Assault and Battery

One of the unfortunate consequences of rising early is the extended interview slot on ABC News Radio, broadcast at about 5.45 am. Frequently this will be a lengthy regurgitation of a Lateline interview from the night before, and this morning’s was no exception.

This morning we were greeted by an almost unbelievable cosy fireside chat between David Lipson and Labor climate spokesperson Mark Butler, who proceeded to spout the most egregious climate nonsense, unchallenged at every step by the interviewer.

The South Australian miracle battery, for example, was made to sound like a cure for all the state’s energy ills, despite the fact that it is a band-aid solution to a problem that should never have arisen. Proper use of gas and clean coal generation will be essential until renewables and other forms of generation are economical, but South Australia’s ideological crusade (which has turned the state into the world’s electricity crash test dummy, as I read somewhere) has meant that the lights will continue to go out during periods of high demand, with or without Elon Musk’s Duracell.

Butler then proceeded to lecture us on how Australia’s emissions of “carbon pollution” (actually harmless CO2 gas, nothing to do with elemental carbon, and not pollution either) had risen by 1.4%. That’s 1.4% of the less than 2% of the contribution that Australia makes to global emissions, or just under three-hundredths of one percent – as if that was going to have any effect on the climate.

Lipson let all this through without challenge, including Butler’s heavily implied link between Australia’s actions and the ‘survival’ of the Great Barrier Reef. All complete nonsense, of course, since China and India cannot build coal-fired power stations fast enough, and their increasing emissions will obliterate any token reductions by Australia.


Interview: Mark Butler, Shadow Climate Change and Energy Minister


DAVID LIPSON, PRESENTER: Mark Butler is the Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change. He joined me earlier from Adelaide.

Mark Butler, welcome to Lateline.

Will this mega battery put downward pressure on power prices?

MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY: Well, it should. A battery of this size provides a range of services to the system.

It obviously provides back-up power in the event of a supply shortage because of a blackout or because the interconnector goes down.

It provides some security services to the system, some frequency control for example but what it also does is allow the system to arbitrage so it can store power when it is being generated at cheap prices and put it back into the market when there is peak demand and you see the very big spike in power prices that we see across the country.

So that really should put downward pressure on wholesale power prices, particularly the peak prices that are hurting consumers now.

DAVID LIPSON: This would be the biggest battery ever built in the world but it is still just a tiny fraction of South Australia’s power needs so how far will it go in solving some of the problems that your state has had?

MARK BUTLER: It will go a very long way indeed. As I think Elon Musk has pointed out, a much smaller battery was put in California, I think the fifth biggest economy in the world, to provide the sort of services that South Australia needs.

It might not sound big when the numbers are put in place but given the sort of support that a system like South Australia’s and in time the Eastern States, will need, 100 megawatts is a very, very big battery indeed.

And it comes off the back of some other world-leading advances in South Australia. We now have the largest virtual power plant being constructed in South Australia which is essentially an aggregation of 1,000 households which have solar on their roofs and also household batteries. We know that’s going to be the biggest in the world as well.

So South Australia really is leading the way in the area of storage technology which is a revolution sweeping the globe at the moment.

DAVID LIPSON: So can you guarantee, with this latest development, that the lights will stay on next summer?

MARK BUTLER: This will provide an enormous support to the system. It’s not going to be the only thing that provides that system security, not just in South Australia but in Victoria and in New South Wales which also had very significant supply challenges earlier this year.

There’s also going to be some need for monitoring the gas generation in the system…

DAVID LIPSON: Just to stop you there, I notice that’s not a guarantee, though.

MARK BUTLER: Well, there is no silver bullet in this. I think all of the regulators, all of the companies, have said there is no single response to the massive transition that’s happening in the electricity system across Australia.

You need a battery storage solution. You need to ensure there is enough gas generation in the system. You need a strong demand response so that people can explore opportunities to reduce their load on the system at times of peak demand.

The new head of the market operator AEMO (Australian Energy Market Operator) is making very clear that there needs to be a broad approach to this. As indeed did Alan Finkel when he released his report a few weeks ago.

But this large battery, have no doubt, this large battery is going to be a very, very significant system support and price dampener in the South Australian system.

DAVID LIPSON: What’s it going to cost?

MARK BUTLER: Well, the cost I don’t think has been released yet. That’s a matter for the South Australian Government and the company to do.

It went through a very competitive tender process. There was extraordinary levels of interest, I think more than 90 companies from here in Australia and across the world submitted expressions of interest and then a competitive tender process involving a short list.

And as I understand it, this was a very, very competitive bid but as for the costs …

DAVID LIPSON: We will ultimately learn the cost, won’t we?

MARK BUTLER: I imagine so. That’s a matter you are going to have to put to the South Australian Government but this was a clear merit-based selection process and I imagine those details will come out in due course.

DAVID LIPSON: The Government has released the latest data on emissions, carbon emissions, for Australia. What does that data tell us about our commitments to cut emissions by 26 per cent by 2030?

MARK BUTLER: Well, they’re not, we don’t have a hope in hell of doing that, frankly, under this Government.

This Government was shamed into releasing this data after an FOI request was published this morning, as you know, and on a number of ABC programs because we haven’t had data for more than 12 months.

It’s the June 2016 quarter was the last set of data released.

That showed that since the election of the Abbott government, now the Turnbull Government, pollution had started to rise and the data that was snuck out this afternoon has also shown that in 2016, pollution continued to rise in just 12 months, by 1.4 per cent – after coming down by 10 per cent …

DAVID LIPSON: The population though, just to stop you there, is growing at 1.3 per cent and the electricity sector has shown a downward projection or a downward result for the December quarter.

MARK BUTLER: No, there is no question the trend data in electricity is going up. I mean quarter to quarter it may jump around but electricity emissions have gone up substantially since the election of Tony Abbott because he removed the carbon price and because of the consistent attacks on renewable energy that we have seen under both Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull.

Have no doubt, we are now pretty much the only major advanced economy where there are trend increases in carbon pollution.

We are going to see a position in 2020 where our carbon pollution levels are higher than they were in 2000 in spite of a bipartisan commitment to reduce them by 5 per cent and the Government’s own projections that they snuck out during the week of Christmas last year, their own projections about where we’ll be in 2030 show that, on current trends, we won’t have reduced our pollution levels at all on 2005 levels notwithstanding Malcolm Turnbull’s commitments to reduce them by ’26 to 28 per cent.

So we are in a great deal of trouble here in terms of our climate change policies and no number of attempts to hide the data are going to hide the fact that Malcolm Turnbull has to jettison the Tony Abbott legacy on climate change and energy policy and get real about this area.

DAVID LIPSON: The Great Barrier Reef, on another matter, has avoided being placed on UNESCO’s “in danger” list after a recent decision. Should we be celebrating that?

MARK BUTLER: Well, obviously it’s a good thing for the tourism industry up there that employs 69,000 people, that generates billions of dollars of activity up there, that this listing has not taken place but no-one should be sanguine about the pressures that the Great Barrier Reef are under.

I haven’t had a chance to read the report in great detail. It has only just come out but I do know that UNESCO, the United Nations’ World Heritage Committee, did draw attention to the failure of Australia to bring its land-clearing laws back under control in Queensland.

After Campbell Newman’s LNP government tore up Peter Beattie’s restrictions on clearing native vegetation, there has been a tripling of land clearing in Great Barrier Reef catchment areas according to the Queensland Auditor-General.

That’s placing enormous pressure on the Great Barrier Reef, combined with the impact of climate change.

UNESCO really does want the Government to come to grips with that and we have seen nothing from Malcolm Turnbull in terms of addressing that commitment, that express commitment in the 2050 Reef Sustainability plan …

DAVID LIPSON: Sure, but UNESCO, surely they don’t it is a big enough issue, the matters that you raised, to actually put the reef in danger. Does that mean that your criticism and that of green groups and the Greens and others has been overblown?

MARK BUTLER: Not at all. I don’t think anyone who has any understanding of what’s happening on the Great Barrier Reef is sanguine about the current pressures on the system or about the fact that particularly you need strong climate change policy.

Now every expert who understands the reef says you can’t be serious about preserving the Great Barrier Reef without having a serious climate change policy and the emissions data that we have just seen released this afternoon confirm that Malcolm Turnbull does not have a serious climate change policy.

But he also needs to look at more immediate pressures on the reef and the land-clearing problem in North Queensland has been reiterated by the World Heritage Committee as something which the Government can control now and should start to control now.

DAVID LIPSON: Mark Butler, we are out of time, thanks for joining us.

MARK BUTLER: Thanks, David.


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