Privatisation, Planning and Climate Change


One of the many consequences of the lurch to laissez faire capitalism (read privatisation) by our major political parties has been the abandonment of planning. The political party that brought this unfortunate state of affairs upon us is now opposing the necessary steps to remedy the situation. Had the old SECV been in power the transition to renewable energy would have been well under way. This transition has become politically contentious thanks to the power of vested interests and the status quo. The unfortunate consequence of this is that any positive gains are threatened to be undone when the opposition assumes power. This negation leaves the necessary and urgent transition to 100% renewable energy in a sort of ‘no mans land’. It also makes renewable energy projects in this country much more expensive than they should be.

Planning is something we all do consciously or subconsciously everyday of our lives. It enables us to order our activities according to importance, evidence, budgetary limits and desire. We can look to tomorrow or a year ahead and know what we will be doing and how we will be able to do it. But privatisation has meant that the dollar earned today is far more important than that of tomorrow. Thus maintenance of the system and personel are pruned to the bone. The consequences to society are not included in any of these calculations.

We have known about climate change for many years – the CSIRO issued their first in-depth studies in 1989. We have also known for a similar period that the brown coal generators are the worst greenhouse gas polluters. The abrogation of planning by the privatised system has meant there is no clear path for an orderly and fair transition from coal generation to renewable energy. In the 2010 state election I suggested the deployment of the Flannery biochar producers (pyrolysis generators) to use agricultural and urban waste and for a large amount of money to be thrown at geothermal energy under the coal (see here). In 2013 I offered a brief, but slightly more detailed plan (see my Latrobe Valley plan) which sketched a possible transition to 100% renewable energy in ten years.

Parts of this plan are already outdated. Whilst it considers manufacturing of mirrors for a solar thermal plant in western Victoria in the valley it makes no mention of pumped hydro utilising the depths of the Morwell open cut. Nor did it imagine or allow for the massive improvements in cost and efficiency of ordinary solar panels, batteries and energy efficient devices such as heat pumps. On other occasions over the last 8 years I have called for some decent planning for the inevitable transition in the Valley.

Hazelwood is just the first of coal powered generators to close – not by government but by the owner operator. This closure was entirely predictable and evident for some time. As is the future closure of all the brown coal generators in the Valley. Without a rapid phase out of these generators the planet and its occupants, including the residents of the Valley and Gippsland, are doomed to be eventually cooked. Where is the urgently needed planning for an orderly and just transition?