At the Threatened Species Summit last week in Melbourne, Environment Minister Greg Hunt and Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews declared war on feral cats.
Cats are thought to be a significant contributor to the decline of many threatened species.
Targets in the released threatened species strategy include culling two million cats by 2020, creating new safe havens for threatened species (cat-free islands and sanctuaries), restoring habitat and emergency intervention for our most critically endangered species.
Excluding cats using fencing is an increasingly important tool used to protect threatened species. New exclusion fencing projects received significant funding under the latest strategy.
One of us (Katherine) was lucky enough to be asked to give a presentation at the summit on alternative methods of controlling feral cats. The following article summarises this presentation and highlights the importance of investing in a broad range of cat control methods.
Cats are highly adaptable and highly variable, hence we must continue to search for their Achilles Heel and invest in a wide range of control methods.Poison baiting
Widespread poison baiting for cats has come a long way in the last few decades with baits such as Eradicat, Curiosity and a new hybrid Eradicat bait being produced.
These baits were developed after years of research conducted initially by the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife and are a soft meat sausage injected with 1080 poison or containing an encapsulated PAPP (Para-aminopropiophenone) pill. These baits have had most success in island eradications and areas where alternative prey are scarce.
In order to kill a cat using poison baits, cats must first find and then ingest the bait.
Unfortunately, cats hunt mainly using sight and sound so finding an inert sausage is a challenge for a cat.
Large numbers of baits must be laid, the usual density is 50 per square km, 10 times higher than the recommended fox baiting density of 5 per square km.
Despite this, many cats fail to find a poison bait before they break down and are no longer toxic. Even when cats do find baits, up to 80% of encounters do not lead to bait ingestion, with cats often ignoring, sniffing or avoiding baits when detected. This is because cats prefer to catch their own prey and will only ingest a bait when hungry.
Non-target uptake can also be high – species such as crows, goannas and quolls can take more than half of laid baits in some instances.
Successful baiting relies on using large densities of baits in areas with low food availability at the right time of year when cats are hungriest. Practitioners are continuing to develop ways of improving bait uptake and several important baiting programs received funding under the Threatened Species Strategy.Grooming traps
A recent invention removes the need for cats to be hungry to ingest poison. An automated grooming trap squirts a poisonous paste onto the fur of the cat as it walks past a trap station, which it then ingests through compulsive grooming.
Cats are fastidious groomers and pen trials have found 9 out of 10 cats will ingest the paste when it is squirted on their fur. The trap uses an array of sensors to restrict triggering to target species and is currently being developed for field trials around Australia. The grooming traps have a silent activation, can store up to 20 doses and can sit unattended for months at a time.
Although unlikely to be used in broadscale applications, the grooming trap may be critical for protecting small threatened species populations and reducing the impacts of cats in areas where food availability is high.
The grooming trap received much needed funding for further development at the Threatened Species Summit.Get rid of rabbits, get rid of cats
Broadscale Widespread? indirect methods of reducing cat impacts are also important. Recent work has found that the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Virus Disease (RHVD) (otherwise known as Rabbit Calicivirus) released in 1995 has had a significant positive impact on many desert threatened mammal species.
The range of species such as the Plains Mouse, Dusky Hopping Mouse and Crest-tailed Mulgara has increased by as much as 70 fold in the last 20 years due largely to reduced predation.
RHDV reduced rabbit abundance by up to 95% in the arid zone of Australia which resulted in a natural steep decline in feral cats and foxes, the main predator of rabbits in that region.
The increase in vegetation cover coupled with a massive decline in predation pressure has allowed these native rodents and marsupials to recover.
This would undoubtedly be one of the most significant recoveries of threatened species in Australia. RHVD was relatively cheap, for an initial investment of only $12 million. The agricultural benefit alone totalled more than A$6 billion and the benefits to threatened species have been dramatic but remain unquantified.
Other researchers have also found that by manipulating fire and stock grazing pressure, broadscale indirect benefits can be achieved for threatened species through a reduction in susceptibility to cat predation.
These indirect benefits include making it more difficult for cats to hunt by increasing ground cover, and increasing the productivity of the landscape thereby allowing native species to increase their reproductive output and tolerate higher predation pressure.Serial cats
All cats are not created equal and recent work in the Flinders Ranges National Park has highlighted the impact of catastrophic cats on reintroduction programs. The reintroduction of the western quoll resulted in nearly a third of the quolls being killed by feral cats.
DNA analysis indicated that quolls were killed by large male cats with most cats responsible for multiple kills (Moseby, Peacock and Read,in press,Biological Conservation). These specialist hunters could be targeted by making their prey toxic, in other words employing toxic Trojans (poison capsules implanted under the skin of prey species where they remain stable) to control specialist cats.
Poison capsules can be implanted under the skin of prey species where they remain stable. If a cat kills and ingests a toxic Trojan, the capsule will break down in the acidic environment of the cat’s stomach releasing the poison and preventing it from killing more individuals. Research is continuing into this poison delivery device which may result in improved targeted cat control.Get smart
Finally, an ARC linkage grant between the University of New South Wales and Arid Recovery is researching ways to improve the anti-predator behaviour of threatened species.
Our native species did not evolve with introduced cats and foxes and hence may exhibit inappropriate or ineffective anti-predator responses. This prey naivety can lead to high susceptibility even to low levels of exotic predators.
Containing our threatened species on off-shore islands or behind fences is potentially exacerbating the issue as they are not exposed to mammalian predators and can develop “island syndrome” where they fail to recognise predators as dangerous.
The project involves trialling “in situ” predator training where low levels of predators are added to populations of threatened species for extended periods to improve their anti-predator behaviour.
The theory is that natural selection and learning will lead to improved survival and behaviour of successive generations of threatened species.
Whilst this may be a long term endeavour, ways of facilitating co-existence and increasing the resilience of our native species to exotic predators are urgently needed as it is likely that the wily feral cat is here to stay.
The authors would like to acknowledge the following for contributions. Poison Baits - Dave Algar, Michael Johnston, Keith Morris; Grooming traps- Invasive Animals CRC; Broadscale indirect methods - Reece Pedler, Peter Bird, Rob Brandle Rick Southgate, Rachel Paltridge, Sarah Legge; Specialist Hunters - Dave Peacock; Improving Prey Responses - Mike Letnic, Dan Blumstein, Bec West. Ecological Horizons has received funding from Sporting Shooters, FAME, Bush Heritage and SA and Australian Govt for development of Feral Cat Grooming Traps.
Dr Katherine Moseby and Dr John Read are affiliates of the University of Adelaide and directors of Ecological Horizons environmental consultancy. Ecological Horizons received $100 000 towards the development of the grooming trap during the recent National Threatened Species Summit held in Melbourne. Katherine is also co-investigator on the ARC prey naivety grant at Arid Recovery and project coordinator of the Flinders Ranges Reintroduction Program.
John Read has nothing further to disclose.
80% of Australian energy comes from coal, coal-fired power, and it’s about $79 a kilowatt hour. Wind power is about $1502 a kilowatt hour. That is unaffordable. If you take that power and feed it into the grid, then every person watching this program has electricity bills going through the roof. – Broadcaster Alan Jones, panel discussion on Q&A, ABC TV, July 20, 2015
Alan Jones has told The Conversation by email he acknowledges this comment was made in error and is not correct, saying:
I think you have rightly highlighted a ridiculous mistake that I made… why I said kilowatt-hours and not megawatt-hours and where the 1502 comes from, I have absolutely no idea. What I can tell you is that I’ve used figures for some time now on this issue to merely confirm that renewable energy is many multiples dearer than coal-fired power[…] I previously used that $79 figure but as you can imagine, it’s based on the price of coal. Wind has always been, in my words, three or four times dearer than that.
[…] But if I’ve said that, that is wrong, and I’ll be writing to the ABC to that effect. I have no comment to make other than to thank you for pointing this out to me. I guess we all make mistakes and I’m always happy to correct them when I’m told about them.
Electrical energy is usually measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh) or megawatt-hours (MWh). Kilowatt-hours are the unit generally used for metering and charging residential electricity consumption, and represents the amount of energy a device drawing one kilowatt of power would use in an hour. A megawatt-hour is 1000 times larger, and is typically used to measure large loads or generators. The price quoted (A$79/kWh) is about 300 times more expensive than the typical retail price of electricity paid by residential customers around Australia (and about 2000 times more than current wholesale prices).
Mr Jones' error in saying kilowatt-hours instead of megawatt-hours is an easy mistake to make.
A$79 per megawatt-hour is consistent with the range of costs reported by the Electric Power Research Institute for new coal-fired electricity in 2010, without carbon capture and storage or a price on emissions.
However, even with the right units, the figure of $1502 for wind power did not make sense. Mr Jones was not able to say from what source he got that figure of $1502 for wind power. So I decided to investigate.
The claim that coal-fired power energy costs $79 a kilowatt-hour and wind power costs $1502 a kilowatt-hour pops up a few times on websites of groups opposing the renewable energy target, climate sceptics, and even in Hansard. Mostly, this claim is referenced to an unnamed Productivity Commission report released in 2010.
The source of the $1502 figure on sceptic sites may be a now-corrected Paul Sheehan opinion piece published by Fairfax in 2011. The correction there reads:
Correction: An earlier version of this piece misquoted energy figures. The Productivity Commission said the cost of electricity generated by wind was $150 to $214 per megawatt-hour, not $1502; and solar was $400 to $473 per MWh, not $4004.So what did the Productivity Commission actually say?
The 2011 Productivity Commission report that the Fairfax correction appears to refer to was titled “Carbon Emission Policies in Key Economies”.
Box 4.1 of that report, titled “The costs of electricity sources” is about the “levelised cost of electricity” (LCOE), a widely-used measure of the cost of electricity generation technologies energy that includes all lifetime costs and factors in the lower utilisation rates of wind power. Box 4.1 says:
The Electric Power Research Institute (2010) reported estimates of the LCOE of various sources of electricity in Australia, including:
coal-fired electricity (without carbon capture and storage) — A$78–91/MWh
combined-cycle gas turbines (without carbon capture and storage) — A$97/MWh
wind — A$150–214/MWh
medium-sized (five megawatt) solar PV systems — A$400–473/MWh.
Without being certain, my best guess is that some of the groups or websites using the figures of $79 per kilowatt-hour for coal-powered energy and $1502 per kilowatt-hour for wind powered energy may have based their figures on the now-corrected Paul Sheehan opinion piece.
There is no credible economic analysis that reports wind power costs at A$1502 a megawatt-hour.
As he has readily acknowledged, Alan Jones' figures on the cost of wind energy are not correct.Are those Productivity Commission figures up to date?
The Commission’s report said that in 2010, the Electric Power Research Institute estimated that the levelised cost of coal-fired electricity (without carbon capture and storage) was between A$78 and $91/MWh. For wind, the figure was between A$150 and $214/MWh. At the time the Commision’s report was released (May 2011), these figures were already higher than other reported costs for renewable energy technology.
More recent costs for new coal plants have been estimated by the former Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics in their Australian Energy Technology Assessment.
This report provides a measure of the cost of a large range of generation technologies, now (or rather, in 2012 when the most recent report was published) and into the future. Using data from Table 5.2.1 of that report, the table below shows the “levelised” cost of energy for some coal and wind technologies.
The chart above, from the Australian Energy Technology Assessment 2013 Model Update (Figure 8) also shows more current levelised costs of energy.Does 80% of Australia’s energy comes from coal-fired power?
Nearly, but not quite. More than two-thirds of electricity is produced from coal, 19% from gas, and 10% from renewables with the balance from liquid fuels such as diesel, according to the government’s Australian Energy Resource Assessment.
In the National Electricity Market, supplying the eastern seaboard, brown and black coal supplied 76% of output last financial year, and 74% the year before that.Does feeding renewable energy into the grid drive electricity prices through the roof?
Modelling done by ACIL Allen Consulting as part of the government’s report of the expert panel on the Renewable Energy Target shows that renewable energy generation can represent a net saving to consumers:
The ACIL Allen modelling estimates that repealing the RET would initially result in lower retail electricity prices, however from around 2021 retail prices would be on average 3.1% higher for residential, commercial and industrial customers.
As he has readily acknowledged, Alan Jones' statement on Q&A on the cost of wind and coal powered energy are not correct.
His claim that renewable energy is having a large impact on residential electricity bills also runs counter to modelling commissioned by the government.Review
This is a thorough FactCheck article. Mr Jones’ cost estimate for coal (assuming it is per megawatt-hour, not per kilowatt-hour) is confirmed by the fact checker. This applies to new coal plant, not existing units.
With regard to the percentage of Australian electricity generated from coal, the FactCheck author is correct. Some people quote higher coal percentages. First, it used to be higher. Second, some people confuse the percentages of input fuel used to generate electricity (historically easier to identify from public data) with the share of electricity actually generated. Since coal plant is less efficient than some other options such as hydroelectricity, this approach makes its share look bigger.
In terms of impacts on future electricity prices, all estimates are based on assumptions. For example, if more old coal generation capacity is retired than some models have assumed, baseline electricity prices could be higher because new generation options of all kinds are typically more expensive than old existing power stations.
Further, the costs of renewable electricity generation are falling, as discussed above. For example, a 2014 Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics study shows 2013 estimates for wind energy cost of A$63 to A$107 per levelised Megawatt-hour of electricity – 6.3 to 10.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, lower than earlier estimates (Figure 19, p.67). – Alan Pears
Have you ever seen a “fact” that doesn’t look quite right? The Conversation’s FactCheck asks academic experts to test claims and see how true they are. We then ask a second academic to review an anonymous copy of the article.
You can request a check at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.
Dylan McConnell received funding from the AEMC's consumer advocacy panel.
Alan Pears AM provides advice to a range of sustainable energy and community groups. He and his superannuation funds own shares in the renewable energy industry. He sometimes receives funding from sustainable energy industry organisations and individual companies although, at present he is not receiving such funding. He is a member of ARENA’s advisory panel.
At this weekend’s ALP National Conference, Bill Shorten is likely to propose a target of 50% renewable electricity by 2030 as Labor’s central climate change policy.
This proposal demonstrates in spades how poisonous climate change politics has trumped good policy. As with taxation, neither main party seems prepared to develop an effective and efficient climate change policy and make a case for it in a way the electorate will embrace.From emissions trading to the carbon tax
For a brief golden moment around 2008 we had the prospect that a firm cap on emissions would drive an economically efficient carbon price – an emissions trading scheme – with bipartisan support.
And, for the majority of economists and policy architects this represented the preferred policy approach to effectively address climate change at lowest cost.
As this carbon price steadily increased, the need for a Renewable Energy Target, also a policy with bipartisan support, would simply fall away as the carbon price did all the lifting to reduce emissions.
Alas, the fixed carbon price that was finally introduced in 2012 was not economically efficient as a falling European price meant it looked unreasonably high at its fixed level of A$23 per tonne.
It was removed in 2014, leaving the RET as “the central policy instrument for reducing electricity sector emissions,” to quote the Climate Change Authority.
Yet the Authority also noted the RET was not the best approach to reducing emissions in the electricity sector.
Economic modelling for the Warburton Review of the RET also concluded that “whilst the policy is somewhat effective in the abatement of emissions, it is at high cost compared to current global pricing and is therefore not the most efficient means of emissions abatement”.Renewables over carbon pricing
Yet the Labor Party seems prepared to embrace renewable energy as the central plank of the climate change platform it will take to the next election and into government if it wins. It is a brave move, given the inevitable accusations of high cost this approach will attract.
Bill Shorten and Mark Butler have committed to an emissions cap to meet Australia’s post-2020 target for emissions reductions.
In an ideal policy world, a market mechanism such as emissions trading would be used to meet the target, and renewable energy would play whatever role was economically efficient to meet the cap at lowest cost.
Yet Labor seems unprepared, at least for now, to advocate such a lowest-cost policy to turn the cap into a carbon price. The scorning response last week from some media outlets and the government to a leaked Labor Part policy option paper indicates why Labor is being so circumspect.
Labor must now put together a comprehensive climate policy framework that can deliver Australia’s fair share of a global emissions target, provide a credible and predictable direction for investors, and survive the political barrage that the government will no doubt unleash against it.
This will likely involve a series of carefully crafted individual elements stitched together into an ugly, albeit comforting, patchwork policy quilt. Although not the ideal policy mix, it may yet turn out to be politically astute. Labor’s assessment of political reality seems to be that it has no other option.No solutions on the other side either
Of course, the government remains bereft of a policy to achieve these same objectives. Direct Action, with its Emissions Reduction Fund and Safeguard Mechanism, is designed to help meet the government’s target of a 5% reduction in emissions against 2000 levels by 2020. The government is expected to announce its post-2020 target in August.
This target is likely to be for 2025 or 2030 and will require a lift in aspiration. Indeed, the Prime Minister pledged that Australia will “take a strong and credible position" to December’s United Nations climate negotiations in Paris.
Yet the current policy is not fit for that purpose and will require replacement or substantial re-engineering to make it so. The government has spent more time defining what its policy will not be than the alternative. That flexibility is about to expire as a credible domestic policy will be required to achieve the announced target.
Many political pundits and advocates for vested interests on both sides will welcome a genuine debate over alternative climate change policies in the lead-up to the next election. Let the battle and blood-letting continue.
Yet investors in the energy sector and those concerned about the urgency with which climate change must be addressed will mourn the passing of one more opportunity to forge a genuine consensus on how to address a problem that will hurt all Australians as well as our global sisters and brothers.
Tony Wood owns shares in Origin Energy and other energy and resource stocks through his superannuation fund.
The debate over native forest logging has been sparked once again, partly by the government’s successful push for wood burning to be included in the revamped Renewable Energy Target.
However, the disagreement over the best way to manage Australia’s 9.4 million hectares of public native forest is thrown into sharp relief by analysis showing that ending native forest logging, and completing the the industry’s shift into plantations instead, would get Australia much of the way to its greenhouse gas emissions reductions target.
Analysis done using the Australian government’s public native forest model suggests that stopping all harvesting in the public native forest estate would generate in the order of 38 million tonnes of potential credits (that is, the equivalent of 38 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions avoided) each year in the short to medium term.
While this is the technical capacity, the Kyoto Protocol’s rules cap credits from forest management at 3.5% of base-year emissions, or around 15 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. So if Australia ratifies the second commitment period of the Protocol, which runs from 2013 to 2020, the cap would limit forest management credits to 120 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent over the commitment period.
The Australian government’s latest emissions projections estimate that, in order to meet its 5% emissions-reduction target in 2020, Australia has to reduce its emissions by 236 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent over the second commitment period. This means stopping harvesting in public native forests could provide 51% of the abatement task to 2020.
Native forest logging results in significant greenhouse gas emissions because typically less than 5% of the biomass carbon of logged forests ends up as long-term timber products like furniture. The majority of the biomass carbon is made into short-lived products such as paper, which simply delays emissions for around three years.
Meanwhile, up to 60% of the remaining biomass in Victorian Mountain Ash forests is logging slash – tree heads, lateral branches, understorey trees, bark and other unwanted forest residues. Most of the carbon stored in this slash is emitted to the atmosphere, either in high-intensity stand-regeneration fires or through accelerated decomposition.
Research shows that the logging of several thousand hectares of Victoria’s Mountain Ash forest each year produces emissions equivalent to about one-third of the annual greenhouse emissions of Yallourn Power Station.Carbon book-keeping
Since the start of 2013, Australia has been required to account for carbon emissions from forest management in the national greenhouse gas accounts. This includes emissions (and carbon sequestration) due to the management of public native forests (usually known as “state forests”), plantations established before 1990, and private forests that have been harvested since 1990.
The accounting is based on a “baseline-and-credit” system. The Australian government was required to make a projection of net emissions (emissions minus sequestration) from its forest management lands over the period 2013 to 2020. If Australia’s actual net emissions from forest management are below this reference level, it receives credits that it can use to offset emissions from other sectors. If its net emissions are above the reference level, it receives debits.Phasing out native forestry
The Kyoto cap on forestry credits means that any plan to stop harvesting would be best done in a staged manner, with logging areas progressively being shut down. This would also minimise the transitional issues for workers, while still maximising the claimable carbon credits for Australia. If done well, stopping harvesting in native forests could move workers into more profitable and sustainable plantation-based industries, while providing an ongoing and low-cost source of carbon abatement that can be used to meet current and future emissions targets.
The Australian government could do this using its Emissions Reduction Fund. It could effectively pay states like Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania for the substantial carbon abatement derived from not logging their native forests. The states in turn could use the money to transition workers out of the native forest sector.
An added benefit of this strategy is that it would remove the major competitive disadvantage faced by the plantation sector, which has to compete against a heavily subsidised and major loss-making native forest logging sector. The impact on wood production would be limited given that plantations are already the source of more than 80% by volume of all wood products.
The current policy is almost exactly opposite of what is needed, with wood from native forests (including sawlogs from Victorian forests) set to be burned to generate electricity as part of the Renewable Energy Target (RET). Indeed, the federal forestry minister Richard Colbeck recently admitted that the native forest sector is not viable without burning forests for energy.
However, when it receives renewable energy credits, burning native forest biomass cannot reduce emissions from electricity generation by coal-fired power stations. The way the RET works means that when biomass is burned it merely displaces forms of renewable electricity generation (like solar and wind), rather than coal as the forest industry consistently maintains.
This means that including native forest biomass in the RET will not reduce emissions from electricity generated by coal-fired power stations. But it could very well significantly increase emissions from forest management, thereby making it harder for Australia to reach its emissions target.
Of course, there would be significant other benefits of not logging native forests, including securing the water supply of cities like Melbourne, and better conserving critically endangered species like Leadbeater’s Possum.
David Lindenmayer receives funding from the Australian Research Council. The Australian Government and the Victorian Government. He received funding from the Forests and Wood Products Research and Development Corporation to study the efficacy of the Variable Retention Harvesting System in Victorian ash forests.
Brendan Mackey is affiliated with the International Union for Conservation of Nature as a regional Councilor for Oceania. Previously, he has received research grants that have supported studies of native forest dynamics from the Forests and Wood Products Research and Development Corporation, The Wilderness Society Australia, Rio TInto, and the Australian Research Council. He served on the independent steering committee for the Tasmanian Government's Forest Carbon Study.
Recent verbal and policy assaults on wind energy by the Australian prime minister undermine the potential of the country’s renewable energy industry, reports The Age
In the not too distant past Tony Abbott hopped on his bike and set off for a ride around Rottnest Island. His path took him right under the West Australian island’s sole wind turbine, and according to the prime minister this helped him form the view that windfarms were visually awful, noisy and potentially a health risk.
It must have been a particularly offensive turbine. Because in recent times Abbott has launched a number of verbal and policy assaults on wind energy.Continue reading...
There’s a groundswell of support for climate action leading up to the 2015 Paris talks
At the end of this year there will be a critically important international climate change conference in Paris. At this conference, nations will attempt to reach an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming.
Over the past few months there’s been a flood of big climate-related news, most of which will help build support and pressure for a strong agreement to curb global warming at the Paris conference. The political and social climate is shifting, and those in denial about human-caused climate change are struggling to adapt.
Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us. The issue is one which dramatically affects us, for it has to do with the ultimate meaning of our earthly sojourn.
In meeting after meeting with Republican offices, the unspoken agreement seemed to be: “Let’s not argue about the science; let’s talk about solutions and where we might find common ground.”
We have been factoring the likelihood of some kind of carbon tax into our business planning since 2007. We do not fund or support those who deny the reality of climate change.Continue reading...
During a recent digital storytelling workshop in Nairobi, the 350 Kenya team created profiles of each other so that climate activists all over the world can hear their stories.
The one-time employee with Shell says her legal team will offer its expertise to Australian climate activists and that the country needs to do its fair share
The campaigner who helped bring landmark legal action to force the Netherlands to change its climate change policies says the Australian government is “far worse”.
Marjan Minnesma, who is in Australia meeting with legal groups that are investigating the possibility of running similar actions, has called on corporate and political leaders to re-examine their “highly immoral” adherence to a coal-based energy sector.Continue reading...
How large will be the impact of such a policy on household budgets really be?
The first reference point is the ACT government’s estimate of the cost of its policy to source 90% of the territory’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020. It calculates that this will cost the average household an extra A$4.67 per week in 2020 (or A$243 for the year), before declining after that.
The ACT Government based this estimate on an average price of A$90 per megawatt hour (MWh) for renewable electricity, which is in fact slightly higher than the average price in the first round of its reverse auction for wind generation earlier this year.
Now let’s compare that with current electricity prices. In 2014-15, the average wholesale price in the National Electricity Market (NEM) (which covers every state and territory except Western Australia and the Northern Territory) was between A$30 and $40 per MWh, except in South Australia where it was A$53 per MWh because of that state’s reliance on high-cost gas generation.
So taking A$35 per MWh as a reasonable benchmark, the extra cost of renewable supply at A$90 per MWh would be A$55 per MWh, or 5.5 cents per kilowatt hour.
Labor’s proposal is for half of supply to be from renewables, so we can divide this price premium in half, bringing us to 2.75 cents per kilowatt hour as an overall average extra cost. Some extra investment is also likely to be required for new transmission capacity to connect the new solar and wind generators into the grid, together with some storage capacity.
Taking these factors together, a reasonable assumption would be that wholesale market prices would increase by 4 cents per kWh above present levels in every state market except South Australia, where the price rise might be closer to 3 cents per kWh because its energy is more expensive to begin with.How it will affect the bottom line
How would this price rise stack up against average household power bills? By combining Consumer Price Index (CPI) data on quarterly movements in electricity prices with data from the Australian Electricity Regulator on average retail residential energy prices and residential consumers' power demands it is possible to forecast what will happen to prices in the NEM. (A lack of comparable consumption data prevents a similar calculation for WA and the NT.)
The graph shows average annual household electricity bills while the carbon price was in place, and also in the year since its removal (in Queensland, increases in other components of the cost of electricity supply completely offset the savings from the carbon price repeal). It also forecasts what power bills would be in 2030 with 50% renewable electricity if annual average electricity consumption stays the same as in 2013-14 (consumption data for 2014-15 are not yet available). No value is shown for the ACT since, having its own more stringent renewable target, it will be unaffected by the proposed national target for 2030.
It can be seen that cost increases will be relatively small, ranging from A$160 a year in South Australia to A$264 a year in Queensland. If you want to estimate how much extra Labor’s policy might cost you, look at the difference between the light blue and dark blue bars for your state.
But finally, and perhaps most importantly, the graph shows what annual electricity costs would have been over the past year if households had not already made such large reductions in their average electricity consumption since 2009. Average household power use in the NEM states fell by around 13% between 2009 and 2014, except in New South Wales where the fall was 20%.
In every case, with the marginal exception of Tasmania, these reductions achieved annual electricity cost reductions for households which are larger than the cost increase they might experience from a 50% renewable electricity supply.
If politicians were genuine about protecting Australian households from higher electricity prices, they should be ensuring that households continue to build on the consumption reductions they have already achieved. The opportunities are far from exhausted. Governments could enforce the energy efficiency measures that are already in place, extend the regulation of minimum energy performance standards for appliances, and expand the range of programs to help householders improve the lamentable energy efficiency of the average Australian home.
In particular, governments should focus on identifying and providing significant help to the most disadvantaged electricity consumers. There is a relatively small minority of low-income households, many living in rented accommodation, with annual electricity consumption that is very much higher than average.
If implementation of a 50% renewable electricity target is accompanied by policies like this, households could find themselves paying no more for electricity each year after 2030 than they are paying today.
Hugh Saddler is a member of the Board of the Climate Institute.
The world’s third-largest Catholic country is plagued by natural disasters and church leaders say they will mobilise believers to join Pope Francis’s campaign
Asia’s largest Catholic country has mobilised after the pope’s warning to tackle climate change, promising to gather 10m signatures for a petition that will be handed to world leaders at a Paris climate summit in November.
The Catholic climate petition aims to pressure countries to drastically cut carbon emissions to keep the global temperature rise below the dangerous 1.5°C threshold, and to help the world’s poorest to cope with climate change.Continue reading...
Eggs submerged under seawater are less likely to hatch, study at world’s largest green turtle nesting site on the Great Barrier Reef shows
Rising sea levels could decimate sea turtle nesting sites around the world, scientists have warned, with the largest rookery site for green turtles increasingly at risk from being swamped by seawater.Continue reading...