Greens Still Living in a Clean Energy Fantasy World

by on 2 August, 2014


Brad Emery takes aim at the hypocrites of the Greens movement against  the mining industry.

A young woman rides her bicycle into an inner city polling booth to vote in the 2013 Federal Election.  She tosses her mane of matted dreadlocks over her shoulder as she dismounts and fetches a bottle of organic prune juice from the basket hanging from the handle bars.

She makes a beeline for the Greens volunteer and smiles as she takes the Greens candidate’s how to vote pamphlet.  She makes a deliberate show of rejecting the Liberal Party candidate’s propaganda.  She’s not planning on voting Conservative.


Having voted, she returns to her bicycle and as a final show of Green pride, slaps a sticker that reads ‘End Fossil Fuels – Vote Greens’ on the front of her bike basket.

The irony is lost upon her as she peddles away, ringing the aluminium bicycle bell one last time.  Almost every component of the bike she is riding was manufactured using coal or gas fired power.

This picture summarises the contradiction that has prevented the Greens from being regarded as a serious force for change at any level of government in Australia.

The bedrock Greens policy is an end to the use of fossil fuels in this country, especially coal.  However, they are unable to practice what they preach.   Try as they might, they cannot fully distance themselves from a western society with a structural fabric that is reliant on fossil fuel for power and the manufacture of industrial products like steel, plastics and cement.

At the very least, if the Greens were serious about changing our nation’s reliance on fossil fuel, they would engage in responsible and reasonable discussion to explore practical, viable energy technology solutions with the realistic long-term goal of transitioning to cleaner power sources.

However, what we hear from the Greens is blinkered opposition to the entire resources sector and a religious fanaticism toward small scale renewable energy, completely impractical for large scale power delivery.  Thus, they remain the party of fantasy and fairy tale, dismissed by the electorate and useful only to journalists looking for a snappy grab to pad an evening news bulletin.

Recent election results show how far the decay has spread.  The 2013 Federal Election saw the Greens vote fall from 12 per cent to 9 per cent, a 25 per cent drop in support.  This follows on from the ACT election disaster, which saw the Party reduced from four seats to one in the Territory’s parliament.

Take Australia’s most populated state, New South Wales, as an example of the Greens’ inability to grasp policy reality.  Thermal coal fired power stations provide 84 per cent of NSW energy needs – homes, hospitals, businesses, transport, schools and emergency services.

The resource sector in NSW provides around 91,000 direct jobs and the flow on effect through businesses that engage with mining is estimated to create a further 155,000 jobs.

NSW miners paid $1.3 billion to the NSW government in state royalties and NSW coal remains the state’s largest commodity export.

Overall, the NSW mining industry is worth $24.5 billion.

So what do the Greens propose as an alternative?  NSW Greens MLC, John Kaye, has called for NSW to be 100 per cent powered by renewable energy sources in just sixteen years, by ‘…rapidly phasing out fossil fuel electricity generation and investing in wind power, solar technologies and energy efficiency.’

As a general rule, when tested against reality, most Greens’ policies are little more than thought bubbles with the depth of a tweet.  Their alternative energy policy continues this tradition.

Renewable energy currently accounts for only around six per cent of NSW total energy usage.  Mr Kaye and the NSW Greens’ goal to ‘rapidly’ increase this to 100 per cent by 2030 is as impractical as it is ridiculous.  Andrew Bolt would have a better chance of getting a fair hearing in The Guardian.

Consider the primary source of renewable energy the Greens advocate: wind power.

The Capital Hill Wind Farm near Bungendore is NSW’s largest wind farm.  The operation has 67 wind turbines that take up 35 square kilometres of land.  The entire wind farm produces enough electricity to power 60,000 average homes a year.

There is no doubt that this is an important contribution to the state power grid.

However, implementing this on scale to meet 100 per cent of NSW power needs, reveals the true extent of the Greens policy phantasmagoria.

At the time of the 2011 census, there were 2,864,531 private dwellings in NSW.  Using the Capital Hill project as a reference point, a simple mathematical observation shows that in order to power every private dwelling in NSW solely using wind power – not even taking into account heavier users of electricity like factories, schools, public transport, hospitals, vegetarian cafes in Newtown etc – NSW would require another 47 wind farms similar to the Capital Hill project.

This would represent land use of 1,670 square kilometres – twice the size of Tonga.

By contrast, total mining in NSW accounts for just 630 square kilometres or 0.1 per cent of NSW land.

In fact, the land required in the Capital Hill example to power just the private dwellings in NSW, is almost the exact land use of all current mining operations across Australia – 1,676 square kilometres.

And all this is aside from any discussion on the complexity of replacing 155,000 jobs that rely on the current NSW resource sector, or the $1.3 billion a year in mining royalties that pay for the state’s teachers, nurses, trains and buses, schools and hospitals.

The only other potential power source that could meet the base load power requirements of a state like NSW, let alone the entire nation, is nuclear.  However, even mentioning the ‘N’ word sends Greens into anaphylactic shock.

None of this is to argue that there should never be a transition away from fossil fuels in the future.

The evolution of capitalism shows that old companies will transition and new companies emerge with the development of a product that generates enough demand to be profitable.

The transition away from burning wood and whale oil as a power source and the rise of coal and gas fired turbines, shows how the development of technology drives the creation of new markets.

If a clean, non-nuclear, alternative to fossil fuels is developed, that can adequately provide the base load power requirements of our states and cities and create a sufficient number of jobs, it stands to reason that companies would diversify in order to capitalise on the new market.

It is the Green’s inability to understand this logical dynamic of western market economies that renders them impotent in bringing any sort of meaningful contribution to the issue of our nation’s energy needs and the development of a cleaner energy future.

Unless the Greens take a step toward understanding and engaging with the realities of energy needs in Australia and support the development of new energy technologies, rather than repeating their tired and impractical renewable energy mantra, they will remain relegated to the realm of fantasy in the minds of Australian voters.

Brad Emery is a freelance writer, works in NSW mining and is a former Australian Government staffer.

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