NSW leads the way!

By March 18, 2020Other

The title was the gist of a press article I saw. The only two I have seen seem to have been written by ardent supporters. Okay, to the substance. At the end of last week the NSW Government’s Department of Planning, Industry and Environment released its Net Zero Plan Stage 1: 2020-2030. You can read about it here. I read it, not because it was ostensibly about how to deal with climate change, but because what I read from the press suggested it was really about energy, and to a degree it is. I’ll say no more about the climate-change aspect of it (and ask commenters not to talk about that at all), other that the  Statement takes for granted the orthodox view of some kind of global ‘climate emergency’.

The Minister’s message starts with two positions that can be seen as mutually incompatible: I firmly believe that action on climate change must be grounded in science and economics —  not ideology. Just as it is unacceptable to ignore the challenge posed by climate change, it is also unacceptable to call for an end to the modern way of life. I would agree both positions if my definitions were accepted. But the substance of the Statement makes clear that what is said here is simply incompatible. I remind regular readers that in my recent essay on ‘the nation-state’ I argued that any government’s primary responsibility is to care for the welfare of its own citizens. So my analysis of this Statement is underpinned by that view of the world.

The NSW Government’s objective, says the Statement, is to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 by creating new jobs, cutting household costs and attracting investment. The earlier 2016 Statement of a similar kind, said that its goals were ‘aspirational’, and I think that adjective applies to this one too. The number of new jobs thought to be created is not large when they are mentioned at all, and the rest is wish-fulfilment, I think. Much the same criticism can be applied to the notion that household costs will decline. No doubt there will be new investment, but whether the cost/benefit ratio will be positive is another matter altogether. Since the whole strategy is based on economic modelling that is already based on climate modelling, the achievement of these objectives looks awfully rubbery to me.

Let me press on. The Plan has four parts:

  1. A global challenge with local opportunities – the trends and opportunities arising from global climate change action 
  2. Progress and projections – progress within New South Wales to date to reduce emissions and future projections 
  3. The net zero priorities – the NSW Government’s net zero priorities 
  4. Keeping track – the Government’s approach to keeping track of its progress.

The plan is intended to create almost 2400 jobs, attract over $11.6 billion in investment over ten years and save households $40 on their electricity bills — yes, a whole $40.

It is expected that approximately $US2.4 trillion will need to be invested globally in the energy system each year for the next 15 years in order to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C. 

I’m not surprised, but think such an expectation is simply unattainable, given that over the past decade such investment has been only $2.4 trillion. That is a sharp rise indeed. Soon we get into a mire of costs that depend utterly on what exactly you are measuring Are wind and solar becoming cheaper? It all depends on what you count as costs over the lifetime of fossil-fuel and alternative-energy projects, and what their relative benefits and weaknesses are. Soon come familiar subjects: electric vehicles, hydrogen as a fuel and roof-top solar, all of which have their weaknesses, none of them mentioned in the Statement. How are these changes to be implemented? Ah, it’s simple:

The NSW Government’s first priority is to provide a pathway to deploy those technologies at scale over the next decade. To do this, the NSW Government will remove unnecessary barriers to entry for those technologies and make co-investments to address the high upfront capital costs that may stand in the way of their take-up. 

I hear the sound of subsidies, which will, because they come from public revenue, potentially reduce that large $40 reduction in power bills that was heralded earlier. NSW citizens will be empowered to make sensible choices when they buy a car, to feel good about planting trees, and so on. 

The NSW Government’s third priority is to accelerate the research, development and demonstration of low emissions technologies that show potential for becoming scalable, replicable and cost-effective. Investment in this area will be focused on linking research with industry, including through grants, low-interest loans and a new clean technology innovation hub. 

More subsidies. Researchers will be pleased, and begin to shift their terms of reference from climate-change to ‘emissions reduction’. Not much change, you say? Well, using the right wave-catching language is important when you want money. I’ve seen delicious examples of it in the past. 

The fourth priority is for the NSW Government is to lead by example, and all of us would approve in principle. But in this case? Hmm. For those who don’t know these details, each year the NSW Government purchases $20 billion worth of goods and services, employs ten per cent of the State’s workforce, and manages approximately fifteen per cent of the land mass of the State from schools to national parks. That’s a powerful position from which to lead by example. What are they proposing to do? Well, they’re going to bring sustainable goods, practices and services into the market, and maximise the environmental value of the assets they have.

So, there will be a $450 million Emissions Intensity Reduction program that is intended to help businesses to move to low-emissions alternatives, but without compromising their contribution to the NSW economy and workforce. Good luck! That chunk of money is to match what the Commonwealth is putting in to the same endeavour. Then there are to be three Renewable Energy Zones in the South West Central-West and New England. These Zones will help to ‘retire’ fossil fuel generators of electricity over the next two decades. This ‘could’ drive up to $23 billion of private-sector investment and create about 2000 construction jobs. Yes, it ‘could’. It could also refashion the existing coal-fired generators, but of course that’s not part of the plan.

But wait! There’s more! If you buy one we’ll give you two! Whoops, that’s from the TV ad I saw. There’s going to be an Energy Security Safeguard to ensure NSW ‘has access to cheaper, more reliable electricity supplies’. How’s that going to work? By reducing the demand on the electricity and gas networks, through lighting upgrades and replacing the use of grid gas with ‘onsite biomass’. Are we to convert our household rubbish into gas? Hmm. Reducing demand ‘could’ sound worrying. It all sounds vague to me. Now here’s something governments are actually practised at: a new regulatory framework that will bring new low-cost generation into NSW in order to reduce electricity prices, ensure the reliability of the system and protect the environment. All of that with one regulatory framework! Aren’t governments marvellous?

There’s more still, including converting all government buses and other vehicles into EVs, because the people who wrote the Plan/Statement believe all the hype about EVs and ignore the reality and pass over what governments can and will do to force consumers to follow their lead. Where is the electricity to come from?

There’s a lot about agriculture and new national parks (200,000 hectares coming your way) but nothing about managing the ones we have, some of which were so poorly cared for that they almost disappeared in the recent bushfires.

I’m running close to my own word limit, but I can’t resist the splendid hypocrisy of this little gem: Mining will continue to be an important part of the economy into the future and it is important that the State’s action on climate change does not undermine those businesses and the jobs and communities they support.

Oh dear, you’ve remembered that you should look after the people of New South Wales. Great! But what about thinking globally and acting locally? Oh, you’d like to have your cake and eat it too. So would we all.

Finally, there is to be a Green Investment Strategy… but I can’t go on. You’ll have to read that for yourself, and maybe scratch your head in wonderment. That’ll need a good parcel of public funds if it is to work. Don’t do it, Government. The money will just disappear, and NSW won’t be any greener for it. Oh, and biofuels for aircraft. Heavens. And they’re going to measure their success on a regular basis. I can hardly wait.

ENDNOTE:This essay is NOT about climate change or global warming, and I ask commenters to restrict themselves to the argument of government paper on which it is based. I will moderate all comments, and empty any that I think stray too far from the real subject.

Join the discussion 18 Comments

  • david purcell says:

    There is a bit in it for everyone even those dastardly miners!
    Climate modelling, economic modelling, subsidies, cost benefits, and so on. My head spins.

  • Karabar says:

    This official statement of wishing and hoping based on fluttering figments of the imagination conjure up the old adage: “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride”.

  • Chris Warren says:


    yes, of course;

    ” I argued that any government’s primary responsibility is to care for the welfare of its own citizens. ”

    but this implies that this responsibility also applies to future generations.

    We cannot gorge on resources now, when we know this damages the welfare of future generations – even to the point of catastrophe.

    • spangled drongo says:

      “We cannot gorge on resources now, when we know this damages the welfare of future generations – even to the point of catastrophe.”

      You should speak to Jacinda and Winston:

      New Zealand looks set to introduce one of the world’s most extreme abortion proposals into their country. A bill is currently passing through Parliament, which will allow for abortion for any reason up until birth. It will also scrap the current 20-week limit for disability selective abortion, allowing abortion right up until birth for babies with minor disabilities such as the cleft palate and club foot.

      It will scrap the need for licensed premises, meaning that abortion can be carried out anywhere, including in schools, via mobile clinics, and even via Facetime consultations.
      It will create no need for licensed doctors to sign off the abortion, and neither would a licensed doctor be needed to perform an abortion, meaning that the procedure could be carried out by midwives and pharmacists without a trained doctor on hand, in case of complications.

      Jacinda Ardern joined 80 other politicians in voting against an amendment that would have protected babies born alive after a failed abortion. This means that if this bill goes through, any babies who are born alive after an abortion will be deprived of the chance to live and denied medical care.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Chris, my position doesn’t apply to anyone other than present citizens. Yes, you could argue that abortion rules imply something about the future, but that’s drawing a long bow. Next year there’ll be new citizens and we will have lost some of last year’s. So it’s a moving feast, but it does NOT mean that a government has to think about the very long term. That is for subsequent governments, in my view, just as the notion that I know more than my children and grandchildren will know when they are mature adults seems ludicrous to me. What is so special about our current level of knowledge?

      • Chris Warren says:


        I deliberately avoid issues such as abortion preferring to see it as part (just one aspect) of overall family planning.

        However I think we would be in better circumstances if decisions taken in the past were better informed. The only excuse for the damage done by Patterson’s Curse, rabbits and Prickly Pear was that those who introduced them, honestly did not know of their future harm.

        As I wish that previous generations had known more about what they were doing – it behoves us to apply the same duty ourselves. As I see it, reducing harm is a moral imperative and does not apply just to us.

  • Alice Thermopolis says:

    “The welfare of future generations?”
    Does the life force, or rate of procreation, give a damn about damaging the welfare of future generations?
    Apparently not, for they keep getting larger, from one billion in 1800 to over seven billion today and perhaps 11 billion in 2100.
    As Schopenhauer noted: if the size of future generations was “a matter to be decided on the basis of purely rational considerations [such as their welfare] is it likely that the human race would still exist?
    “Would each of us not rather have felt so much pity for the coming generation as to prefer to spare it the burden of existence, or at least not wish to take it upon himself [or herself] to impose that burden upon it in cold blood?”

  • Paul G. says:

    The NSW Government’s Net Zero Plan, other ‘Zero C by 2050’ schemes, Ross Garnaut’s ‘Super-Power and the USA ‘Green New Deal, all appear to have been cobble together by experts in the ‘creative’ accounting. Although supposedly number experts, none have produced the actual numbers and costs of all the solar panels, wind farms, batteries to replace coal fired power stations to achieve their aim. Looking for new technology on the horizon is wishful thinking. The reality of near zero wind for days at a time, solar energy for no more the five hours a day and none on a cloudy day has not entered their heads or calculations. Have any of their expert advisors financial investments in renewals, etc.? If so, they should declare such and be barred from advising governments.

  • Neville says:

    Never forget that all of this idiocy can’t change the climate at all by 2100 or 3100 and all of those trillions $ are just a complete waste of time and money.
    Just look at the big increase in co2 levels since Dr Hansen’s Washington speech in 1988. And Dr Hansen told us in 2015 that COP 21 is just BS and fraud and is like believing in the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.
    China, India and the developing world will be building hundreds of new coal plants for many decades into the future, so this delusional nonsense is more head in the sand fairy tales and will have no measurable impact on climate at all.

  • Ben says:

    Renewable Energy Zones:
    So the NSW government, having privatised the electricity networks, will now build publicly funded networks, and hand these over to the overseas companies that run them?

    The same networks that receive a guaranteed return proportional to the value of the asset?

  • Don Aitkin says:

    A correspondent who has had trouble in logging on has given me this comment: “Are you an Australian citizen, Chris? In case you are not, you should be aware that Australian governments have a limited life of just a few years. The corresponding fact is that Australian governments’ duty of care for their citizens is also limited to just those same few years and not at all necessarily for the future generations that you seem to believe in.”

    • Chris Warren says:

      I don’t see how governments short terms creates impediments to long term perspectives. Past experience may well lead to a modern conclusion that duty of care is not limited as some would want.

      This has nothing to do with citizenship.

  • I have been following the thoughts of the NSW Energy Minister for some time with mounting disbelief. Fortunately the fatal flaw in the turn to Zero emissions by way of RE can be explained with simple arithmetic and readily available information on the various sources of energy that are located at the AEMO data dashboard and the anero site that provides a 24 hour display supply and demand.

    The fatal flow is the “choke point” when there is no sun and next to no wind. We had that experience on Wednesday evening at sunset and a “wake up call” this morning before sunrise. A picture tells the story, see the bottom of this post http://catallaxyfiles.com/2020/03/18/stirring-up-the-politicians-howard-brady-in-canberra/

    The story in words. At sunset in eastern Australia yesterday the wind reached its lowest point of the day, delivering 625MW (2.5% of demand) across the National Energy Market. Never mind about Western Australia? The windmills in South Australia were delivering 49.6MW.

    With the sun setting it was all up to the wind for the rest of the night with a bit of help from coal, gas and hydro. Fortunately by 10.30 the wind across the NEM picked up to 4% of demand.

    The wind rose in the night and at 7am in the morning South Australia was exporting 250MW to NSW with the windmills running at 66% of plated capacity. Demand in NSW was 7.96GW. Thanks a million!

    At 7.30 the sun was peeping over the horizon but nothing was showing up in the grid yet. Someone calculate the number of windmills required to provide a hot breakfast without coal power!

  • Peter E says:

    It was with a sense of dismay that I read your summary of what the NSW government proposes. It is simply unbelievable and I don’t believe a word of it. But thanks for bringing this ‘blast from the past’ to notice. Hopefully, we can put all this behind us for good and deal with the real emergency.

  • The choke point story evolved in a long series of choke point and “windwatch” posts on this site. http://catallaxyfiles.com/?s=Choke+point

  • Boambee John says:

    To describe the operations of the NSW government and bureaucracy as “Running around like chooks with their heads cut off” in current circumstances is to flatter their performance.

    While this paper on “Net Zero” is floating around there is also a survey underway on eliminating all single use plastic bags in NSW. I assume that both moves are being pushed by the “environmental” bureaucracy.

    Simultaneously, NSW health officials allowed several thousand passengers to disembark from two cruise ships with no cautions about self isolating or anything else, before discovering that some passengers and crew were infected with COVID 19.

    It does not seem to have even entered the one track minds of the environmental bureaucracy that single use plastic bags are a good way to reduce the spread of COVID 19, by removing potentially contaminated material from circulation. Nor does the health bureaucracy seem to have thought to have its Minister advise the Cabinet of this. Or perhaps Cabinet simply ignored any such advice.

    So the NSW government, regardless of the COVID 19 issue, seems determined to push an unachievable “Net Zero” target at immense cost. Whether there will actually be any significant environmental benefit does not seem to matter, only the urge th be seen to be decisive.

    Maybe they should consider the advice of Sir Humphry to Hacker when he wanted to be seen to be doing something.

    “How about masterly inactivity?”

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