All gas no brakes – Morrison Government spares some change for transmission upgrades


This week the Morrison Government’s All-Gas-No-Brakes announcement its economic strategy to intervene in the natural death of fossil fuels by propping up the gas industry. Perhaps the only positive to take from this exercise in state-sponsored masochism is the parallel announcement that the Government would also work with state governments through a program worth up to $250 million to accelerate three critical transmission projects – the Marinus LinkProject Energy Connect, and VNI West interconnectors. 

This announcement also happened to coincide with TransGrid shortlisting 23 renewable energy companies for the New England Transmission Infrastructure (NETI) project. 

Critical projects investment 

First things first, $250 million sounds like a lot of money, but in the context of upgrading Australia’s arcane electricity transmission network to free up the bottleneck of renewable energy waiting to enter the grid, it’s a figure akin to spare change – and change is not something that should be going spare. 

After all, the Morrison Government is threatening the private sector that if it doesn’t come through with 1,000 MW of dispatchable electricity to replace the retirement of AGL’s Liddell coal-fired power station (AGL has already announced its plans to replace Liddell’s capacity with energy storage), that his Government will intervene in the market and build a gas-fired power station in the Hunter Valley themselves. 

Prime Minister Morrison said that these critical projects “will help put downward pressure on prices, shore up the reliability of our energy grid and create over 4,000 jobs.” There is no doubt that transmission upgrades and unlocking grid congestion could do just that and much, much more. 

Considering Rystad Energy estimated Australia’s pipeline for grid-scale solar, wind, and battery projects stood at approximately 133,000 MW at the end of 2019, surely the hundreds of millions the Morrison Government is ready to throw down a gas drain would be better used in upgrading the electricity network for the 21st Century – allowing poised renewables put pressure on prices, shore up reliability and invest in the sectors that will employ Australians long after gas’s imminent decay. 

New England REZ 

TransGrid Executive Manager of Business Growth Richard Lowe said in a statement that the 23 renewable proponents for the NETI project represented 6,900 MW in capacity. 

“It demonstrates a healthy appetite to invest in renewable energy generation where enabling infrastructure services can be delivered,” said Lowe. 

New England is one of several NSW energy zones set to be opened up by renewables and new transmission infrastructure, including the 720 MW New England Solar Farm. TransGrid described NETO as the “first step in the private sector development of enabling infrastructure for collaborative renewable energy development.” 

The worm has turned 

Oh how the worm has turned, the private sector is doing the Government’s job, and the Government is a self-interested, almost anonymous (lacking in personality), conglomerate doing all manner of public damage. 

New analysis by the Australia Institute Climate & Energy Program has found that the Government’s desire to hijack the Covid-19 recovery funding to subsidise the gas sector would create little employment, increase emissions and ensure ever-increasing energy prices. 

Australia is the world’s largest Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) exporter, and yet domestic gas prices have been increasing. This is because, of course, the Federal Government has exported all the cheap gas as LNG and left the Australian consumer to pay top dollar for the leftovers. And yet now the Morrison Government is saying it cares about the average punter battling to pay the bills, an expense the Government themselves are responsible for. 

Moreover, a paltry 0.2% of Australia’s workforce works in the gas industry, an industry riddled with tax avoiding companies, so what exactly is propping up the gas industry supposed to do for the consumer? 

Job intensity of selected Australian industries (jobs per $m sales income)

Image: Australia Institute / ABS (2020) 81550DO002_201718 Australian Industry, 2017-18

In the United States, a gonzo journalist for the 21st Century by the name of Andrew Callaghan runs a docu-series called “All Gas No Brakes” in which he interviews the most unhinged members on the fringes of American cultural life – conspiracy theorists, flat earthers, bikers, etc. When the Morrison Government announced it’s gas-led economic strategy, they finally revealed themselves as the white elephant in the room – useless, destructive, and costing us all a lot of time now and into posterity. In “All Gas No Brakes” we have the Morrison Government’s new slogan, not merely because of the obvious allusions to gas and a lack of control, but because the Morrison government represents the most unhinged fringe in Australian society – the powerful minority who had its day in the sun, but now that day is done. 

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