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Ian MadsenAustralia’s new National Energy Guarantee (NEG) has a sad, dangerous resemblance to Canadian policy.

It’s a desperate attempt to make renewable energy projects viable when they’re not.

The idea is to always have ‘dispatchable power’ – alternative sources – available to relieve brownouts and blackouts that result from an increasing dependency on renewable power. The Australians won’t use cheap and relatively clean natural gas power plants for these alternative sources.

A smart Australian Energy Regulator process would build gas power plants, even if they are only used as backup sources for days when little power is available from natural sources like sun and wind.

Of course, Australians realize that other countries that have depended entirely on renewal power have suffered disastrous brownouts and blackouts.

In Australia and many other parts of the world, dispatchable power from non-renewal sources often must come to the rescue. But the policies in these countries to rely mainly on renewal power have brought substantially higher rates to consumers and greater consumption of fossil-fuel power. That’s precisely the opposite of what these green programs were intended to do.

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There’s considerable skepticism about how dispatchable power would work without resorting to non-renewal sources. Battery storage is often cited as a way to meet power needs at a later time. But so far, there’s no viable way to store large amounts of electricity.

Despite great strides in battery technology, they remain very expensive, costing thousands of dollars for a home unit. Moreover, these batteries have relatively short lives. In addition, it’s expensive to recycle their components. And batteries carry risks, as numerous fires caused by lithium-ion batteries demonstrate. If consumers want to risk getting burned to save the planet, they need to be told about all the hazards involved in relying on batteries.

The energy revolution has brought conventional utilities to the brink around the world, only to discover that solar and wind power can’t be relied on. Power companies now demand big government subsidies as a result of this unreliability.

In a more reasonable energy marketplace, controlled, natural evolution would occur. Solar, wind, wave, tidal, geothermal, biomass and other renewal electricity generators would find their places and prices in the marketplace.

For now, however, there really is no substitute for non-renewables. Natural gas is abundant, clean, versatile and inexpensive. Efficient gas turbines and fuel cells make much more sense than force-feeding an unaffordable, artificial and costly renewable energy structure to a vulnerable public.

The new Australian policy is built on fantasies about the production and distribution of dispatchable power.

No country can have sound public policies by ignoring reality.

Ian Madsen is a senior policy analyst at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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