The fossil fuel interests were out in force last week in the usual places, following NSW Energy Minister Matt Kean's promotion of his new energy policy, which passed Parliament late last month.
His crime? To dare to suggest on Twitter that environmental benefits and cost savings to the community outweigh the profits of polluting vested interests and a select few "coal barons".
Seems pretty innocuous, you would think, and a reason to celebrate the dawn of a more positive future for our industry, our economy and our local environment.
Not for some. Labor backbencher Joel Fitzgibbon, increasingly at odds with senior members of his own party, portrayed the minister as "an idealist rather than a realist, gloating about a premature victory over those who are arguing for no more than job security and energy reliability".
And former Labor leader Mark Latham, now working for Pauline Hanson, attempted vexatiously to block the passage of Mr Kean's energy package through the NSW upper house, attacking it with almost 250 amendments and telling 2GB radio "it's appalling that he's Energy Minister!"
Nonetheless, the bill was passed after 30 hours of debate by a unified Coalition with cross-party support from Labor, the Greens and independents. Opposition came from Mr Latham and what Mr Kean termed "big energy companies seeking super profits".
He heralded plans to help NSW citizens "get access to cheaper, cleaner reliable energy".
The Murdoch press were incensed.
The Herald Sun's James O'Doherty furiously recounted that coal had saved NSW during the heatwave, helping residents stay cool. One might as well thank cigarettes for reducing the stress of a blocked aorta.
"Coal is also forecast to deliver $1.4 billion in royalties to the government this year," O'Doherty pointed out, failing to mention the staggering cost to the health system of an industry responsible for the premature deaths of nearly 800 people a year nationwide, according to Australian health researchers.
That's to say nothing of the immeasurable threat posed by fossil fuels to our future generations, all too concerning to scientists like myself.
Soaring temperatures like those seen last weekend, barely what you would even call early summer, are a consequence of an economy too reliant on fossil fuels - and that is precisely what Matt Kean in NSW and his counterparts in the other states are determined to phase out.
This is not about an attack on jobs or lifestyles - this is about a responsible transition at a time when new coal-fired power plants no longer stack up economically, and most existing ones are scheduled to close by 2035, wiping nine gigawatts of generation capacity from the market.
This point was driven home by Mr Kean, who assures us NSW has done its modelling. "We need to keep the lights on and drive prices down. We don't want to see the early closure of coal-fired power stations, and we've modelled this extensively."
Mr Kean's policy would support the construction of much as 12 gigawatts of new wind and solar projects, and two gigawatts of storage capacity, over the next 10 years, plus the transmission lines needed to connect them to the grid. These plans would result in new job creation and lower power bills.
At Coalition for Conservation, we applaud conservative leaders who are serious about conservation. We want nothing more than for our children and grandchildren to inherit a better world. The over-reliance on coal to provide baseload power in heatwaves is dangerous, both to the environment and the economy.
We support efforts to transition jobs in the fossil-fuel industry responsibly to renewables projects, many of which require similar skillsets, and to support communities dependent on coal throughout this transition.
Whether we like it or not, thermal coal has a shelf life measured in the years rather than decades. Many investor groups are demanding companies cut emissions. Many funders will no longer back coal, and many insurers will no longer insure it.
Coal is decreasing rapidly, from a high of about 85 per cent of supply in the late 1990s, to barely 63 per cent today. Its biggest drops have come in the past few years, declining from a 70 per cent share in 2017.
COVID-19 has further decreased coal's share in the grid. September marked the first time when renewable-powered output was greater than coal-powered output.
There is real concern that investments in thermal coal made today could leave us with assets that would soon be impossible to operate on environmental, public health and cost grounds, leaving a legacy of stranded power stations and coal ghost towns as the last monuments to the age of fossil fuels.
Heatwaves are not a reason to support coal. They are an eye-opener to realise we must transition to renewables and storage. The minister's policy is a good way to do just that.
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