I live in Canberra and love it — in fact I have lived here four times, the first time in the 1940s. My mother and father met here in 1929. One of the things I have always liked about it is the quality of the conversations you can have here, where people come from all round our country and from the rest of the world.

Now I am beginning to wonder a little. The ACT Government, about whose Climate Change Council I wrote a little while ago, has issued what it calls its ‘Community Engagement Strategy on Climate Change’. This is a somewhat strange document anyway. What would you expect a ‘community engagement strategy’ to look like? This one seems to be about getting households and businesses to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and enter cheerfully into a world of alternative energy.

The Minister’s Foreword begins like this: The ACT is leading the way in Australia on climate change mitigation; that is, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions as the cause of climate change. The primary pathway to reducing emissions is to increase the proportion of the ACT’s energy needs from renewable sources such as wind and solar power. Our renewable energy target is 90% by 2020 and we are on track to meet this.

Well, I for one will be deeply impressed, indeed astonished, if 90 per cent of the ACT’s energy use comes from renewable sources by 2020, and even more impressed if the ACT’s households and businesses are not paying in that year by far the highest amount for electricity of any of Australia’s jurisdictions. It’s obvious that the more successful the ACT Government is in this effort, the more the citizens will pay.

Let’s set aside the strategy itself and focus on the community survey which gives confidence to the Government. It was done last year, and the sample size was 1197 people. Given that survey research was one of my research strengths I was interested to look at the whole methodology, and I have no great objections to any of it. The questions are sensibly expressed, and the margin of error is claimed at around three per cent, which is reasonable.

The sample is rather too female (53 per cent), much too well-educated (52 per cent university-educated instead of around 25 per cent), and rather too short of the blue-collar workers that actually do live and work here. Nonetheless, the responses to some of the questions are thought-provoking.

* 88 per cent agreed, or agreed strongly, that climate change was a genuine problem for the future.

* 68 per cent agreed, or agreed strongly, that their own lifestyle habits contributed to climate change.

* 62 per cent agreed, or agreed strongly, that householders would have to make difficult or inconvenient changes to their lives in order to tackle climate change.

* 68 per cent agreed, or strongly agreed, that they ought personally to take more action to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

* And 90 per cent disagreed, or disagreed strongly that it was too late to bother to take action to tackle climate change.

These are significant proportions, and had the sample been weighted in a more representative fashion I doubt that the numbers would have changed much. I would myself have begun such a survey by asking people what they thought were the most important issues facing them, without prompts, to see how much climate change actually figured in their minds. A little later, I would have offered them a set of issues and asked them to rank them, and one of them would have been global warming or climate change.

I put those suggestions forward because we know from other opinion polls that climate change does not rank highly with the electorate* — but a sample of 1200 in the ACT would give us an excellent handle on whether (or not) ACT residents are different.

Some 43 per cent of the respondents thought it was moderately or very urgent for the ACT Government to address climate change, and 81 per cent thought the Government should take a strong leadership role. Nearly the same proportion thought there was ‘a moral duty’ for the ACT community to take action on climate change.

Asked whether or not they were aware of what the ACT Government was doing in the area, only 40 per cent climbed that they knew; half of them could name solar farms, and a quarter could offer wind farms. No matter, nearly everybody thought it was a good thing for the ACT Government to help people make their homes more energy-efficient, and 90 per cent thought it was a good thing for the Government to introduce new building regulations ‘to make new buildings carbon neutral’.

I would have to say that on the face of it, the ACT Government has considerable popular support for what it is doing. I would add only the caveat expressed earlier, that is, we don’t really know how important the whole domain is to the respondents. If you ask people whether they are in favour of or opposed to some kind of wholly fictional but apparently plausible plan (one that a government has never said anything about), you’ll get a lot of reactions both positive and negative. Very few will say they’ve never heard of it, or that it’s rubbish.

Why not? Well, all surveys have to deal with the tendency of people to agree, other things being equal, and to pretend to knowledge they don’t have, so that the interviewer is happy and that the respondent doesn’t look ignorant. My own sense of these survey results is that they exaggerate the real support for ‘tackling climate change’ in the ACT.

I would also suggest that many respondents knew that ‘climate change’ was a much discussed matter, and that something ought to be done about it, but that was about the extent of their real knowledge. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t surprise me, either, if there were not a higher level of real interest in the ACT, compared with any other jurisdiction.

Which means more work for me, and those of like mind who live here.

[* According to a Eurobarometer poll conducted in July 2013, a mere 4% of the European population now cites the alleged climate catastrophe as their most pressing concern. Moreover, the number is zero percent in seven European countries, including Portugal. Source: WUWT, today]

  • Peter Kemmis

    Don
    This is purely anecdotal, but my own experience is that you would find considerable scepticism about AGW among many of the ACT region’s “blue collar workers” (many of whom are self-employed). By contrast, I come across very few sceptics among the tertiary educated. Perhaps I live too close to our national university.

    My other observation is that a persistent criticism of the ACT is that its populaton is for the most part more privileged than those in the rest of Australia, urban or rural. It is privileged financially and in lifestyle. I have often heard the comment from “outsiders”, that people in Canberra are out of touch with the rest of Australia. There is much truth in that complaint.

    A similar survey along the broader lines you suggest, would indeed provide a better picture for the wider community, and also show where AGW is rated among their major concerns, such as employment and income, health, education, lifestyle etc. The ACT’s survey results leave me with that impression “well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?”

    • Peter WARWICK

      Peter K is very right about about Canberra being so privileged.

      I spent a year in Canberra on study, and at that time, public transport consisted of the very latest (German built) buses, running every 20 minutes 24 hours per day.

      I lived on Northbourne Avenue not far from the Rex Hotel.

      On the occasions when departing The Rex very late at night, one could observe these buses whizzing around completely empty at 0100hrs. I never saw the buses carrying (economic) passengers late at night. There may have been the odd drunk on the bus now and then.

      Canberra was built for the car.

      In Papua New Guinea there is a saying “There is Port Moresby, and then there is the rest of PNG”. How true for Canberra and Australia.

      Try getting a bus at 0100hrs in Longreach (or at any time for that matter).

  • dlb

    Given the strong public support for action to address climate change wouldn’t the ACT be the ideal test case for examining the efficacy of renewable energy? The ACT Government claim they can reach 90% renewables by 2020, well lets see if they can and at what cost and with how much disruption to society.

    Meanwhile I should think the rest of Australia should sit back on its hands and watch this experiment for six years. I think much could be learnt as to whether Australia should go down the renewables path in the future. The world won’t fry in the six years that Australia tests the waters before deciding to dive in or not.

  • Mike O’Ceirin

    I am fed up with our ACT council (err government) getting a bee in its bonnet and going ahead with it on the basis of a minimal poll or a election promise. We should be all asked whether we really want these grandiose schemes and a full cost benefit analysis done which is openly available to everyone.

    If this latest cockamamy idea reaches fruition probably I will have to leave Canberra.

  • Mike O’Ceirin

    Don your second and third links produce a 404 error.

    There interesting comment on this at http://stopthesethings.com/2014/08/05/angus-taylor-community-backlash- brewing-over-act-wind-farm-plan/

    BTW do realize there are no road deaths in the ACT since 2010. That was promised in 2000 I think. Next they will be promising to change the weather oops they have already done that.

    • John Morland

      And what happened to the ACT government’s “No waste by 2010″ message plasted over every recycle pick up truck? It was quietly removed in 2009.

    • Don Aitkin

      Thanks, Mike. I can’t fix it, and will rewrite to make source clear.

      • Don Aitkin

        Done. The reader will have to read through the text to find the link to the pdf, in each case, but that’s the best I can do.

  • John Bromhead

    It is quite possible for the ACT to achieve what it will say is a 90% renewable electricity system. This is because the ACT will not be relying on the electricity that is coming from the solar and wind facilities that it has electricity purchase agreements with. These facilities will supply the National Electricity Market, a market for electricity that is over 100 times larger than the ACT’s. The ACT is considered part of the NSW section of this market. There is interconnection between NSW and the other states in the NEM.
    At times these facilities will be producing more electricity than the ACT needs, at other times far less. Consequently the ACT will be as reliant as it is now on the presence of fossil-fueled generators (elsewhere) to maintain its electricity supply.
    Simon Corbell is the relevant government minister. Earlier this year he talked about the ACT target on the ABC Radio National program Background Briefing (April 27, 2014) excited that the target was achievable and affordable. He said, “if a small place like the ACT can do it, surely the rest of Australia can”.
    The ACT is also transferring the cost of the intermittency of this additional generation onto everyone in the NEM.
    The ACT has a relatively new electricity grid and lower distribution charges than the states which will mean that the retail price of electricity is unlikely to exceed those of NSW, Queensland and SA.

    • Don Aitkin

      John,

      I don’t quite follow. Do you mean that the ACT Government will be able to say that indeed 90 per cent of its electricity is coming from renewable sources, because it has signed agreements with the alternative producers, who produced at least 90 per cent of the actual ACT needs in 2020 — but in fact the ACT will simply have taken it electricity from the NEM?

      And that the ACT doesn’t have an extensive or old grid, so it will not need to refurbish it, as is the case with the big states?

      • John Bromhead

        Don,

        I’m not sure why the network charges in the ACT are lower than elsewhere. Perhaps it’s the average age of the network and the percentage of the grid that has been installed underground. All the states have much larger areas to cover and in some cases urban electricity consumers are subsidising the electricity supply to those living in rural areas.

        The 2013 Residential Electricity Price trends report from the Australian Energy Market Commission gives some indication of the transmission and distribution costs in the various states. These prices are given for 2014-15. The price is in cents per kilowatthour.

        Queensland 15.42, NSW 16.86, SA 17.42, Victoria 13.11, ACT 8.92

        Minister Corbell says that average domestic electricity consumer in the ACT will be up for an additional $4 a week. If he is right that adds about 5¢/kWh on to the price.

        • Don Aitkin

          If my reading of your post is correct, Minister Corbell’s assertion may be true but valueless, since (I’m guessing) 70 per cent of the electricity we in Canberra use will still have been produced by coal-fired generators.

      • John Bromhead

        Don,

        I won’t be offended if you don’t post this long answer to the first question you asked.

        Yes, the ACT Government is saying that the ACT will be getting 90% of its electricity from renewable resources. A honest claim would be that the community is paying for 90% renewables and that for a lot of the time the ACT will be using electricity at the same time it is being produced by facilities that it has enabled be built because it offered power purchase agreements that last for 20 years.

        The ACT uses about 2.9 million megawatthours of electricity each year. If the demand did not vary it could be supplied by generators that in total produce 330 megawatts of electrical power operating for each 6780 hours of the year. However, demand varies between 180MW at about 4:00AM and 650MW on a hot summer afternoon. Maximum winter demand is about the same as in summer in the ACT.

        The ACT Government will not need to contract 90% of the ACT’s electricity supply to large scale facilities. The ACT intends to count rooftop solar systems’ contribution. About 10000 of these (31 MW in total) are receiving a tariff of $500/MWh or $467/MWh for what they use and what they feed into the grid. Tariffs for new installations are much lower. If in 2020 there is 70MW of this rooftop solar, it will produce about 0.13MWh or 5% of the ACT’s electricity. Roof top solar is not part of the National Electricity Market.

        The electricity that comes from the NEM already contains an amount of electricity from renewable resources, mainly hydroelectricity and some wind. If in 2020 the electricity supply in NEM is 25% renewable, that part can be counted towards the target. Perhaps 67% will come from facilities that the ACT has signed supply contracts with.

        Government documentation says about 45% of the ACT’s electricity will come from wind turbines with electricity purchase agreements These will be built in the region but outside the ACT. The capacity of these wind farms is supposed to total 380MW. Contracts for 200MW of this are to the signed sometime this year. The tariff these wind farms require is likely to be about $100/MWh. On a windy night these turbines will be producing about twice as much power as the ACT needs but on windless days will contribute little to meeting maximum winter or summer demand.

        Solar farms will also feed into the NEM. At present there is one under construction and two in the pipeline, a total of 40MW. More is to follow. Output from solar farms will be about half that from wind for each megawatt.

        There are two other elements of the plan, a generator powered by Canberra’s garbage and a thought bubble called next generation solar. These are described as 17MW and 50MW respectively, a measure of their maximum power. How much electricity they will produce and at what cost is anyone’s guess.

        A brief explanation of how contracted solar and wind farms with ACT power price agreements will operate in the NEM.

        There is some interconnection between the five eastern states that make up the National Electricity Market. NSW includes the ACT. Because of the nature of electricity, the amount being supplied at any one time has to the same as the amount being used. Since demand varies throughout the day so must supply.

        The National Electricity Market Operator controls how much generation occurs and which generators can dispatch electricity. The NEMO determines what the next day’s demand is likely to be. Generators bid a price to supply a certain amount of electricity for that next day. The amount offered, but not its price, can be changed up to 5 minutes before the supply period. For each 5 minute period the lowest bid supplier is chosen first. If more is needed, the next lowest bid generator will be allowed to supply at least some electricity, and so on as demand increases. A half hour spot price is generated by averaging the highest dispatch price for each 5 minute period. All generators receive this spot price for the electricity they dispatched in that half hour even if their bid price was much lower. Electricity retailers are charged this amount for the electricity they used in that half hour period. This amount will be more than the amount supplied to the retailers customers because it includes the energy lost in the transmission and distribution systems, about 6% for Canberra electricity. Most retailers hedge their electricity supply to remove the risk of price shocks. Just like existing wind generators, ACT and region generators will ensure they are selected by bidding a low price since they have no fuel costs, but almost always will receive a higher price.

        A power price agreement means a guaranteed price for a generator. For instance, the FRV solar farm at Royalla will receive a tariff of $186 per megawatthour for each of the next 20 years even if bidding into the market only earns it $50/MWh. ACT electricity prices will be set high enough to pay the subsidy.

        Wind farms are able to operate in the NEM even though the average cost of the power they produce is higher than that required by existing coal-fired generators. The Renewable Energy Target scheme ensures that a predetermined amount of renewable electricity will be produced each year leading up to 2020. Unless changed, by 2020, every year 41 million megawatts of renewable electricity will be produced under this scheme.Other renewable generation including hydro in place before 1997 is not eligible. Under the RET, qualifying generation receives a large scale generation certificate (LGC) for each megawatthour of electricity. Electricity retailers have to buy a certain number of certificates proportional to their electricity sales. A market in these certificates operates to facilitate their trade.

        Each LGC is worth about $40. GreenPower schemes buy certificates which they remove from the market and have them cancelled thus ensuring additional renewable electricity generation. ACT contracts specify that the certificates earned are given to the ACT government who will also have them removed from the market.

        The ACT government says it has chosen a generation mix that best fits the ACT demand profile. What makes a reliable electricity supply is the ability to produce enough power when it is needed. Canberra and region generation will be negligible on a still rainy winter day. That is the cheat.

        • Don Aitkin

          John, I’m delighted with your long response, which is illuminating. Thank you!

  • Dasher

    Had a fascinating conversation about climate change with a young highly educated Canberra woman at a family function in a small interactive group. When asked I said I believed in climate change (climate has been changing since the world began), didn’t know how serious it was, wasn’t sure what was causing it, didn’t think current approaches were going to make any difference (and from Australia, none), was worried about the amount of money being spent worldwide of dubious value, was concerned that too much certainly was been placed on the modelling, politics were a big part of the discussion, group think was likely a problem, noted the coming and passing of many tipping points and hasty predictions, suggested we hasten slowly as we still have (for example) nuclear up our sleeve. Asked if she had ever had anyone seriously challenge her well developed view of apocalyptic climate change…immmmmm. Did she ever get her information from sources apart from ABC/Fairfax/warmist viewpoints. Yes but on further chatting not really. She asked if I thought she lacked curiosity , I said yes. I was treated politely in the group but they thought I was from Mars. I held my own politely and felt good.

  • Lysander

    The ACT is so heavily reliant on AGW because their jobs depend on it. Who is going to regulate the regulators? Public servants.

  • Martin

    I wouldn’t trust any survey by the government on this topic. I was called a few months ago by an automated survey machine and started off answering as honestly as possible – but when a question like:

    Do you agree with with statement “Man made climate change is an urgent problem we need to do something about” very much agree, agree, neutral, disagree, very much disagree.

    Is followed by this question:

    By how much should we reduce carbon emissions by 2020 to avoid dangerous climate change? 5% 10% 15% 20% 25%

    Well if I answered “very much disagree” to the first question, I might ilke to answer “0″ or “not applicable” to the second to remain consistent with my stance but I had not such option so just hung up.