Abbott praises coal, gas, dog-whistles to nuclear lobby

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Abbott reiterates support for coal, gas and even nuclear as his favourite think tank launches another assault on the ABC for being “favourable” towards renewable energy. It augurs badly for the result of the renewable energy target review due shortly.

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Prime Minister Tony Abbott has re-iterated his government’s intention to exploit the country’s coal and gas reserves as fast as it can, and has also raised nuclear as a potential significant energy source for Australia.

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Photo: Sam Parkinson

In a speech to the Australian Industry Group last week – delivered ahead of a report that will likely decide the fate of the renewable energy industry in Australia – Abbott said the country had plenty of coal and gas and “should make the most of them” – notwithstanding the climate change and other environmental issues

“We have massive reserves of coal, massive reserves of gas; let’s make the most of them,” he told the audience (which, ironically, is the business group that has openly supported the current renewable energy target).

Abbott was particularly effusive in his praise of Environment Minister Greg Hunt, whom he said had swept through approvals for projects worth more than $800 billion. And he couldn’t resist the temptation to raise the prospect of nuclear energy as the government’s preferred choice of fuel into the future.

The address by Abbott once again speaks to the grim determination by the Coalition governments – both at federal and state level – to extract every tonne of coal, and “every molecule of gas” before the window on the proliferation of fossil fuel closes – both as a result of climate concerns and the emergence of cheaper, clean technologies.

It also confirms that Abbott, as we have suggested on many occasions – and most recently in this article: It’s time for Abbott to dump nuclear ambitions – is guided by advisors who believe the only option for Australia is to pursue nuclear energy.

Most of his senior business advisors dislike renewables and are supporters of nuclear, most notably the man tasked with the renewable energy target review, Dick Warburton.

Here is the relevant paragraphs from the Abbott speech:

“Yes, Noel, you gave me a challenge. The question that Bill always put at every gathering: what about nuclear power?

“Well, you know, it’s hard enough to deliver gas, let alone nuclear!

“I would like us to be one of the world’s affordable energy capitals. We have an abundance of coal, we have an abundance of gas; let’s make the most of this natural advantage.

“We can’t dramatically increase our population, we can’t change our geographical location and move ourselves closer to markets, but we have got the energy – let’s make the most of it.

“Now, who knows one day what our energy mix might be?

“Who knows one day where the market might go and what other forms of energy might come into their own?

“But right now, we have massive reserves of coal, massive reserves of gas; let’s make the most of them.”

It is almost certain that the government will announced significant changes to the RET, something that Abbott himself suggested in the speech was inevitable – despite the fact that the government has not yet (officially at least) received a report from the RET Review Panel.

“While energy reform also involves repealing the carbon tax and some work with the Renewable Energy Target, it doesn’t end there either,” he told the audience.

Abbott may well want all the coal, and all the gas, extracted as quick as he can, but he and others are facing a major problem – the ability to attract finance for the massive pieces of infrastructure that are required to deliver these products to market.

As we reported last week, after Hunt’s approval of the Carmichael mine in the Galilee Basin, there is still a major blockage in financing. The Queensland government is trying to overcome this by granting a royalty holiday to the first mine up and running,  and India’s Adani was given plenty of space to boost its credentials in the AFR on the weekend. But even its claims that its coal could be produced at $50/tonne ignored both the  capitalised cost of rail and port investment, and the poor quality of the coal resource.

As an example of the sort of pressures and influence that Abbott is dealing with, the influential right wing think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs, released an “analysis” this week – reported “exclusively” in The Australian, that claimed the ABC was more favourably predisposed towards renewable energy than the coal industry.

In a quite extraordinary document mixing its own ideological bent against renewables with the results of the survey conducted by iSentia, the IPA claims that the ABC has an overwhelming bias towards renewables, and uses this to push its barrow that the ABC should be privatised.

The survey concluded that only 68.4 per cent of stories on coal were “favourable or neutral, compared to nearly 90 per cent for renewables. The stories about coal, it complained, often focused on its environmental impacts.

Well, no kidding. That is one of the big issues of the day – both the impact of coal on the climate (a claim that the IPA rejects), and the health impacts of particulates (which the IPA would like to ignore).

The IPA says that the reporting by the ABC demonstrates a “definite and unambiguous trade-off” between reducing emissions and cheap and reliable energy.

It then proceeds to declare as “fact” that coal and gas are cheaper sources of energy – quoting figures assembled by itself, or more particularly, its chief energy spokesman Alan Moran.

RenewEconomy has discussed at length some of the misleading claims of Moran in his role at the IPA.  This table simply confirms some of the nonsense that is peddled by the IPA and like-minded institutions.

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Not only does this table (above) confuse “capacity factor” with availability – a serious error if they are to be taken seriously – it also compares the cost of fully depreciated coal assets – many built with discounted government financing – with some inflated estimates of the price of wind and solar.

Still, these views are the unshakable orthodoxy of those closest to Abbott and his inner circle of policy advisors. Guided by ideology or simply vested interests, they are not – as Abbott claimed in his speech – a government that is focused on tomorrow, but exactly one that he pretends he is not: one focused on yesterday.

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