Here’s a case study in the short-sightedness of politicians in establishing sustainable energy options and leaving behind the reliance on the finite, dwindling and increasingly expensive sources of coal and oil.

In 2006, City of Sydney councillor Chris Harris of the NSW Greens held talks with sustainability expert Michael Mobbs and Sydney University’s Professor David Mills to discuss opportunities of solar thermal power for Sydney.

Mills explained how the solar thermal technology used in his prototype project at the Liddell power plant in the Hunter Valley was progressing. He predicted that the results were so impressive that if the project was expanded, then Sydney could be powered by solar thermal power down the grid within three years.

Avenues of major investment in the technology were readily at hand: adequate land was available at either Moree or Bourke in the state’s north-east where more than adequate sun power is available; Moree sat on an electricity hub; and there was spare capacity on the electricity grid so that the solar thermal energy could run down the line to Sydney.

The Greens released a plan and produced a brochure on the proposal before the state election in March 2007.

What happened? The Iemma Government won the state election, ignored the technology on offer and Professor Mills received no encouragement from Labor ministers. So he pulled up stakes and went to California where he built the world’s largest solar thermal power station with the blessing of Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Australian technology was lost.

Now let’s cut to 2008. Iemma sends his Environment and Climate Change Minister Verity Firth on a taxpayer funded junket to Las Vegas to view and learn about Mills’ solar thermal technology, even though she could have seen it in her own backyard at Liddell.

As Harris lamented: “All Ms Firth had to do was take an 80-minute drive where she could have inspected the demonstration which is producing steam to drive turbines using free energy from the sun.”

Back from Las Vegas, Ms Firth is trilling about the solar thermal technology and trying to hide the inconvenient truth that NSW let its technology go offshore, jobs were given away and an opportunity to be a world leader in this field has gone.

Meanwhile, the environment and climate change minister is showing Cabinet solidarity by supporting the advanced plans to open more coal and gas-fired power stations and maintain the myth of “clean coal”.

In today’s Business Spectator, finance writer Robert Gottliebsen delivers a monumental bucketing of the economic mismanagement of NSW (“NSW is the laggard”) saying: “The power farce in NSW makes it time to face a concealed truth about Australia — our biggest problem is NSW.”

With an insouciance for which he is famous, Gottliebsen added: “I also spoke to a number of Queensland CEOs who found doing business straight forward in all eastern states except NSW which they said was a simply ‘a joke’. These Queenslanders either came from NSW or had spent time living there. Since then I have spoken to a wider range of Australian executives who all complained about the difficulty of doing business in the NSW culture.”

That “culture” is more widely known as the NSW the right-wing machine of the NSW Labor Party.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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