Responses to the Carbon Tax

It’s a long time since a political issue raised tempers as much as the Labor government’s new Carbon Tax and opinions about it one day after the announcement span a very broad range.

The Australia Institute summed up the policy pretty much the way I would: “The good news is that the modest carbon price announced yesterday will neither impoverish Australians nor bankrupt our economy. The bad news is that the modest carbon price announced yesterday won’t save the planet either.” (Read the rest of it here.)

The Greens, predictably but forgivably, characterised it as a major victory in a campaign which they have been waging for as long as they have existed: “The Australian Greens, the Labor government and the Independent MPs today announced an historic agreement on a climate action package that will put a $23 per tonne price on carbon pollution, as was first proposed by the Greens, support householders and invest billions of dollars in clean, renewable energy. … While a climate action package designed by the Greens would have been more ambitious straight away, what we have achieved is a firm foundation for the future.” (More here.)

Get-up were happy but determined not to let it slip away: “As late as a few weeks ago a credible outcome was still uncertain. Thankfully, this plan has come along way! While it isn’t perfect, there’s a lot in this package that we can all be proud of … Right wing politicians and polluter lobbyists are in a frenzy. They’re desperate to scare the public in order to break the fledgling agreement in Canberra for a clean energy future. Millions of Australians will make up their mind in these first 48 hours. Our challenge is to counter the distortions from conservative media and the big polluters before they hijack the debate.” (I got that because I’m on their mailing list. Their site is here.)

On the Big Business side, “The owner of the Hazelwood power station, in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, has described the Government’s carbon tax plan as very disturbing.” (ABC News) – no surprise whatever – and “Most industry groups have responded negatively to yesterday’s carbon price revelations, saying the scheme is unfair and will cost jobs.” (ABC News again, and no surprise again.)

But some are more positive:

“While most of the major business lobby groups have come out in opposition to the Government’s carbon tax, other large firms say the long-term positives outweigh the short-term costs.

“Construction giant Grocon is one of the members of Businesses for a Clean Economy, a group of around 200 companies which are in favour of a carbon price. Grocon’s David Waldren says the carbon pricing scheme gives the construction industry greater certainty to invest in more environmentally friendly buildings. “Grocon’s very pleased to see certainty in the areas of renewable energy and energy efficiency,” he told ABC radio’s The World Today program. He says fears expressed by some industry associations over increased building costs represent a very short-sighted view.” (ABC News yet again.)

I don’t believe I need to tell anyone what Mr Abbott is saying, and Tony Windsor’s backhanded compliment last week suggests I’m not alone in my belief: “[Windsor] acknowledged the effectiveness of Mr Abbott’s anti-carbon price campaign. ‘Tony Abbott’s been very effective. If you’ve got only one line to say it’s not hard to remember,’ he said.” (ABC whatsit again.)

It will take weeks for the dust to settle and I’m not going to give it much space here until then, although I will certainly be watching with great interest.

Good news on renewable energy

RealClimate, my favourite way of keeping up with climate science, runs a monthly ‘open thread’ to which anyone is welcome to contribute a question or interesting bit of news. Two submissions which attracted my attention this month were about the development of renewable energy.

The first referred readers to BP’s annual Statistical Review of World Energy – still respected in spite of the company’s Gulf of Mexico disaster. Its section on renewables notes that:

  • Renewable power consumption grew by 15.5% in 2010, the fastest rate of expansion since 1990. While the share of renewable power in global energy consumption is still only 1.3% (up from 0.6% in 2000), renewable power now contributes a significant share of primary energy consumption in some individual countries. Eight nations have a renewables share of more than 5%, led by Denmark with 13.1%.
  • Solar power generating capacity grew by 73% in 2010, picking up the pace again after a brief slowdown in 2009. Total capacity grew by 16.7 GW to reach 40 GW, more than double the 2008 level. That is still only around 0.1% of total electricity generation but the rate of growth, which has averaged 39% pa over the past 10 years, suggests rapid changes in that figure.
  • Wind power generating capacity grew by 24.6% in 2010, with capacity increasing by a record 39.4 GW. The trend rate of capacity growth over the past 10 years is 27% pa, which implies a doubling of capacity every three years, and the fastest growth is occurring in China and India.

The second drew attention to a post on the highly-regarded ClimateProgress blog, ‘Ferocious Cost Reductions’ Make Solar PV Competitive. Exerpts:

There’s a joke in the solar industry about when “grid parity” – the time when solar becomes as cheap as fossil sources – will happen.

…The truth is, it will happen in phases – one market and one technology at a time. But according to two top solar executives – Tom Dinwoodie, CTO of SunPower and Dan Shugar, formerly of SunPower and current CEO of Solaria – “ferocious cost reductions,” are accelerating that crossover in a variety of markets today.

…Manufacturing costs have come down steadily, from $60 a watt in the mid-1970’s to $1.50 today. People often point to a “Moore’s Law” in solar – meaning that for every cumulative doubling of manufacturing capacity, costs fall 20%. In solar PV manufacturing, costs have fallen about 18% for every doubling of production. “It holds up very closely,” says Solaria’s Shugar.

…As SunPower’s Dinwoodie puts it: The 17 GW installed in 2010 is the equivalent of 17 nuclear power plants – manufactured, shipped and installed in one year. It can take decades just to install a nuclear plant. Think about that. I heard Bill Gates recently call solar “cute.” Well, that’s 17 GW of “cute” adding up at an astonishing pace.

…Here’s another important statistic: When SunPower built the 14-MW Nellis Air Force Base system in 2007, it cost $7 per watt. Today, commercial and utility systems are getting installed at around $3 per watt. In 2010 alone, the average installed cost of installing solar PV dropped 20%.

…So what does all this mean? It means that the notion that “solar is too expensive” doesn’t hold up anymore. When financing providers can offer a home or business owner solar electricity for less than the cost of their current services; when utilities start investing in solar themselves to reduce operating costs; and when the technology starts moving into the range of new nuclear and new coal, it’s impossible to ignore.

According to SunPower’s Tom Dinwoodie: “The cross-over has occurred.”

That is all talking about the USA, of course, but much of it applies here as well. And it is all good news.

National Day of Action 5 June

I don’t want to get too political here, but I do think we need to act to reduce climate change and the Greens’ National Day of Action on Sunday June 5 is one way of getting involved.
Even apart from that, recent Galaxy Poll results make fascinating reading in the light of the claims by some Opposition politicians to speak for ‘ordinary Australians’ in opposing action.
That’s enough politics for Bugblog for now. Back to the bugs soon.

Two climate warnings

Expert panels in Stockholm and Canberra recently issued major statements on climate within a few days of each other. Here are the essentials of both, with links to more detail.

Nobel Laureates Speak Out

Seventeen Nobel laureates who gathered in Stockholm published a remarkable memorandum asking for “fundamental transformation and innovation in all spheres and at all scales in order to stop and reverse global environmental change”. The Stockholm Memorandum concludes that we have entered a new geological era: the Anthropocene, where humanity has become the main driver of global change. Continue reading “Two climate warnings”