We all know politicians love to hobnob with wealthy elites. Is it so far-fetched to imagine a cabal of premiers and their advisers in a secret Facebook group, coordinating policy announcements? As far as we know, that never happened, but there were extraordinary announcements by the Queensland and Victorian state governments, along with Australia’s largest electricity company, AGL.
Rarely has any single week been as momentous for the Australian electricity sector.
One day prior to Palaszczuk’s $62 billion announcement, Daniel Andrews set a Victorian state battery target of 6,300 MW. One day after, AGL announced 5,000 MW of early coal closures and advised the stock market they will spend $20 billion to replace it.
Palaszczuk’s proclamation included the early closure of almost 7,000 MW of coal, increased grid for 22,000 MW of new large-scale wind and solar, plus another 11,000 MW of rooftop solar. The combined effect of the Victorian, Queensland, and AGL announcements approaches $100 billion and 50,000 MW. Thousands of jobs will be directly affected and millions more will pay twice for electricity – once through their taxes and again through their bills.
Let’s start with Annastacia Palaszczuk and her seriously unrealistic Energy and Jobs Plan, complete with glossy brochure.
‘A new dam in the Pioneer Valley near Mackay will supply half of Queensland’s entire energy needs with clean, reliable, and affordable renewable energy,’ pronounces the media statement. This might be news to those in the region who rely on the water supply for industry, irrigation, and drinking water for Mackay.
To appreciate the enormity of this statement, we need to look at the numbers behind the assumptions. With the official report still secret – of course – we’ll take Anna’s proclamations literally, except we’ll assume that when she says ‘energy’ she means electricity.
Half the state’s annual electricity demand is thirty-million megawatt-hours (30,000,000 MWh). After converting this to an hourly output and allowing downtime to pump the water back uphill, you find yourself in need of a hydropower station with over 8,000 MW capacity. That’s double the existing Snowy scheme. The largest pumped hydro in the world is 3,000 MW in America. If the project utilises similar turbines to those used in Snowy 2, you’d need 17 units. This would be the eighth largest hydropower station of any kind on the planet. All the others are in heavily populated regions mostly, in China and Brazil.
A reservoir of this magnitude could cover 300 hectares (at 100m depth), containing 300 gigalitres or around two-thirds the volume of Sydney Harbour. And that’s just the top reservoir – pumped hydro requires upper and lower reservoirs. Nearby picturesque Eungella Dam holds a measly 0.1 gigalitres. A 2021 study by the pro-renewables Australian National University identified potential pumped hydro sites across Australia. Their generous assumptions resulted in a total storage capacity of 311 gigalitres from all 759 potential sites in central Queensland combined. The largest reservoir in the study, at 100 gigalitres, had a dam wall over 11 kilometres long.
And we haven’t discussed how all this electricity gets from Mackay to the rest of the state. Imagine committing half the state’s reliable generating capacity to a single power station, a few transmission lines, and still having to worry about droughts? Who gets priority for the water – electricity consumers, irrigators, or those who want clean drinking water? Does the inevitable consultant’s report guarantee the rain to fill it?
The rest of the media statement reads like a wish list from the Greens with massively increased targets for renewables and transmission, three new pumped hydros in total, ending coal-fired electricity generation, new hydrogen-fuelled power generation, batteries, and job guarantees for coal workers. At the time of writing, Palaszczuk’s own Department of Public Works website still spruiked an ‘energy plan’ to ensure the old 50 per cent renewables target will be achieved in 2030. It was updated just ten weeks ago on 26 July 2022. Mandating the end of coal power by 2035 will get the Greens onside, but what’s the point of them anymore?
Palaszczuk’s figure of $62 billion can only be a broad estimate. There are no right of ways, no community consultation, no tenders, no cost-benefit-analysis – not even any environmental approvals. In the projects game, cost estimates are grouped into classifications based on the quality of the input information. As input quality improves the estimate accuracy increases. $62 billion can only be the lowest accuracy Class 5 estimate, meaning -50 per cent to +100 per cent. Recall Malcolm Turnbull confidently announced Snowy 2 would cost $2 billion, now at least $6 billion.
By all appearances the rush to ‘Net Zero’ is accelerating, regardless of costs and consequences. The head of the UN, Antonio Guterres, last week declared that governments must raise windfall taxes on fossil fuel companies, but Palaszczuk had already complied with her August tax hikes on coal miners. Despite ‘Net Zero’ being a physical impossibility, federal and state governments are falling over themselves to comply.
But why? There has been no election mandate, no signal that forewarned our (until recently) world-class electricity system will be dismantled before our eyes. Queensland state debt is $124 billion, a six-fold increase in twenty years. A simplistic 5 per cent interest bill costs us $6 billion per year, but nobody seems to care, and the Olympics are around the corner, with more spending to come.
Why do these politicians and their billionaire mates imagine they have answers to the world’s problems through central planned bureaucracies and infinite spending of other peoples’ money? Are they worried the rise of populism around the world will end their dream run?
Show us a cost-benefit analysis, an environmental approval, a community consultation, a formal cost estimate.
Politicians and their mates in this country are a joke. Give me the new Italian Prime Minister, give me the Indian petroleum minister, give me the Florida governor. For god’s sake, get these buffoons out of their privileged unaccountable positions before they end us all.