A Real Passion? RePower Alice is shaping up as such

I wrote this a few days ago. Initially it was an angry rant aimed at apparent government support for the seemingly fossil-fuel addicted Power & Water utility. Over time I realised that perhaps the best way to achieve the change we want (i.e. 100% renewables) might be to help the government see that the utility regulator can legislate to achieve what the majority of locals want whilst creating the economic environment that the government believes we need:

As an organisation that has, for some time, had a strong interest in the modernisation of power generation and distribution, and societal/community access to same in Alice Springs and beyond, members of RePower Alice study with great interest all policy and regulation that applies thereto. This led us to reviewing the Utilities Commission’s recent draft Generator Performance Standards (which apparently was drafted by the Utility itself).

Before identifying specific clauses that we feel could benefit from further development, we would like to raise one question. Was this new generator standard developed with reference to the NT’s recent BZE (Beyond Zero Emissions) vision/position paper?

 We consider the BZE paper as the the responsible Minister’s ‘statement of intent’ and wholeheartedly agree that the NT can and should have a renewables/solar-powered future. We ask our question because it looks on first inspection as if the BZE was not a factor.

Without wishing to over-simplify, by summary of our clause-by-clause response to Generator Performance Standards drafts, it seems to us that the Utility Commission has taken an overly conservative approach. They appear to have assumed that we must persist with a 20th Century design, based on 19th Century ideas, to deliver electricity from a constrained mix of non-renewable and renewable sources, in a rapidly evolving 21st Century consumption model. By simple analogy, it is a bit like expecting to be able to run the Internet over the old-fashioned morse-code-signalling telegraph network.

Despite the NT Government’s previous commitment to achieving 50% renewables by 2030, to base future power networks on anything other than 100% renewable input would appear questionable. Not only does such an approach ignore recent, and demonstrably proven technologies that facilitate increased reliability and efficiency, but it also ignores the fundamentals of economics (i.e. if, as economic theory dictates, the target is zero marginal cost, then zero input cost is a good start!). That these fundamentals have been clearly understood by the nation-state of Singapore is evinced by their recently announced massive investment in a truly huge solar farm to be built in the NT – repatriating the resultant carbon-free electricity by undersea cable over 3300+ Km. Such foresight is indicative of why Singapore remains the leading hub of economic activity. What message does our government take from this?

Certainly, if the NT Government wishes to grow our economy, abundant reliable power – low cost power – low carbon power – is a must to attract the significant investment that will be required if we are to value-add to our plentiful mineral resources. Increasingly investors must be mindful of public opinion. Public opinion is increasingly climate aware. The Utility Commission must surely be aware of this, too? 

According to the Utilities Commission’s own web site (http://www.utilicom.nt.gov.au) “The Utilities Commission seeks to protect the long-term interests of consumers of services provided by regulated industries with respect to price, reliability and quality”. Given this goal, and its emphasis on “consumers of services” it may be more appropriate to define the role of the Utility Commission as being ‘to regulate monopolies to ensure optimal benefit for the people of the NT’. It is not there to protect the interests of those monopolies. Nor is it there to protect the oligarchies that may seek to exploit those monopolies through association or supply contract.

We ask that you consider our commentary on the Generator Performance Review Standards in the light of the Utility Commission’s overarching responsibilities. We seek to support and facilitate useful competitive constructs that will work to provide benefit to the broad NT community.