The renewables basket case

CONGRATULATIONS to the Queensland Resources Council for almost getting it right when it bit back this week over the investment appeal of coal because from what Hogsback has seen over the past few years renewable energy investments have been far worse than coal.

Tim Treadgold

What stirred the QRC into action was the latest piece of Green propaganda masquerading as financial research into coal’s appeal to investors.

An organisation called the Carbon Tracker Initiative declared that investment in coal was risky because of a slowdown in the Chinese economy, a statement which Blind Freddie or his dog could have made, and which could even be extended to include iron ore, zinc, copper, nickel and wheat because when China slows it takes most commodities with it.

The QRC, about 12 months after The Hog made the same point, said it was becoming rather tiresome for Green crusaders to trundle out the same pointless argument about coal being risky. Anybody who has ever worked in a coalmine knows just how risky it is.

As for investors, they are fully aware of the risks though it was pleasing to read the QRC’s statement about financial risks in coal being “no different for the renewable energy industry”

It’s the “no different” remark which caught The Hog’ attention because if someone at the QRC would care to run the numbers they will find that renewables have been disgracefully value destructive for years, without anybody running a campaign against them.

Two of the outstanding flops on the Australian Securities Exchange in the past few years have been two of the darlings of Green campaigners; Geodynamics and Greek Rock Energy.

Both are in the business of trying to extract heat from deeply-buried rocks, convert it to steam, and use the steam to generate electricity.

True believers in the “hot rocks” theory of renewable energy once bored everyone to sobs with their claims about Australia having enough stored energy in its high temperature rocks to power the country for decades – if not forever.

Even the previous Left-leaning (and Green supported) Australian government was enticed to invest in hot rocks exploration which, somewhat amusingly, is actually a variation of the nuclear power cycle because most of the deeply-buried heat comes from decaying radioactive metals such as thorium and uranium.

Never mind the irony of a government which had Left-Green credentials supporting a business dependent on radioactive materials, including the extraction of water rich in radon gas, it’s best to focus on the financial performance of the hot rock sector – which has been in a word, appalling.

Geodynamics, once the sector leader, has seen its share price fall from a peak of $2.17 to recent sales at 4.3c, a drop of 98%.

Green Rock has fallen from a peak of 16c to recent sales at 0.005c (half-a-cent) which is a fall of 99%.

Other renewable energy stocks have come, and gone, with very few (if any) success stories. One which did catch The Hog’ eye this week was Quantum Energy, a stock which was once a favorite of the solar energy fan club, and which managed to recently post a modest rise of one-tenth of a cent to 1.3c.

The only problem, as was soon discovered, is that Quantum energy has branched out by acquiring medical appliance distribution businesses.

Solar energy, it seems, might be suffering similar financial challenges as hot rock technology – it actually costs more to produce than some people imagine and it has a business case built on government (taxpayer) support.

What’s really happening, and this is where Green activists are not being completely open, is that there are two big factors at work in the energy business.

One is the reliance of renewable energy on government financial support, an artificial prop which it might be argued is required when a new business is launched, but is not one that will be in place forever. At some stage renewable energy providers will be subjected to the same competitive forces as coal which, it must be said, is not the recipient of government support, and is more likely to be taxed than aided.

The second big factor hitting everyone in the energy sector is the oil and gas have made a remarkable return thanks to rising production, increased efficiency in the use of liquid fuels, falling demand in major markets, and the world’s biggest economy, the US, getting close to energy independence.

Coal and renewables are both being buffeted by excess supply and falling energy prices. It’s a pity that Green activists choose to ignore the facts, and also a pity that organisations like the QRC do not do a bit more homework and land a few telling blows such the share price collapse of most ASX-listed renewable stocks.

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