Politics

Why The PM Wants To Build New Gas Power Plants

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison: “Get more gas, more often and more reliably”.

Scott Morrison recently announced that he wants to build more gas-fired power stations because he believes it’s the best way for Australia to transition away from its heavy reliance on coal.

Talks about the future of Australian energy have ramped up as the country is trying to figure out the best way to navigate the economy out of the pandemic.

So, what do we need to know about Morrison’s gas-led recovery plan? And does it really stack up as the best option for Australia’s energy future?

Morrison thinks natural gas is an energy source that can act as a steppingstone between coal and renewables, and he’s kind of browbeating the electricity sector into getting on board with his new energy plan.

He’s said that the government is going to shell out to build its own gas-fired power plant in the Hunter Valley if the current electricity operators don’t commit to stepping up to replacing coal with gas.

For people who believe in renewable energy, the government’s gas plan is frustrating and totally irrational.

Kane Thornton: “I think the confusing thing for industry, for investors, for anyone who looks at the energy sector is that the ship has really sailed for gas”.

That’s Kane Thornton, he’s the Chief Executive of the Clean Energy Council.

He told me that even from a purely economic point of view, Morrison’s plan doesn’t hold up.

KT: “Renewable energy and energy storage is well proven to be much lower cost, effective, reliable, all of those things and that’s why over the years investors are building new solar farms, wind farms, batteries – and they’re not building new gas fired power stations.”

Thornton told me that the Government’s actually been indicating for a while now that they were turning towards gas.

The commission that the Government set up to guide decisions about the economic recovery was dominated by people who have connections to the gas industry.

The plans to ramp up Australia’s gas industry is also a devastating blow to environmental activists, who believe that the economic hit on Australia as a result of the pandemic has opened up a huge opportunity to move towards a future of renewables and a zero emissions economy.

Gas isn’t as terrible for emissions as say, burning brown coal, but it still poses a huge environmental threat.

Extracting natural gas releases methane and that is really, really bad for the planet.

Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide – it can trap about 84 times the amount of heat that CO2 does in our atmosphere.

Ultimately, Morrison’s plan to shift from one fossil fuel to another is infuriating people who want to see the government really commit to fighting climate change.

Veronica Hester: “It’s just ridiculous because we could make so many strides in getting renewable energy right. The AEMO has said that we can get to 90% renewable energy and maybe a small amount of firming behind that would be gas … but not setting up massive, like five projects across four states.”

That’s Veronica Hester, she’s a School Strike for Climate Action student who’s organising a protest against Morrison’s gas-led recovery plan.

Students around Australia are currently organising hundreds of small-scale protests and it’s going to be one of the biggest movements of School Strike action that we’ve seen so far.

VH: “It doesn’t make economic sense, it wouldn’t happen without putting money into something that is a dead-end industry.”

Thornton told me there are reasons to remain optimistic about Australia’s energy future – even though the government is set on gas, the energy industry and investors have already made up their mind that renewables are the way forward, and the likelihood that they‘re going to want to change track now is pretty low.

KT: “I think to be honest the response from most of the industry is a bit of an eye roll that this is just a sort of rhetorical distraction when the reality is that we’re heading towards a renewable energy future.”

The Takeaway 

Morrison’s gas plan is a massive missed opportunity to lead Australia away from the COVID-19 pandemic with renewable energy commitments.

But the plan also shows that Australia’s government is totally out of step with what industry, investors and the majority of the public already recognise – that renewable energy is the way forward.