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2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #21B

Posted on 23 May 2015 by John Hartz

25 newspapers team up to bring attention to climate change

The Guardian's Keep It In The Ground campaign has centered around publishing climate stories aggressive enough to alienate major oil companies.

Now, it's convinced 25 other global newspapers to gang up together on Big Oil.

The Guardian's partners include the world's influential daily papers including Le Monde, El País, China Daily, the Sydney Morning Herald, India Today, and the Seattle Times.

The newspapers will share each other's articles on climate coverage in an effort to pressure diplomats to craft a stricter new global agreement to reduce emissions at the UN's global summit on climate change on December 11. the Guardian's coverage, already the most activist in its approach, will begin appearing in 25 major newspapers around the world as part of a new content sharing agreement, coordinated by the Global Editors Network.

25 newspapers team up to bring attention to climate change by Jason Abbruzzese, Mashable, May 23, 2015 

Bad news keeps flowing from Antarctica

The massive shelves of ice that ring Antarctica have been shrinking over the past couple of decades, and that could have grave implications for sea level rise.

It’s not the ice shelves themselves that pose a problem: they’re mostly afloat, so when they melt or dump massive icebergs, it doesn’t affect water levels any more than melting ice cubes make your drink rise and overflow.

But the ice shelves serve as massive barriers that slow the flow of glaciers out to sea. As the shelves shrink, the barrier weakens, allowing glaciers to start moving faster. And since that ice is land-based, it adds to sea level rise.

Bad News Keeps Flowing From Antarctica by Michael D. Lemonick, Climate Central, May 21, 2015

Cutting warming to 1.5°C could endanger food supply

As world leaders try to agree how to prevent global warming from heating the planet by more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, scientists have tackled an altogether thornier question: can we keep the rise below 1.5°C?

The lower target—demanded by more than 100 countries as a safer goal—is attainable, they say. But there will be little room for error, and getting there will mean not only cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but actually removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

That is not possible with the technology now available. And even if it could one day be done, it would probably have forbiddingly harmful consequences for world food supplies.

Cutting warming to 1.5°C could endanger food supply by Alex Kirby, Climate News Network/Truthout, May 22, 2015

Congress manufactures doubt and denial in climate change hearing

US Congress periodically holds hearings on issues related to climate change. Because the subject has become a partisan one in America, they generally follow apredictable pattern – Democrats invite science and policy expert witnesses who agree with the expert consensus on human-caused global warming and the need to address it, and Republicans invite witnesses who disagree.

John Christy at the University of Alabama at Huntsville is one of the fewer than 3% of climate scientists who publishes research suggesting that humans aren’t the primary cause of the current global warming. He’s thus become one of Republicans’ favorite expert witnesses.

Last week, the Committee on Natural Resources held a hearing to discuss draft guidance by the the President’s Council on Environmental Quality to include carbon pollution and the effects of climate change in the consideration of environmental impacts of federal projects, as part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process. Needless to say, the Republicans on the committee don’t like the idea, as is clear from the hearing highlights and lowlights in the video below.

Congress manufactures doubt and denial in climate change hearing by Dana Nuccitelli, Cliamte Consensus - the 97%, The Guardian, May 21, 2015

France's Hollande concerned about slow progress in climate talks

French President Francois Hollande said he was worried about a lack of progress towards a United Nations climate deal in Paris in December and called on the financial sector to "decarbonise" its investment portfolios.

Hollande said on Wednesday that only 37 of 196 U.N. member states had so far submitted plans to the United Nations outlining their actions to slow global warming beyond 2020. The plans are meant to be the building blocks for a deal in Paris.

"I note and I am concerned that at the moment I am speaking there are only 37 submissions," Hollande told the Paris Business and Climate conference, where global chief executives are discussing how industry can help fight climate change.

"The contributions should in theory be submitted this summer," he added.

France's Hollande concerned about slow progress in climate talks by Alister Doyle and Geert De Clercq, Reuters, May 20, 2015

Limiting global warming to 1.5C is still possible, say scientists

It's still technically possible to limit global warming to below 1.5C this century, according to new research published in Nature Climate Change.

Only a small window of opportunity remains open, the study says - and it is closing rapidly. Global carbon pricing or its equivalent should have been implemented already and must certainly be in place by 2020. The world would then need to become carbon neutral by mid-century.

The new study pitches into a live and vociferous debate over whether the world should be aiming to limit warming to 1.5C or 2C, and whether either target remains achievable. Carbon Brief puts the new study's findings in context.

Limiting global warming to 1.5C is still possible, say scientists by Simon Evans, The Carbon Brief, May 21, 2015

Seeds of Time - preserving food resources in a hot future climate

So often, we talk about “proving” climate change is happening, or articulating changes we expect in the future from increased extreme weather. We should also talk about adaptation - how can we adapt to a future climate? 

A recent film, being shown in theaters in New York City now and Los Angeles next Friday is a great success story about adaptation; decisions we can make now that may influence the fortunes of future generations. The movie, called Seeds of Time, is directed by Oscar-nominee Sandy McLeod. It is narrated by Dr. Cary Fowler who identifies the challenges agriculture will face with climate change and other potential disasters. Cary was former Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust. Their goal was to put together an international plan to preserve global genetic diversity.

Seeds of Time - preserving food resources in a hot future climate by John Abraham, Climate Consensus - the 97%, The Guardian, May 22, 2015

Shell boss warns that unchecked fossil fuel burning will cause global warming

The world's fossil fuel reserves cannot be burned unless some way is found to capture their carbon emissions, Royal Dutch Shell Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden said on Friday.

In an interview published in the Guardian newspaper, Van Beurden forecast that global energy use would produce "zero carbon" by the end of the century, and that his group would get a "very large segment" of its earnings from renewable power.

The interview came a day after Van Beurden slammed as a "red herring" calls to divest from energy companies as part of the fight against climate change, in particular the "Keep it in the Ground" campaign led by the Guardian.

Shell boss warns that unchecked fossil fuel burning will cause global warming Reuters/The Christian Science Monitor, May 22, 2015

The surprising links between faith and evolution and climate denial — charted

For a long time, we’ve been having a pretty confused discussion about the relationship between religious beliefs and the rejection of science — and especially its two most prominent U.S. incarnations, evolution denial and climate change denial.

At one extreme is the position that science denial is somehow deeply or fundamentally religion’s fault. But this neglects the wide diversity of views about science across faiths and denominations — and even across individuals of the same faith or denomination — not all of which are anti-climate science, or anti-evolution.

At the other extreme, meanwhile, is the view that religion has no conflict with science at all. But that can’t be right either: Though the conflict between the two may not be fundamental or necessary in all cases, it is pretty clear that the main motive for evolution denial is, indeed, a perceived conflict with faith (not to mention various aspects of human cognition that just make accepting evolution very hard for many people).

The surprising links between faith and evolution and climate denial — charted by Chris Mooney, Energy & Environment, Washington Post, May 20, 2015

We need real consensus, not Bjorn Lomborg’s illusion of it

The Australian government’s intent to create a “Consensus Centre” to work on the big issues facing the nation signals a welcome revival in interest in using research to inform policy, if it can be taken at face value. But it needs to be done right, and if it is, universities can readily help.

The University of Western Australia’s recent decision to decline the A$4 million offered by the Abbott government, having originally agreed to host Bjorn Lomborg’s proposed “Australian Consensus Centre”, came after an outcry from faculty and students who were concerned that Lomborg’s views on climate change and other environmental issues were not based on the level of objective analysis expected of universities.

Lomborg is well known as a cornucopian, in the tradition of the US economist Julian Simon. Both have argued that environmental problems are not especially serious, and that the conventional economic growth model can continue indefinitely, even on a planet that is clearly finite.

We need real consensus, not Bjorn Lomborg’s illusion of it by Robert Costanza, Frank Jotzo & Steven Cork, The Conversation AU, May 21, 2015

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Comments 1 to 22:

  1. NOAA has updated its global ocean heat content. It seems that they will soon have to expand their y-axis – again!


    Global Ocean Heat Content 0-2000 m

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  2. "Cutting warming to 1.5°C could endanger food supply" and "Limiting global warming to 1.5C is still possible, say scientists" refer to a common source, a Nature Climate Change article  

    Rogelj, J. et al, (2015) Energy system transformations for limiting end-of-century warming to below 1.5 °C


    Frank Johnston

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  3. Now, if only those 25 newspapers would also team up to make sure that their online comments sections were about the science of human-caused global warming as well.  Clicking on almost any of the links to their articles and then going to their comments sections brings up a disgusting repetition of personal attacks, unscientific nonsense, the usual memes from the deniosphere's script, and so on.  I'm not saying cut off one particular point of view when it comes to the science, but how about raising the bar a bit and turning them into real discussions? Kudos to Skeptical Science for leading the way on that. 

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  4. I posted a comment addressing the prejudices of the Guardian and the SMH which has not appeared perhaps because I was critical of these two papers.  That said it is heartening to read in the SMH (May 24 2015) pieces noting the 2011 floods in Queensland were not due to climate change but to human error and that the cost to households of solar  panels has outwibghed their benefits

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Your prior post was deleted because it was nothng more than nonsensical sloganeering.

    Sloganeering is prohibited by the SKS Comments Policy.

    Please note that posting comments here at SkS is a privilege, not a right.  This privilege can be rescinded if the posting individual treats adherence to the Comments Policy as optional, rather than the mandatory condition of participating in this online forum.

    Please take the time to review the policy and ensure future comments are in full compliance with it.  Thanks for your understanding and compliance in this matter.

  5. @4.  Where exactly does the article note precisely that the floods were  not due to climate change? And please provide the link to the solar panel item, as I can't seem to find it.  Thanks.

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  6. Ryland, what would the economics of solar power be if you actually paid the full price for it? Even removing the subsidies on fossil fuel makes a big difference to the cost equation. How skeptical have you been of the claims made by the opinion piece compared to the skepticism you have expressed here about peer-reviewed science?

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  7. Ryland, I should also say that if you want to primarily discuss political comment around climate change, then have a look at thinkprogress. This SkepSci site is primarily about the science of climate change and debunking pseudo-skeptic nonsense associated with it.

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  8. What would the economics of fossil fuels be if you payed full price for it?

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  9. Not my area of expertize, but you can find levelized cost for different energy production in US here. None of this includes accounting for externalities (ie damage to environment from use of fossil fuel). This is much more difficult calculation. I understand that internally, Shell uses a $40 per ton costing which I guess is what they think a carbon tax might be.

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  10. ryland @4, on January 11th, 2011 I described the Queensland floods saying:

    "Of course, and even larger perspective is needed. In March, 2010, Queensland experienced record breaking floods, with many towns experiencing record flood depths, and the greatest area flooded ever reported for Queensland. It was reported that the flood effected area in March was larger than Victoria (area: 240,000 square kilometers, or 92,000 square miles). In the week after Christmas, that record was broken, with a reported flooded extent greater in area than New South Wales (810,000 square kilometers or 313,000 square miles). That is an area about the size of the five largest contiguous US states either under water or cut off, or with crops rotting in the ground two weeks before harvest.

    In the last week of December, the floods were mostly confined to the interior behind Rockhampton and Bundaberg (also flooded) and to the Darling Downs and interior. There was minor flooding in Brisbane, and in the north of the state (where at least one woman lost her life). Since then the floods have moved south, flooding Gympie, Maryborough, and of course, Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley (and soon to be Ipswich and Brisbane). Dalby deserves a special mention, having experience five flood peaks in two weeks."

    The post was in connection to the Toowoomba floods, described at the time as an "inland tsunami":

    The Toowoomba floods were astonishing in that Toowoomba is literally at the crest of the Great Dividing Range west of Brisbane.  Toowoomba's catchment area lies entirely inside the city limits.

    Shortly after the Toowoomba flood, Murphy's Creek was hit by a wall of water, with the water level rising "... about 12 metres in 12 minutes" (Source).


    That was less surprising in that Murphy's Creek lies at the bottom of the range, hard up against the edge of the Lockyer Valley.  Any flash flood coming down the range would have had no time to disperse before hitting Murhpy's Creek.

    Further downstream from Murhpy's Creek (and downstream of the confluence of Murhpy's and Lockyer Creek, on which Helidon sits), at Helidon, the water level rose 8 meters in thirty minutes, with 4 meters of that rise being in ten minutes.  Helidon is downstream of three other streams in addition to Murhpy's Creek.  The rapidity of the water rise at Helidon is astonishing given the relative distance from the valley walls (and hence time and distance for the flood peak to disperse).

    Downstream of Helidon (and of Flagstone Creek) lies Grantham.  Further downstream again is Gatton where flood levels 20 meters above Davey's Bridge were recorded:

    (Source, see here for video of after flood levels at the same location)

    I run through all this to illustrate just how deceptive is your comment @4 that "it is heartening to read in the SMH (May 24 2015) pieces noting the 2011 floods in Queensland were not due to climate change but to human error".  It is deceptive because the 2011 Queensland floods were not restricted to a flood in Grantham.  Nor is the SMH report about the "Queensland floods", but the rather about the floods in "Grantham, Queensland", something made very clear in the article.  It is further deceptive because Grantham certainly would have flooded in any event on January 10th, as is made clear from the generalized flooding both upstream and downstream of Grantham.  Indeed, Grantham had already flooded on Jan 9th, and would do so again in a further flood on Jan 11th when the Grantham water gauge ceased operating at 14 meters (source).

    What is at issue in the SMH is whether the collapse of an earth wall in a local quarry made the flood worse in Grantham than it would otherwise have been.  It has no bearing at all on the causes of the flood.  Further, the story is known to be inaccurate (and essentially a beat up by Channel Nine).  The Channel Nine Chopper did not record the "wall of water" through Grantham.  It did not even record the peak of flooding in Grantham, video of which did not emerge until March 18th.  Rather, it responded to reports of the flood which had already peaked by the time it was airbourne.  The "new evidence" on the Sixty Minutes report was not relevant evidence at all.

    Even the reports account of what the prior inquiry said is inaccurate.  Channel Nine claims the inquiry "...determined the flood hit the town at 3.15pm".  The SMH reports that as:

    "The commission concluded that a wall of flood water hit Grantham between 3.15 and 3.30pm, which fit the timeline of events that suggested the overflowing river upstream was the cause of the devastation."

     The inquiry actually found that:

    "While it accepts the submitters’ contention that the road from Gatton to Grantham was clear shortly after 3.00 pm (a conclusion consistent with the Commission’s finding in its interim report that the Grantham flooding occurred between 3.20 pm and 4.00 pm), it does not consider that there is any basis to reject the SES controller’s account as given in his statement referred to in the interim report.  It is supported by statements from the group leader of the Gatton SES unit and members of the SES group which set out to perform the doorknocking task, as well as by the contemporary record in the form of the Gatton SES attendance log."

    IMO it is very difficult to mistake 3:20 to 4:00 for 3:15 to 3:30; so Channel Nine and the SMH have directly misrepresented the Commission to beat up a story.  So the "missing hour" is manufactured by dishonest reporting by Channel Nine (and possibly lazy reporting by the SMH).

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  11. SkepticalinCanada @5, with reference to solar panels, Ryland is probably refering to this article, which does say:

    "Feed-in tariffs had to be paid for. The businesses that run the networks were allowed to pass on these costs to other electricity consumers through their energy bills. Essentially, governments arranged it so that money went from people without solar to people with solar.

    By the time premium feed-in tariffs end - Queensland's scheme runs until 2028 - Australians without solar will have paid about $5 billion extra on their electricity bills. They have paid a further $5 billion as a result of federal government subsidies to solar from the Renewable Energy Target. Add a third subsidy that is embedded in the structure of network tariffs, and people without solar PV have spent $14 billion subsidising those who have."

    That is 14 billion over twenty years.  The excessively high feed in tariffs do in fact represent a problem, not least because they encourage people using solar panels to shape their energy use so that their peak energy use is at night when they are drawing energy from the grid, and hence primarilly CO2 emitting sources.

    However, if that is the article to which he refers, he has again misrepresented its contents.  The article is primarilly about the potential revolution in solar power from the introduction of relatively cheap, convenient batteries:

    "Yet change is on the way and if it is managed properly, solar PV will finally become a major player in Australia's power system. In concert with home batteries, solar panels will change people's relationship with the grid, giving them the ability to store and manage the electricity their solar panels produce, and reducing their electricity costs.

    These changes will benefit not only solar PV owners but everyone. Battery owners will use the grid less at peak times, placing less strain on the network and reducing the need for costly investment in new infrastructure. Reducing network costs will push down electricity prices."

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  12. @9, still interesting information so cheers!

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  13. @12  Thank, Tom.  I did find that particular article, and was still puzzled by ryland's claim about the cost if that article was the basis for his claim. Saying that their costs have outweighed their benefits is, in my opinon, significant misrepresentation of that article and in fact other articles at the SMH.

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  14. Tom Curtis@11,

    The braoder extent of the Grattan Institute report in question have been described in this smh article. It turns out, the report considered not only unfair feed-in tariffs and essentially flat charges at peak demand times and at low demand times. They have also looked at what may happen with over-invested, "gold-plated" power network once improved storage technology prompts people to move away from the networks:

    Rising power charges is encouraging more users to consider "unplugging" from the power grid, which would then push up power prices for those staying on the grid. Unplugging may make sense only for some large users in remoter locations, the study found. [...]

    As a result, fears that the tens of billions of dollars invested by state governments and superannuation funds in power networks would be hit by a "death spiral" as users desert from the power network will not occur. [...]

    As part of this, government must also clarify who will pay to shut down the parts of the power network no longer needed as new technology and declining demand reduce network revenues.

    Under present regulations, the networks can raise prices to offset revenue declines so that a declining number of users would be called upon to fund an unnecessary network, the report found.

    In other words, those who don't embrace new solar/battery technogoly and stay behind, will continue to "fund" the dying FF infrastructure.

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  15. SkepticalinCanada@13,

    I think ryland's claim is correct in noting the smh  (in fact Grattan Institute) reported (among other things) wasted money:

    "Lavish government subsidies plus the structure of electricity network tariffs means the cost of solar PV take-up has outweighed the benefits by more than $9 billion."

    I, on the other hand, don't understand the very misleading headline of the article I quoted @13: "Billions wasted on solar subsidy, says report", which is vey inaccurate and does not repfect its contents and may have resulted ryland's misunderstanding of the complex issue of energy transition from FF to solar/renewables.

    Further, I don't know how the benefits (presumabl $5 billions) of the subsidies in question have been calculated: what was for example the prize of the emissions saved, how the emission savings have been calculated, for the lifetime of the subsidised solar installations or for the perior 2008-2020 in question, etc. So what was the reason for "failed subsidies" that gave science deniers further ammunition? One more familiar with the Grattan Institute report might want to answer that question.

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  16. "In other words, those who don't embrace new solar/battery technogoly and stay behind, will continue to "fund" the dying FF infrastructure."

    In the unlikely event of such an outcome, governments would simply raise taxes elsewhere to subsidize the grid.

    Consider the plight of hundreds of thousands of poeple who are forced to rent properties because they're not earing enough to pay a million+ dallar mortgages in the big cities, and ask what percentage of landlords are going to fund expensive PV solar systems for them.  

    Also, the cost of housing is pushing more and more people into appartments and estates where PV solar and power storage would required strata approval and in many cases it may not be viable anyway due to insufficient surface area.

    Personally, I would love to install a PV solar and storage system too but I'm currently unable to lawfully clear the trees (and a good thing too) that currently shade my entire foof area for much of the year.  

    It's my hope that future large scale solar and wind farms will be publically floated, affording mum and dad investors the oportunity to investment and share the rewards.

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  17. Skepticalin Canada @ 13.  Your comment "

    "I did find that particular article, and was still puzzled by ryland's claim about the cost if that article was the basis for his claim. Saying that their costs have outweighed their benefits is, in my opinon, significant misrepresentation of that article and in fact other articles at the SMH"

    is both incorrect and unfair

    The piece to which I was referring was the piece by Lisa Cox on May 24 the headline of which was "Cost of household solar has outweighed benefits: Grattan Institute report."  Fair criticism is obviously perfectly correct but your comment is manifestly wrong.   I fail to understand why your comment was made as you state you have read thre articleyou did read the article.  The heasdlinde was not tucked away out odf sight.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] For future reference, please provide links to articles and other materials that you include in a comment.

  18. @17. And from that same article that you have referenced:

    "(The report) predicts it will soon become viable for households to install solar without government subsidies as the cost of panels falls and battery storage from companies like Tesla becomes more widely available in future."

    So, to date the costs may have outweighed their benefits, but you failed to mention what is clearly in the quote, and not "tucked away out of sight."  My original comment about significant misrepresentation stands.

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  19. Moderator the URL is

    Skepticin Canada  I quoted accurately and in turn you failed to mention 

    "it argues Australia could have reduced greenhouse gas emissions for much less money if governments had focused more on commercial and large-scale solar power, instead of household subsidies. "We've got the highest percentage of households in the world [with solar PV] because we've targeted our subsidies at households whereas other countries targeted the commercial sector," Grattan Institute energy program chief Tony Wood said. "We'd be better off if that was where we were going." The report calculates that the capital cost of installing and maintaining household solar systems since 2009 has been $18 billion, while their benefit in terms of greenhouse gas abatement and reduced conventional electricity generation has been $9 billion.

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  20. Ryland,

    Your link is broken.  Can you find a working link?

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  21. ryland @17, your original claim @4 was that the article claimed "the cost to households of solar panels has outwibghed their benefits".  I gave that its most natural interpretation which is that the costs of solar panels, on average, out weigh the benefits in households with solar panels - a claim that is not supported by the article and arguably misrepresents it.  Even if we allow that the claim is that the cost of solar panels averaged across all australian households have outweighed the benefits, it still ignores appropriate context from the article in which the article points out that the equation on household solar is changing.

    I will note that even on the more general interpretation, the Grattan Institute report does not make its case.  In making its case it:

    1. Assumes that all government revenue comes from households so that the full value of direct subsidies for household solar to particular householders comes from all householders generally.  The actual case is that a substantial portion of government revenue comes from taxes on business, which are not necessarilly passed on to householders in increased prices; and part of whose income comes from exports and hence is not a cost to householders under any interpretation.  Costs to electricity suppliers from feed in tariffs could also be defrayed against businesses.  Consequently, while on the issues the examine they can purport to have shown the costs of household solar exceed the benefits across the entire economy, they cannot accurately make that claim with regard to householders only.
    2. The report ignores the contribution of household solar to the Renewable Energy Target.  They do make the case that non-household solar would have been a cheaper way to contribute to meeting that target; but that being the case the net cost of household solar to the economy is the difference between the cost of non-household solar and household solar.  As the costs of meeting the RET are passed on to all electricity customers, that a portion of those costs are met by individual householders represents a saving for other customers not accounted for by the Grattan Institute.
    3. The report ignores the fact that new installers of household solar, and purchasers of houses with household solar already installed, and renters of houses with household solar already installed, do not get the high feed in tariffs that caused the initial poblems, but a price approximately equal to the wholesale cost of electricity.  As renewable energy is sold at a premium value to householders, pricing household solar at the lower value wholesale value of non-renewable energy means that increasingly into the future, household solar will actually be providing a subsidy to purchasers of renewable energy from the grid.
    4. Finally, and most importantly, the report ignores completely the social cost of carbon, and therefore ignores the benefit of emissions reductions from household solar.
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  22. Ryland,

    The Gratten report claims that the previous method of rewarding solar installations was overly beneficial to solar installers.  That is why more systems were installed than expected.  The tariff scheme has been adjusted already.  They say future incentives should be adjusted to reflect costs and benefits.  They also say the the utilities are over incentivised to build more infrastructure.  Although they do not quantitate the amount it is probably a lot more than the amount invested in solar.  

    They expect distributed solar to be the cheapest method of generating new power in most of Australia by 2020.  It may be more cost effective to put the solar on businesses since they have bigger roofs.  

    So the Aussie government was not perfect in their scheme for solar installation.  Did you expect the government to be perfect?  As Tom says, the Gratten report does not consider at all the social cost of the carbon saved.  They also do not count the decrease in everyones utility bills since decrease in demand leads to lower electricity rates to generators (on page 18 they say it is zero sum to the economy since generators make less money).  Most consumers think it is a benefit when their rates go down.

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