The only major surprise in the naming of the new Turnbull cabinet post-election was the joining of the Energy and Environment portfolios. Josh Frydenberg, who had previously held Energy, Resources and Northern Australia was relieved of the latter two and given Environment. On first blush, this looks to be promising development.
All the action in the electricity sector in coming years will be around the transition from fossil fuels to renewables and how to incorporate a raft of new technologies including batteries, smart grids and energy efficiency.
For too long in Australia the Energy portfolio has equalled fossil fuels and this has worked directly against good outcomes in the Environment portfolio. Anyone watching how inadequate grid and generation planning in renewables-rich South Australia is driving power prices up might consider that the Abbott government's 2015 Energy White Paper, barely rated half a dozen mentions of renewable energy. Previous Energy Minister and fossil fuel diehard, Ian Macfarlane, stubbornly refused to acknowledge the role of renewable energy, despite the fact it was already supplying around 14% of our power. This was a perfect example of how the ideological Abbott administration was so out of touch with what was happening in the real world and we were the losers.
Energy and Environment have been combined in Victoria under current Minister, Lily D'Ambrosio, and the two portfolios have always sat together in the Greens party room, with Larissa Waters taking over Christine Milne who held the joint portfolio for many years.
And on his first outings as Minister, Josh Frydenberg struck the right tone, telling a conference of clean energy professionals that he was "taking Energy into Environment". Coal's share of the power sector was falling and that "wasn't a bad thing". Renewable energy was "indispensable". All good so far.
But his most telling comment so far was his response to the hystrionic media campaign by the Australian against wind power in South Australia, his response was simple - “To say that [this price spike] is the fault of renewables is not an accurate assessment.” He further noted the fact that the increase in wind power had in fact reduced the price volatility in South Australia's market by reducing the number of price spikes above $5,000/MWh, which happened 50 times in 2008 but just once in 2015.
Of course, how these views effect what he does as Minister are the next question. His first big test was at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting of Energy Ministers last Friday where some tentatively positive steps for renewables were overshadowed by a focus on driving gas-burning power.
Photo: Josh Frydenberg being interviewed by Annabel Crabb at Australian Clean Energy Summit. Credit: Giles Parkinson.
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- commented 2016-08-26 11:37:50 +1000That’s a good point Alan. The bigger discussion here is how wind farms can help local farming economies and there’s a clear fit between grazing and cropping land and hosting wind farms.
As an example, the proposed Rye Park Wind Farm will have a project footprint of around 220 hectares of its total project site of 13,500 hectares. That’s for 109 turbines producing 327MW. We estimated that it would take around 525 hectares to do the same with solar which is clearly untenable in good quality grazing country.
- commented 2016-08-24 17:46:24 +1000A general comment about wind versus solar. There is ample information around that enables a reasonable determination of the number of Kwh per year per Ha for solar, but I have never seen a corresponding set of information for wind. To my mind wind has an advantage over solar when it comes to use of farming land for harvesting energy. Apart from the access roads wind’s footprint is small allowing farmers to continue production. Furthermore the leasing of that footprint gives the farmer a life line in the inherently risky business of farming. If it can be established that the energy density of wind is better than for solar it could be useful as a tool to win over some of the wind haters.