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Tony Abbott’s renewable czar: Nuclear only alternative to coal

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Tony Abbott’s handpicked head of the panel reviewing Australia’s renewable energy target, the self-avowed climate “sceptic” Dick Warburton, is no fan of renewable energy. In an article co-authored for Quadrant in 2011, Warburton insisted that nuclear energy was the only alternative to fossil fuel generation.

dick warburtonThe two-part series for the conservative magazine – co-authored by Warburton along with poet and accountant Geoffrey Lehmann and Resmed founder Peter Farrell – is an eye-opening compendium of the major arguments that climate science deniers and fossil fuel lobbyists have ever thrown at climate science, against carbon pricing and against renewable energy.

The title of the two-part series was “An intelligent voter’s guide to global warming” (you can find Part 1 here and Part II here), and the authors pretended to “provide basic information often missing from the debate.” In fact, it is a collection of scientific howlers normally only found in right-wing blogs.

This, though, is the paragraph that might interest those likely to feel the impact of the decisions made by the RET review panel that Warburton now heads:

“Except for nuclear power, there are no straightforward strategies for reducing dependence on fossil fuels without large economic costs. Wind and solar generators often cannot function when needed. Wind machines operate at only about 25 per cent capacity in the UK. Even when the wind is blowing, “back-up capacity, usually gas-fired … had to be kept running, using fuel, generating steam, emitting CO2, ready to ramp up its turbines the moment sufficient supply from the wind machines stopped coming”. Two main obstacles with renewables are the difficulty of establishing transmission lines from sunny or windy places to where the power is needed and the absence of utility-scale storage technology for intermittent renewable energies. A US comparison estimated the following electricity generation costs per kilowatt hour: hydroelectric $0.03; nuclear and coal $0.04; wind power $0.08; natural gas $0.10 (other estimates for gas suggest about $0.04); solar power (construction costs only, ignoring production costs for which reliable data were unavailable) $0.22.”

And, a little later….

“The only current viable alternative to burning fossil fuels is to go nuclear. Although current known reserves of uranium are limited, it is likely that by developing new nuclear technologies and with new sources of uranium, humanity’s electricity needs could be satisfied by nuclear power for many hundreds of years or more.”

Fantastic. In the true sense of the word. One hopes that Warburton has caught up a little on the various technology costs. In the US, where his electricity generation costs are cited, nuclear is four times the price that he quotes. In fact, you would have to go back many, many years to find a time when it was just 4c/kWh.

Ditto with solar. Solar PV, including production costs (for which there is plenty of reliable data), costs around half that quoted by Warburton in the US. Some recent solar PV power purchase contracts, aided by a tax credit, have been at one-quarter of the price he quoted. Wind, according to General Electric, the largest provider of power equipment, is also around half of that quoted by Warburton, and new coal – according to investment bank Citigroup – is also four times the price quoted by Warburton. Even fracked gas is being priced out of the market by utility-scale solar. As Citigroup noted, quite bluntly: Nuclear and coal are not competitive with renewables on cost.

One also assumes that Warburton is aware that the cost of energy storage is falling, and likely to follow the pathway of solar, as Morgan Stanley has pointed out. This is one reason why grid operators in WA and Queensland are looking to reduce their poles and wires delivering centralised fossil fuels, because they cannot compete economically with solar and storage any more.

Warburton can catch up with Australian technology cost estimates at the Bureau of Resource and Energy Economics, which recently doubled its estimated costs of nuclear and dramatically reduced its estimates on the cost of solar.

One also hopes that Warburton is disabused of his idea that “fossil fuel” generation is left running, and polluting, waiting for the sun to stop shining and the wind to stop blowing. Such nonsense is only propagated by the most infamous of blogs haunted by climate science deniers, nuclear boosters and the anti-wind brigade. (Who are often the very same people).

A report by the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory puts this myth to rest. Those grids that have high renewables are actually using less fast-response peaking power than those relying almost exclusively on inflexible coal or nuclear generators.

The Quadrant article has some other stunning statements. Just to make their lack of understanding about electricity markets complete, the authors contend …

Energy demand is “pretty inelastic” because people will not choose other goods or services to substitute for energy that keeps them warm or cool, cooks their food and provides transportation.

I wonder how, then, they explain the fact that in Australia and many other countries, demand is falling – with average household demand in Australia falling 10 per cent in a single year in some states. This is not just because they are becoming more efficient, but also because they have found cheaper alternatives … mostly rooftop solar.

And then there is this, on carbon dioxide …

“Carbon in the form of airborne soot is a pollutant. Carbon dioxide is not ….. Carbon dioxide is a crop nutrient without which we would simply perish.”

As we have mentioned before, Warburton is supported in his RET review by fossil fuel lobbyist Brian Fisher, and Shirley In’t Veld, the former head of Verve Energy, who has also expressed a disdain for renewable policies in the past.

But the question that the renewables industry will be asking is this: Given that Warburton says he has investigated the climate science and declares that climate scientists do not know what they are talking about, what are the chances that he will accept the evidence from the renewable energy industry? Ideology, as we have seen with the media and the government since the September poll, is a mighty powerful editor.

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  • Alan Baird

    We need to adopt Dick’s attitude to the AIR (because any amount of exhaust matter is quite natural) to the LAND and WATER . Just do away with garbage services (think of the savings) and chuck, heave, defenestrate or whatever anything of no further use where you will. Think of it as getting the government out of the equation, a sort of ultimate privatisation, beloved by the Liberal elites. The hand, car boot or truck tray will become the land and water based equivalents of the exhaust pipe, chimney or funnel. Although, on reflection, forget all the above. It’s already been thought of.

  • Bruce Derkenne

    The mind boggles : /

    No point in competing with tripe like that. We just have to get on with educating the masses. We need strong heart tugging advertisements in main stream media to keep the momentum going forward in our conversion to a future free of fossil fuels.

  • Alen

    Do all LNP politicians subscribe and read these conservative magazines? If they do, it would go a long way to explain the lack of knowledge and flawed logic of some .
    What ever happened to people in charge receiving advice from real experts, not these phony experts or advisers that like to twist and mingle facts to suit their beliefs (IPA)

    • wideEyedPupil

      In case of IPA it’s not so much to match beliefs as the profits of their sponsors. It’s all about the money in the end they will always embrace technology if there is a dollar in it for them. Replace employees with machines — no problems; replace FF with clean energy: whoa there — slow down already — this is the end of the world as we know it!

  • wideEyedPupil

    Interesting he thinks Nukes are the go given UK has to guarantee a purchase price to 2056 no less, at double current market rates and includes inflationary and other adjustments plus numerous government guarantees, policy fixes and risk insurance to make it all happen.

    http://ecowatch.com/2014/04/07/nuclear-kill-renewables/

    • Alen

      Look at the plant still being constructed in Finland, expected date pushed back once again to now at least 2018 (started 2005) and costings now expected $8.5billion (nearly 3x the initial estimate), and here is the government complaining about the CEFC funding projects “that banks find too risky” and yet the CEFC seems to always achieve high returns.

  • wideEyedPupil

    What are “wind machines” do they make the winds that blown all over our planet so that birds can fly, trees can grow and turbines can spin?! haha Class A twits running the show in this country.

  • Chris Fraser

    It’s denial of another kind, denying studies done by Universities Melbourne and UTS, Sydney, the CSIRO and the ATA, that renewable should be considered as intermittent – not absent when needed. The role of renewables have been completely downplayed in the minds of some. I think members of the panel should have been pre-qualified to know this work prior to being able to judge RET. How can a reasonable person think RET would be kept as it is or improved, when the underlying malice towards renewable believes they don’t contribute when its dark or not windy in some remote part of the system ? And even when so much more renewable has since been constructed and so geographically diverse ? Readers will have no faith at all.

  • tokenpom

    Not just a Climate ‘denier’, but a Climate denier ‘in denial’ !

  • Gongite

    Bleeping hell, this guy is in charge of reviewing the RET? That’s a cross between a joke and a scandal. There is zero chance that this review will be based on the facts. We should all still be putting in submissions, though, to help show the sheer number of people who support the RET and the evidence behind it.

  • Farmer Dave

    Tony Abbott has clearly followed the “Yes Minister” rule of not having an enquiry unless you already know the outcome, and making sure you know the outcome in advance by carefully selecting the “right person” to lead it. I think the only thing that will dissuade them from totally dismantling the RET will be the sovereign risk aspects of so doing.

    On the wider issue of the climate change denial bubble in which Tony Abbott, his ministers and advisors are living, I think it is a high risk approach. Firstly, they could be mugged by reality – a strong El Nino next summer could put the bubble under significant pressure. Secondly, they should be vulnerable to arguments that they are ignoring expert advice. For example, if a neighbouring country was amassing military forces in such a way to suggest they might be planning to invade us, would we be happy if our prime minister decided not to get advice from our military, but instead sought it from the gun player at the local fantasy figurines fighting club? That is exactly the scale of Abbott’s retreat from expert advice. Alas, we lack the strong Opposition needed to really take the Government to task on this.

  • Solaradvocate

    Any changes to the RET will need to pass through a tricky senate now. Can’t see it getting through

  • Zvyozdochka

    My comment was lost/removed?

    • Giles

      No one has touched your comment, otherwise it would say “comment deleted” where it once stood. You probably didn’t complete loading it.

      • Zvyozdochka

        No probs Giles – wasn’t meant to be an accusation sorry. Thanks for the reply.

  • Ken Fabian

    The “nuclear is best and only option” line from the staunchest opponents of action on climate and emissions is no more than hot air, diversion and dirty, fossil fueled politics – and is really just one prong of a multipart strategy of attacking “green” politics, with the primary goal being… undermining of support for action on climate and emissions!

    Anyone who believes these kinds of statements and views represent any kind of support for climate action using nuclear are as deluded as the ones making them.

    The depths these mouthpieces for fossil fuels – fossil fuels, NOT nuclear, not clean energy – will stoop to knows no bounds; being disingenuous and outright dishonest (based on remaining ignorant and misinformed as a self interested ‘free’ choice) is no more than par for the course for these deliberate promoters of BS on an issue where the stakes are beyond imagination.

    Nuclear is perhaps the biggest casualty of the dishonesty inherent in climate science denial and obstructionism because it diverts and mutes the most influential voices within Abbott’s and Warburton’s side of politics that would push for nuclear – commerce and industry – by offering a low cost do nothing option that… doesn’t include nuclear! No actual commitment to nuclear is implied or intended. Having ‘greenies’ to blame helps sooth the unpurged accepters of climate science within Coalition ranks and frame it as about the strength of opposition and not about weakness of support.