This week, the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) released a Lock the Gate-commissioned report claiming massive job numbers and minimal impact if the Narrabri region pursued wind and solar projects instead of developing their natural gas resources. Do their claims square with reality? Not even close.
The first issue with the study is that the two renewables scenarios they consider, “Renewable Advance Export” (RE-ADV-X, the more aggressive option) and “Renewable Export (RE-X),” come with price tags that do not include the necessary grid modifications to make the transition happen. So, at $6.5 billion and $1 billion, respectively, neither of these numbers are comprehensive and really just reflect the installation costs of the solar and wind capacity.
Or, in their words:
“This scenario requires addition[al] power lines as well as a significant enforcement of the existing 132 KV transmission line in order to export this capacity to the NEM grid. The actual required grid concept is not within the scope of the analysis.”
The fact that the grid modifications necessary to export energy are not included in the study’s cost estimates does not stop the researchers from touting “income from exported electricity from Narrabri to the rest of NSW” as one of the benefits of these projects.
There is a similar issue with the number of jobs-for-locals that they claim. The researchers project that in the RE-ADV-X scenario the Narrabri region would be home to around 2,500 solar and 180 wind jobs by 2030. In the, significantly less aggressive, RE-X scenario they forecast 430 solar and 50 wind jobs by 2030. There are two issues with these employment figures, the first being that they are essentially just guesses, or as stated in the fine print:
“The large number of assumptions required for these calculations mean that employment numbers are indicative only, especially for regions where little data exists.”
The second issue is that these local employment figures are entirely dependent on “government policy to support apprenticeships and skills development” in order to “significantly alter the proportion of jobs that would be taken up by Narrabri shire locals.” The necessary training programs are also not included in the $6.5 billion or $1 billion price tag.
These omissions are important, as is the fact that the entire study is premised on the idea that some combination of solar and wind is inevitably the best way to limit New South Wales’s carbon footprint when in reality swapping out coal for natural gas is also extremely effective. As the study notes on page 31, utility scale power plant capacities in NSW are still 53% coal and only 11% natural gas, meaning that there are significant gains to be made by increasing natural gas’ share of the energy mix. This method, unlike the plan the LTG and UTS study advocates for, does not require costly grid modifications or training programs.
It’s also a time-tested method of decreasing emissions and increasing air quality. In fact, the United States’ emissions reductions over the decade or so are almost entirely due an increase in natural gas’ share of the energy mix. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration:
“The underlying energy consumption trends that resulted in these changes—mainly because more electricity has been generated from natural gas than from other fossil fuels—have helped to lower the U.S. emissions level since 2005 because natural gas is a less carbon-intensive fuel than either coal or petroleum.”
The combination of these oversights, “limitations in scope,” and the overall faulty premise of this study reveal the research for what it is, not an impartial university study, but a study designed to reach the conclusions its activist funders wanted.