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Porkahontas: why Kevin Rudd’s Solar Schools is really solar pork

By Jonathan J. Ariel - posted Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Pocahontas was an Indian princess, the daughter of Powhatan, the powerful chief of the Algonquian Indians in the Tidewater region of Virginia.

Porkahontas, better known as Kevin Rudd, on the other hand, is a unionist prince, the powerful leader of a party who will say anything whilst standing for nothing, in his quest to win office.

Pocahontas was named Matoaka at birth, but it was her childhood nickname that travelled with her all the days of her short life. She died in 1617, aged 22. In the Powhatan language, Pocahontas means ‘the wanton one, the playful one or the irresponsible one’.


Examining Labor’s Solar Schools initiative, ‘irresponsible’ is indeed the first adjective that comes to mind.

Last Friday, Porkahontas rolled out yet another porcine barrel. This time in the form of $500 million to be squanderred on installing solar panels and rain water tanks in 9,612 schools across Australia (for details see this article in The Australian).

Sounds like a smart policy. ‘Proactive’ some said. Inspiring even. But are the environmental dividends worth $500 million?  Taking Labor at its word, we can expect a savings on greenhouse gas emmissions of up to 2.8 tonnes per school per year. Porkahontas did not provide a breakdown of how the $500 million would be divided between solar panels and water tanks, but let’s look at two scenarios: one where the full $500 million relates to solar panels, and the other where, say, the cost of the panels is $350 million (with the balance spent on rainwater tanks and other efficiency initiatives).

Furthermore, let’s be generous and assume the 2.8 tonnes is not (as Labor says) the maximum savings per school, but is really the average savings in greenhouse gasses. The table below summarises Labor’s Solar Schools Policy.

Package cost (excl. rainwater tanks and other efficiencies) $350m $500m
Schools affected 9,612 9,612
Greenhouse gasses saved per school per year 2.8 tonnes 2.8 tonnes
Total greenhouse gasses saved (9,612 x 2.8 tonnes) 26,913 tonnes 26,913 tonnes
Federal taxes used to save one tonne of greenhouse gas (one off) $13,000 $18,580
Assume an 8 year life for the solar panels, then federal taxes used to save one tonne of greenhouse gas (per year for say, 8 years) $1,625 per annum $2,320 per annum

If Porkahontas gets his way, then we are all doomed to a very impoverished future, since under this plan, saving one tonne of CO2 costs around $1,625. And if that’s not bad enough, what happens after the solar panels are installed in the schools, if, for instance, in exchange for support in the Senate, his comrades, the Greens insist on even greater savings? How much will it cost to install more panels over time in order to ‘save’ more greenhouse gasses?

Porkahontas has a clearly defined objective in mind, and it’s not to maximise the volume of greenhouse gasses saved per dollar of taxes spent.  Rather, it is to maximise electoral support for the ALP in niche constituencies: the hard Greens, the soft Greens, Gen X, Gen Y, the education sector and the renewables lobby. Labor wants to be seen as fresh (whatever that means) and to be viewed as doing something - anything - innovative on climate change, hence the novel Solar Schools program. And so what if his numbers don’t add up?

If Mr Rudd’s objective was indeed to reduce CO2 emissions, what policy would he adopt? Well that’s a no-brainer. He’d subsidise mass transit. By that I mean make mass transit cheaper, or even free. And that doesn’t mean making motor vehicles artificially more expensive by raising (either federal or state) taxes, charges or tolls on them.

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About the Author

Jonathan J. Ariel is an economist and financial analyst. He holds a MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management. He can be contacted at

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