Saturday, January 29, 2011

Paying for the floods: Rail devolution? and a billion dollar cut to solar power

Now that the flood clean up is well under way, governments are looking for ways to pay for all the infrastructure repairs that are needed, while I'm not planning on commenting on the federal government's flood levy I do want to look at some of the cuts.

In SEQ the biggest causality of the floods (so far) has been Cross River Rail, the $8.2B project to put a second rail link from Brisbane city across the river and so massively increase capacity on the "Gold Coast, Beenleigh, Cleveland, Ferny Grove, Airport and Doomben" lines. This project had been seen as essential because the one current north-south rail bridge into the city, the Merivale bridge, is expected to reach capacity by 2016 after which there will be no room for extra peak time services. By delaying the four year long project for several years there is now no way it will be finished by 2016, assuming it is built at all (given that "several" years is a long time in politics). The implications for expanding the SEQ rail network are not good.

The cross river rail was to be the centerpiece of the State Governments long term SEQ transport plan, which ironically, had its main focus on a "rail revolution" and on increasing the sustainability of the transport network.

At the federal level things aren't any better with many the axe falling on many climate change and clean energy programs. While I'm not particularly sad to see the scrapping of "Cash for Clunkers" (an extraordinarily expensive way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) what you probably didn't know was that this program was "funded" by raiding ~400 million from solar power programs in the first place. Now solar power has been cut again by the tune of another ~500 million. The net result is an almost billion dollar cut to solar power programs. Also cut was 230 million dollars from the Green car fund.

The government appears to be hoping the introduction of a carbon price will mean these clean energy cuts won't matter. This seems naive. Although a carbon price is widely regarded as the cheapest and most effective means to cut carbon we shouldn't consider it a magic bullet. In the short to medium term, even with a carbon price, the first installations of large scale solar will likely require some government assistance in the deployment stage. The Solar Flagships program is designed to do this and is now ~250 million dollars poorer.

Headslapping really begins when we consider the wider implications. Climate change likely played a role in exacerbating and/or increasing the likelihood of these floods. The government response to which has been to cut to climate change mitigation and sustainability programs to pay for the damage. I find myself in agreement with this commenter who said this is "like putting off a hospital visit for a serious wound to pay for some more bandaids".

Obviously hard decisions need to be made to find the money required for the flood recovery, actions, though, say a lot about priorities.

Not happy? You can contact the PM here.

PS: These are my personal opinions.

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