Daniel Wild Discussing Future Net Zero Blackouts 3AW Mornings – 21 May 2024

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21 May 2024
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The Institute of Public Affairs’ Daniel Wild joined Tom Elliott on 3AW Mornings to discuss the IPA’s research into Net Zero.

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Below is a trancript of the interview.


Tom Elliott:

All right. Well, we’ve had warnings about blackouts every summer for the past few years, but the Australian energy market operator has said the Southeastern Australia, which obviously includes Victoria, has a very high chance of blackouts, not just this coming summer, but for the next four years. To find out why, we’re joined by Deputy Executive Director at the Institute of Public Affairs, Daniel Wild. Good morning.

Daniel Wild:

Good morning, Tom. Nice to chat.

Tom Elliott:

Well, I’ve only read the summary of the report, but it seems to be saying that as we get rid of coal and gas-fired power, which is essentially reliable, we’re replacing it with less reliable sources. Is that the issue or are there other factors at play here?

Daniel Wild:

No, that’s the key issue, Tom. And as you mentioned, we’ve been having these warnings for the last few years. The fundamental problem is that we’re told that there’s going to be an energy transition, that we need to move away from coal and gas and towards wind and solar on a mass scale.

The trouble with that is, on a mass scale, solar and wind are very experimental. I’m sure a lot of your listeners would have solar on their rooftops and that can work very well, and there’s a good financial incentive to do it. But clearly, what we’re seeing now is the experiment isn’t working. Governments have not been investing in the existing system, which is a system based on coal and gas, because they want to move to a different system, but the different system is falling over and it’s just not working, and now we’re having to pay the price.

Tom Elliott:

Now we’ve got cables essentially that link us to the New South Wales power grid and the Tasmanian power grid, and we can also tap into snowy hydro. Let’s say we do run short for whatever reason. For example, let’s say one of the old coal-fired plants breaks down this summer and we get a series of very hot days and everybody wants to turn on the air conditioning. Can the other states to which we are interconnected, could they make up the difference for us?

Daniel Wild:

Not if it’s a very hot day and everybody’s turning on their air conditioner at the same time. And that’s the problem. The system is very vulnerable. Look, it can operate okay at the moment, but if you have a cold day or a hot day across the East Coast, then we’re in a lot of trouble. And the problem we’ve had, Tom, is there’s no leaders. There’s no adults in the room about this. The only one perhaps, is Chris Minns, the New South Wales Premier, who’s trying to keep the Eraring coal-fired power station open, which is a very important move. That provides something like 20% of New South Wales energy supply, and it’s a key part of the national energy market.

So look, the issue here, Tom, I think is there’s been a bit too much ideology injected into the energy system and not enough science. Yes, we should reduce emissions where we can, but that should not come at the expense of reliability and affordability. Victorians will remember it wasn’t that long ago where half a million homes lost power for a number of days. And the reason for that is the state government hasn’t been investing in the existing system because it’s not interested in the existing system. It wants to move to the so-called new system, but that’s just not working.

Tom Elliott:

Well, let’s say, final question. Let’s just say that someone does realise in the Victorian government that having the lights go out for an extended period is not a good thing. Is there anything now that could be done to stave off this risk of blackout?

Daniel Wild:

Yes, there is. You’ve got to get more gas onto the market and you’ve got to keep the coal-fired power stations going. That’s the reality. Those are the only two sources of reliable 24/7 power. And what does 24/7 power mean? It means you go home and you flip the light switch and your lights come on. So, there needs to be investment into the current system. I’ll draw your attention to a report from the Victorian government that they’ve since removed from their website because, presumably because it’s too embarrassing for them. But what they said was, if you want to get to net-zero, 70% of Victoria’s land would need to be covered in wind turbines, solar panels, and transition lines.

Now, that was the Victorian government report. So, there’s huge consequences associated with this so-called transition, whether it’s on regional Victoria and the impact on food security and food supply, or whether it’s on the reliability of the system that we’re seeing today.

Tom Elliott:

All right, well you do paint a somewhat dystopian future. Thank you for your time. Deputy Executive Director of the IPA, Daniel Wild there. Now look again, no-one can predict exactly what’s going to happen, but here’s the perfect storm. We get an extended period of really hot weather over South Australia, over Victoria, maybe parts of Tasmania and Southern New South Wales. All right? We get one of the old coal-fired power plants, chucks a wobbly, as they sometimes do in extremely hot weather and goes down. Suddenly you’ve got power demand across the four southeastern states, Tassie, Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales going through the roof just at the same time supply comes off. Now, you might also on very hot days, not have much wind. And so suddenly you have to have what they call load-shedding. And what they do is they actually look around, say, “Right-o, we’ll shut down that suburb. We’ll shut down this factory.” And it’s done fairly randomly. They don’t go and ask the people, “Is this what you want?” But it could happen. And again, for the economy of Victoria, it’s a disaster. We’re supposed to be the manufacturing state in Australia. If you’re thinking about setting up manufacturing here and you don’t have reliable power supply, you’d go elsewhere.

This transcript from 3AW Mornings with Tom Elliott from 21 May 2024 has been edited for clarity.

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