Cheap as chips

The truth about your rising power bills

9 August 2018

Greenpeace | Renewable energy lovers gather in Sydney ahead of the COAG meeting to decide the fate of the National Energy Guarantee.

If you’re anything like me, the arrival of your quarterly electricity bill fills you with dread. For many people around the country, particularly people on low incomes or pensions, every cent counts, and high power prices can mean a choice between eating and keeping the lights on.

What’s the answer to high power prices? Well the answer might surprise you – it’s actually more power from the wind, sun and waves, and it comes with the added benefit that it’s cleaner and healthier than toxic coal. Are you surprised?

The thing is, coal power plants are a bit like teeth – the older they are, the more expensive they are to maintain. And our coal power plants are really, really old. In the same way computers reduced in price the more people bought them (because it’s cheaper to produce a lot of something than a little of something), wind turbines and solar plants are much, much cheaper than existing electricity, so any extra clean and shiny renewable power coming into the grid means your electricity bill will go down (and so your grandma gets to eat and keep the lights on).

In fact, research we commissioned last month from the really clever people at RepuTex showed that if Australia’s emissions reduction target was increased to 45% (which is not enough to save the Reef but better than the Government’s measly 26% target) power will be 25% cheaper.

So let’s make this clear – more renewable energy equals lower emissions and lower prices.

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The ridiculous thing is that, since the Government seems to be madly in love with dirty coal plants, they are introducing a policy that will kill renewable energy and drive up power prices and pollution – just to keep their mates in the boardrooms of coal companies happy. For the nerds out there, the policy’s called the National Energy Guarantee, and if states like Victoria and Queensland decide to reject it, we might be able to save solar.

But what about when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow? Well, in the same way your phone doesn’t suddenly switch off when you unplug it from the wall, you can store energy in giant batteries, like the big one in South Australia that has already saved the state from brownouts and blackouts more times than Superman has saved people from villains. In fact there are lots of ways to smooth out the spikes and dips in the energy grid that the experts have been calling for for a long time. We need investment in those things, and we need to get coal out of the system.

So how has the Government managed to distort the debate so much? The answer is that they have been using a lot of very technical words like “dispatchability” that they are hoping nobody will notice they are mis-using. “Dispatchability” is a long word that just means “available when you need it”. But coal plants take a long time to ramp up and ramp down. Batteries like the one in South Australia are very good at providing energy when we need it. Coal plants frankly suck at it. And ironically, when it gets hotter from climate change caused by burning coal, they fail even more frequently.

So if you want cheap, reliable and healthy electricity, get in contact with your state environment minister and ask them to block the National Energy Guarantee to save solar!

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