C-word too hard to say in push for renewable energy future

April 27, 2017

As appeared in The Daily Telegraph, 27 April 2017.

THERE’S an episode of the US sitcom Happy Days where the Fonz can’t bring himself to use the word “sorry”. He gets out the first few letters, but is just unable to say the whole word.
 
In much the same way, many of our politicians just can’t bring themselves to use the word “coal” despite the need for some straight talking about coal’s role in future energy policy.
 
After years of political stupidity dressed up as energy policy we now face a crisis as we are forced to pay higher prices — up to $400 a year per household — for an energy shift in NSW that will make absolutely no difference to overall global emissions.
 
The Hazelwood power station in the Latrobe Valley before it closed down.
 
For too many years, politicians have based their energy policies on what they thought would win them votes rather than what was actually needed. The trend away from coal and gas towards more politically popular wind and solar has meant announcement after announcement from our politicians seeking to secure votes ­rather than deliver reliable and ­affordable electricity.
 
As a result we have a renewables sector now receiving around $2 billion in subsidies each year to deliver a small fraction of the ­energy we need. We also have an ageing coal power plant fleet that delivers around 85 per cent of our energy, but no one prepared to take the obvious but unfashionable step to upgrade them and extend their operating lives. We also have a gas supply shortage preventing it from providing similar baseload electricity to coal.
 
Meanwhile, our regional neighbours, including Malaysia and Vietnam are providing reliable ­energy using new coal-fired power plants that provide stable electricity supplies while reducing emissions.
 
Recent events suggest energy policy will continue to be driven by politics and Twitter trends rather than sound judgment and the ­national interest.
 
It’s time more politicians ­started using the “C” word and commit to coal. And it’s time we held to ­account those who don’t for the higher electricity prices we are all being forced to pay.
 
Stephen Galilee is the CEO of the NSW Minerals Council

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