program for new technologies, and tighter emissions and efficiency standards means that the US has, sort of, kept touch with China. It installed as much wind energy capacity as China in 2012, and about half as much solar PV.

More importantly, the US has lowered its emissions over the last four years. Some of this is the result of the shale gas boom. As David Roberts from Grist noted overnight, Obama’s policy has been to reduce fossil fuel consumption and increase fossil fuel production. Whatever you think of that, the gas boom has given Obama critical room to move.

A bill on a carbon price is to be introduced into the US Senate as early as today (US time) by independent Senator Bernie Sanders and Democrat Barbara Boxer. Details are scant, but it seems likely to be a form of carbon tax that would  impose a “fee on carbon pollution emissions” and fund “historic investments in energy efficiency and sustainable energy technologies such as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass”. It would provide rebates to consumers to offset any efforts by oil, coal or gas companies to raise prices.

Sounds a lot like Australia’s scheme. Of course, with the numbers in the Congress and the implacable opposition of the Tea-Party block of Republicans, it has no chance of passage. That means Obama will go back to his policy of executive, or direct action.

But there’s a big difference between the direct action that Obama envisages — tighter emission controls on coal-fired generators, ambitious energy efficiency standards in cars, a doubling of renewable energy targets, a doubling of “energy productivity”, as well as a continuation of the loans program to push through new technology innovation — than the wishy-washy “Direct Action” plan of Abbott. He remains bizarrely fixated on his 18,000-strong “green army” and working bees. Abbott wants to give handouts of taxpayers’ money to achieve the sort of efficiencies from polluters that Obama will make compulsory.

The man chosen by the Republicans to rebut Obama’s speech was Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Tea Party favourite dubbed the “crown prince” of the movement. Just as Abbott earlier this month wondered why the carbon price had not changed the climate after six months, Rubio dipped into the climate denier’s handbook by claiming the government cannot control the weather.

“We can pass a bunch of laws that will destroy our economy, but it isn’t going to change the weather,” said Rubio to his preferred audience on Fox News. And this is what Abbott had to say in his stump speech in January: “Isn’t it bizarre that this government thinks that somehow raising the price of electricity is going to clean up our environment, stop bushfires, stop floods, stop droughts?”

And just as Abbott has vowed to dump the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and incentives for the new technologies, Rubio railed against “wasting more taxpayer money on so-called ‘clean energy’ companies like Solyndra”. The extent to which Abbott is in lock-step with the Tea Party pin-up boy is uncanny.

Bill Becker, the executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project, says Obama is very likely the “last American president who can keep us from plunging helplessly off the climate cliff. Judging by his Inaugural and State of the Union speeches, he gets that.” But Becker said the weakness of acting by executive decree is that these decisions can be rescinded by his successor, or a future Congress. This, of course, is exactly what Abbott proposes to do in Australia.

*This article was originally published at RenewEconomy



When Giles Parkinson started RenewEconomy he made it clear it was independent and there would be no holds barred:

The daily newsletter policy is set out thus:

There seems little doubt that the Australian economy – indeed the world’s – is about to go through one of the most dramatic transformations since the industrial revolution.

Like the first, the next industrial revolution will be led by changes in technology, this time driven by the need to act on climate change, energy security and resource scarcity. Much of the way the world does business – particularly in the multi-trillion dollar energy and transport sectors, but also in many other sectors – will change profoundly in the decades to come.

How this unfolds, and at what cost or benefit, is impossible to forecast. But it’s going to be fascinating to watch.

That’s the goal of this website – to discuss the ideas, analyse the trends, the new technologies and the policies that will drive this transformation.

RenewEconomy is an independent website founded by Giles Parkinson, a journalist of 30 years experience, a former Business Editor and Deputy Editor of the Australian Financial Review, a former columnist for The Bulletin magazine and The Australian, and the founder and former editor of Climate Spectator.

Here’s a recent article by Giles Parkinson on how Renewables are now heading off coal and gas on price:

RenewEconomy on 7 February 2013

A new analysis from research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance has concluded that electricity from unsubsidised renewable energy is already cheaper than electricity from new-build coal and gas-fired power stations in Australia.

The modeling from the BNEF team in Sydney found that new wind farms could supply electricity at a cost of $80/MWh –compared with $143/MWh for new build coal, and $116/MWh for new build gas-fired generation.

These figures include the cost of carbon emissions, but BNEF said even without a carbon price, wind energy remained 14 per cent cheaper than new coal and 18 per cent cheaper than new gas.

“The perception that fossil fuels are cheap and renewables are expensive is now out of date”, said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“The fact that wind power is now cheaper than coal and gas in a country with some of the world’s best fossil fuel resources shows that clean energy is a game changer which promises to turn the economics of power systems on its head,” he said.

But before people, such as the conservative parties, reach for the smelling salts and wonder why renewables need support mechanisms such as the renewable energy target, BNEF said this was because new build renewables had to compete with existing plant, and the large-scale RET was essential to enable the construction of new wind and solar farms.

The study also found that Australia’s largest banks and found that lenders are unlikely to finance new coal without a substantial risk premium due to the reputational damage of emissions-intensive investments – if they are to finance coal at all.

It also said new gas-fired generation is expensive as the massive expansion of Australia’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) export market forces local prices upwards. The carbon price adds further costs to new coal- and gas-fired plant and is forecast to increase substantially over the lifetime of a new facility.

BNEF’s analysts also conclude that by 2020, large-scale solar PV will also be cheaper than coal and gas, when carbon prices are factored in.

In fact, it could be sooner than that, as we reported yesterday, companies such as Ratch Australia, which owns coal, gas and wind projects, said the cost of new build solar PV was already  around $120-$150/MWh and falling. So much so that it is considering replacing its ageing coal-fired Collinsville power station with solar PV. The solar thermal industry predicts their technologies to fall to $120/MWh by 2020 at the latest.

The Bloomberg analysis said the Australian economy is likely to be powered extensively by renewable energy in future and that investment in new fossil-fuel power generation may be limited.

“It is very unlikely that new coal-fired power stations will be built in Australia. They are just too expensive now, compared to renewables”, said Kobad Bhavnagri, head of clean energy research for Bloomberg New Energy Finance in Australia.

“Even baseload gas may struggle to compete with renewables. Australia is unlikely to require new baseload capacity until after 2020, and by this time wind and large-scale PV should be significantly cheaper than burning expensive, export-priced gas.

“By 2020-30 we will be finding new and innovative ways to deal with the intermittency of wind and solar, so it is quite conceivable that we could leapfrog straight from coal to renewables to reduce emissions as carbon prices rise.” he added.


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