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Memo to Barnaby: If you want cheap electricity, nuclear is not the answer

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There’s right, and there’s wrong… and then there’s Barnaby Joyce.

Joyce – Australia’s LNP minister for agriculture who was recently sworn in as deputy leader of the entire country – was right when he declared the cost of electricity bills to be one of the uppermost issues for Australian consumers, in an interview with the Adelaide Advertiser on Thursday.

943223-barnaby_joyce

He was wrong, however, when he suggested that the answer to the issue of electricity prices was not renewable energy, but nuclear, what he described as the “the ultimate renewable energy”.

Joyce, as we learned in our piece last year, “Barnaby Joyce’s renewable energy target: 100% ignorance” is one of the biggest opponents of wind farms in the Coalition, and it’s a little ironic to see that his electorate is about to became a major renewable energy hub, with two large wind farms and solar farms to be built near Glen Innes.

So it’s not necessarily surprising that he took another pot shot at renewables in the Murdoch media today. Here’s some of what he told the Advertiser:

“People want to make sure that we have a more efficient and clean energy sector but when it comes to paying the bills one thing that is No. 1 on their issues … is the price of power…

“The biggest fact you’ve got to think about is people’s capacity to pay for things. If people can’t afford to pay for it, they don’t want to be part of it … You don’t want to be so far in front (on renewable energy) that you scare all the people that you represent. If you’re an experiment, then you’re either going to be heroic or dead.”

Commenting on SA’s world-leading sourcing of electricity from wind and solar, Mr Joyce said the state needed affordable, reliable power not affected by “the vagaries of the day” — whether the sun shines or wind blows.

Back in 2013, he made his feelings clear, when he lamented to the Senate the “insane lemming-like desire to go to renewables” in Australia, and questioned what it would do to the national economy.

What is a little surprising is his endorsement of nuclear as a suitable and cheap alternative for new electricity generation in South Australia, as old coal-fired power is retired, when this is precisely the opposite finding arrived at by various recent and significant studies on the subject, not least of all the SA Royal Commission into nuclear power for Australia.

To be fair to Joyce, the Commission’s findings were a little confusing, in that they ruled out nuclear power as a viable alternative for Australia, but urged authorities to consider it anyway. But on the subject of nuclear generation for South Australia, the conclusion was clear: it wasn’t viable in the state for the foreseeable future (2030), even with a significant carbon price and a sharp reduction in the cost of capital.

Another major report from November 2015 – this time based on research undertaken by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Worley Parsons in Australia and Ernst and Young, and peer reviewed by the Australian Government Bureau of Resource Research Economics (BREE) – came to a similar conclusion.

The 362-page Australian Power Generation Technology Report essentially ruled out nuclear power for the whole of Australia, revealing that the technology was becoming more and more prohibitively expensive, at around double the capital cost estimated three years ago – and double the cost of competing technologies.

The collaborative research effort from more than 40 organisations, including the CSIRO, ARENA, the federal government’s Department of Industry and Science and the Office of the Chief Economist clearly showed, in fact, that solar and wind would be the cheapest low carbon technologies in Australia.

As you can see in the tables below, based on the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) – which is the the average cost of producing electricity from that technology over its entire life – nuclear is found to be more expensive than wind and five out of six solar technologies in 2015.

nuclearBREE

By 2030 (below), it is more expensive than everything. And this is the figure that counts, as we noted back then, because it is an impossibility that nuclear could be built in Australia before that time. Some would suggest it would take another 10 years.

ATSE technologies 2015


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  • John Saint-Smith

    I’ve called him ‘Barmy Choice’ ever since he predicted a $100.00 lamb roast out of a carbon taxed electric oven. It’s great to see that he is living up to his name by backing an environmentally, socially, politically and financially unacceptable technology which really might be able to make his $100 radioactive sheep dream come true. Given his hatred for the renewables that are now beginning to dot his electorate, I wonder if Barmy Choice would be trying to have a nuclear power station built there too – to balance out the ugliness?
    I hear a rumour that Tony Windsor wants the electorate back. Well, all he’d need would be to set up a few more ‘big, bad’ wind turbine scare crows around and old Barmy would be scurrying off with his tail between his legs.

    • Douglas Hynd

      Wind farm going in at Glen Innes courtesy of the ACT Government should do the job

  • Thucydides

    Hah, Malcolm and Barnaby – the present Laurel and Hardy leadership of the Loopy Neanderthal Party.

    Malcolm of the unbounded confidence who ignored unanimous expert advice to insist building the NBN out of fibre and copper and HFC cable would be just as good as fibre only: quicker and much less expensive he said. Now his ‘Multi-Technology Mix’ network (AKA ‘Malcolm Turnbull’s Mashup) is beset with delays, cost blowouts, performance problems and outraged customers. It is easily shaping up to overtake multi-gauge railways as the largest and costliest infrastructure stuffup in Australia’s history.

    Of course, the politics around the NBN were that Abbott wanted Turnbull to destroy the NBN because it was Labor’s publicly funded visionary policy. Turnbull thought he could keep his ambitions alive on the front bench by re-birthing NBN as an LNP asset, to be flogged off quick smart to the private sector.

    The politics around LNP support for nuclear and other non-renewables are similarly prosaic. Mining and construction interests are a core LNP constituency. They donate heavily to the parties’ coffers and they provide jobs to conservative politicians, staffers and lobbyists when the winds of fortune blow the other way. Other interests, such as those of the wider public, other industry sectors, other species, or indeed the health of the planet itself, factor minimally in their considerations by comparison. In spruiking for nukes Barnaby is just doing his job looking after his good mates, Gina et al.

  • Giovane

    If this guy and his folks really want nuclear power plants, here they can buy this one with a good plot of land, fishing area included.
    http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2016/02/tva_considers_selling_unfinish.html?hootPostID=c294aba7a6503c7f5b0922dd9810c56d#incart_river_home

  • Coley

    Do Australian poloticians read? They need to look at the immense cost overruns at the three European reactors under construction/ consideration.
    Not only cost overruns but building delays, problems with the steel being used.
    I’m still hoping common sense will save the day regarding Hinkley point,but as our current lot seem as blind as your lot and (beholden) to certain ‘ sectors’ I ain’t holding my breath

  • Miles Harding

    Here’s one for Barny Choice:
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/reactivating-nuclear-reactors-to-fight-climate-change/
    (not that Barnaby has anything to do with climate change)

    In 2009, the Tennesee Valley Authority was still $25Bn down after its attempts to build 17 nuclear plants in the 1970s, only 6 of which were ever completed.
    The same story esimated the cost to build a nuclear plant at about $7Bn or about $4500 per kw in 2009.

    Barnably can’t look to China for validation.
    Australia will not be able to commit to the sort of state sponsored largesse that allows the Chinese programme to exist. Further, I would expect that any nuclear programme in Australia will be at the top end of the cost range because of safety concerns and domestic construction costs.

    Due to the small number of projects (<1?), all of the technology and expertise would be imported. Compare this to the possibilities if a domestic renewable manufacturing industry actually existed, making panels, batteries, wind generators and associated equipment, something that the country used to be able to do (we can't even make a car anymore).

    We definitely need more than one trina and redflow.

  • lin

    Bananaby thinks nuclear is “the ultimate renewable energy”.
    I think renewable does not mean what he thinks it means, but I am sure he would laugh at any suggestion he cannot make up his own facts.

  • lin

    Perhaps we could buy the Indian Point facility cheap. They seem to be having “issues”.

    “For more than a decade, it has been impossible for operators of the Indian Point nuclear power plant to stop highly radioactive reactor and spent fuel pool coolant from leaking into the groundwater and migrating to the Hudson River”.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/roger-witherspoon/indian-point-contaminates_b_9224302.html?utm_hp_ref=new-york&ir=New+York

    • neroden

      Unfortunately, it’s too heavy to move, even by ship.

      Maybe buy some of the mothballed nuclear aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines from the US and Russia and use them for power.

  • david_fta

    Joyce demonstrates his ignorance-driven incompetence once again.

  • phred01

    Barnaby now is deputy PM Turnbull better not travel overseas as this pollie is likely put his foot in his mouth again.

  • ecoh

    In practice, nuclear power is more ecologically friendly, cheaper, safer per gigawatt produced than wind/solar, and keeps most of the remaining natural landscapes untouched and does not butcher millions of birds and bats as wind/solar does.
    Germany: 15.22 ¢/kWh (wind/solar)
    France: 8.97 ¢/kWh (nuclear)
    http://www.statista.com/statistics/263492/electricity-prices-in-selected-countries/
    http://www.politico.eu/article/the-good-green-german-gets-sticker-shock/
    http://capitolhilloutsider.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/death-by-renewables.jpg

  • Ken Fabian

    The most prominent advocates for nuclear – as is most often the case in Australia – appear to be climate science deniers.

    Nuclear advocacy in the mouths of climate science deniers is not about better alternatives to anything – not renewables and definitely not fossil fuels. It’s a tissue thin rhetorical exercise in blame shifting – somehow it tips the issues upside down and it is made to appear the fault of renewables preferring ‘greenies’ that the emissions problem is not being fixed to the satisfaction of those who don’t want to fix it at all. Divide the climate activists on a time wasting exercise of debating renewables vs nuclear and they will be weakened with respect to the real issue of clean energy vs fossil fuels.

    People like Joyce have been hammering the nails in the coffin of nuclear for climate by their successful co-opting of Conservative politics – ie commerce and industry – into opposing and obstructing action on climate. Or Commerce and industry co-opted the likes of Joyce to the same purpose; they’re in it together. They’ve been committed to undermining the depth of community concern that is an essential ingredient for community support for this ‘most serious’ of responses to climate change – a depth of commitment that far exceeds that for any essential clean energy transformation by any means.

    It’s not been strength of opposition to nuclear that keeps nuclear in it’s hole, it’s the weakness of support due to the diversion of the most influential support for it into the least cost, bargain basement option of not fixing the climate problem at all. End the climate science denial and nuclear might have actual advocates in the LNP rather than the fossil fuel fake advocates of nuclear they currently have. The thing is nuclear needed that back when renewables being cheaper than coal or gas was no more than an overly optimistic hope, not after they crossed the essential parity with coal price point. Now it’s not just the most difficult and unpopular option, it’s the most expensive one.

    The end of the clean energy obstructionism will see support for nuclear on the Right become real but it will also spill over into support for renewables. Renewables will start to get the kind of cross partisan backing they always needed but have never gotten to be implemented effectively at the large scales needed and they will leave nuclear stuck in the hole it’s climate action opposing ‘friends’ on the Conservative Right helped put it in.

  • Thucydides

    Nuclear power generation is not only financially dubious, it is inherently dangerous say scientists: http://allthingsnuclear.org/dlochbaum/special-inspection-oconee-unplugged#.Vty2nGgAX24.twitter

  • Leigh Ryan

    Let’s not misunderstand what is really going on here, either our politicians are corrupt or corruptible, they clearly push the line favoured by their party donors, so why do why attack and denounce our politicians when the truly corrupt, anti-Australian, profit driven at any cost individuals are the party donors we need to clearly identify who they are and what they stand for, we need to encourage every Australian not to support those individuals or the companies they own or administer, we need Australians to refuse to work for them and we need those few politicians who want to remain in politics to present legislation before the parliament to properly tax and enforce taxation upon companies whose business endangers the future health of the nation, we need legislation that makes these industries and their shareholders fully accountable for the damage they have done and will do all in the name of profit and we need some serious investment in a cleaner healthier more vibrant country than we currently have, our youth is listening, our youth is acting and our youth are our future leaders it’s time for their parents and grandparents to stand beside them and support their endeavors to create a better world than the one we have foisted upon them.

  • tokenpom

    Two words for you to Google, Barnaby “Hinckley Point”

    Not even the combined financial clout of the British and Chinese Governments, along with the French National Generator, EDF, can afford that Nuclear Plant !

  • Suburbable

    The current crop of politicians will be the ‘legends’ that we look back and laugh at in the future – Turnbull, Joyce and their even more legendary predecessors, Abbott, Hockey et al.

    The problem could be that their laughable shenanigans could make that future considerably more uncomfortable.