Power struggle

April 11, 2018

The first decade of Australia’s renewable energy scramble can be likened to a lawless frontier gold rush.

And Australian Conservatives founder and South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi has repeated his calls for the federal government to consider bringing electricity generated by nuclear power into the nation’s energy mix and push for a level energy playing field.

An opinion piece in today’s The Australian newspaper reads:

“Scouts of prospectors swarmed potential sites for wind farms with little regard for the impact they would have on unwary rural communities or the electricity system as a whole. The hills from South Australia to Queensland are littered with tales of sharp practices where neighbours were pitted against neighbours to sign up wind-farm development sites.

Often leading the charge were small companies that sold the sites and development approvals to bigger organisations with the deep pockets needed to build.

A report by the National Wind Farm Commissioner acknowledges the history of community division, unfair contracts, inadequate communication, potential conflicts of interest and disregard for complaints of human suffering. The Wind Farm Commissioner set out a road map for how the industry could clean up its act. And the renewables industry insists that lessons have been learned.

But the legacy of initial haste bears all the hallmarks of any gold rush from yesteryear.

In the drive to mine generous renewable energy subsidies and deliver on a bipartisan renewable energy target, companies were set loose without any overarching long-term plan needed to replace a vastly different electricity network based on continuous baseload generation, primarily from coal.

To save costs, wind farm sites were chosen that easily could be connected to the existing electricity network.

State planning laws became a work in progress as jurisdictions fought with each other to attract a bigger share of the commonwealth-funded RET.

History shows that after years of an energy surplus being tightened by the removal of generation and a lift in household demand, the impact of renewables snapped sharply into focus.

In the wake of South Australia’s statewide blackout in September 2016, the states and federal energy ministers enlisted Chief Scientist Alan Finkel to take stock.

One of the key recommendations of the Finkel review was for development of a comprehensive national plan…The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) plan will consider transmission, generation, gas pipelines and distributed energy resources with the initial report due out in June.

Submissions to the review highlight the deep divisions between various stakeholders that underscore the rent-seeking behaviour that has allowed the system to reach crisis point.

Conflicts include the future role of distributed energy, the need for new transmission lines, the future role of gas, coal and nuclear and whether renewable energy projects should be clustered in special zones where they can do most good.

The contradictory stakeholder positions are being played out in the AEMO inquiry.

A key issue is whether to change the method under which additional transmission infrastructure is approved and funded….Supporters of nuclear power who argue small nuclear reactors can replace dependable coal-fired power with zero emissions are struggling to get out of the starting blocks.

Legislative change is needed before nuclear can even be considered in Australia.

A Nuclear Fuel Cycle (facilitation) Bill 2017 put forward by Senator Cory Bernardi is waiting to get a place on the parliamentary agenda. Passing the bill would not mean that nuclear power plants would be built in Australia but it would enable nuclear to be considered on its merits and level the energy playing field.

Sydney-based consultant SMR Nuclear Technology says modern, small, modular reactors could supply all of Australia’s needs for reliable, low-emissions, affordable energy.

“There is bipartisan support for ‘technology neutrality’ in energy policy but this cannot be effective whilst nuclear remains arbitrarily prohibited,” SMR says.

What is clear from the AEMO deliberations is that Australia’s renewable energy transition was set loose with no idea what it would look like or how it would evolve.

There remain vast differences of opinion on where things are headed — and even whether it will work.

To read Graham Lloyd's full article, click here.

To see Senator Bernardi's speech to the Senate introducing the Nuclear Fuel Cycle (facilitation) Bill 2017 , click the box below:

To join the Australian Conservatives, click here.

 

 

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