The Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, has now said he is prepared to support a clean energy target such as that recommended by the chief scientist, Alan Finkel as long as high-efficiency coal generation is allowed1. As a statement bordering on the oxymoronic, it could have been worse; perhaps if he had said ‘clean coal’. One can only hope that the stupidity of the latter phrase is making its way into the small if vacant reaches of Joyce’s consciousness, if not his conscience.
Joyce is waiting on the Liberal Party to decide whether to adopt the Finkel Review recommendations or to dump them. As he said, once they decide, the Nationals can then decide what their position is1. The reason the Liberals have yet to make a decision, is because they are still riven by conflict between the realists and the climate change deniers, who are numerous in the Liberals, as well as the Nationals2. It still beggars belief that in our science-dependent age, we still have people who think, while sitting on their plush leather parliamentary benches pulling in over $200,000 per annum, that they can pick and choose whether they believe in a particular part of science. At best, this stems purely from a profound ignorance of science and how it works; at worst it stems from disgraceful venality. Given the availability of knowledge in this internet age, ignorance of science must be willful; and willful ignorance is stupid. Venality is different and is the preserve of those who have no compunction in selling out this country and its people to the highest bidder. In Joyce’s case, his fondness for coal, despite the antipathy of many in the farming community, indicates that his highest bidder is someone who owns coal mines. Any guesses?
These deniers are fighting a losing battle and they know it, because the world is changing and in the absence of anything like rational action from the federal government, the states and private citizens are circumventing such inaction. However, there is probably a billion or two of taxpayers’ dollars that they can use to subsidise donors’ suggested coal-fired power stations, so their other donors can continue to mine thermal coal. In turn, both sets of donors get to forward a small proportion of the taxpayers’ funds to the Liberals and Nationals, so they can buy advertising for the next election campaign. And so the whole corrupt business continues as usual. It is no wonder these people never, ever want to see a federal anti-corruption body established. That would entail them behaving ethically, and having to think about the populace occasionally, not just themselves and their donors.
In all the discussions on climate change, clean energy, clean coal, etc, there seems to be no serious discussion on what we are going to use for base load power once some of the ageing coal fired power stations get to their use by date. This is going to happen in the fairly near future. It is all very well being clean and green, but most people simply want a reliable power supply, and although they would prefer a renewable system, if it has to be coal-fired then so be it.
The main trouble with wind and solar is that they are dirt cheap to run while the wind is blowing and the Sun is out, but they are useless on a windless night. Clearly the solution is some sort of back-up storage system, but no such economically viable system currently exists. The very expensive ($50 to $100 million) battery being planned for SA will only store 100 MW for just over an hour. Given that SA uses about 2000 MW per day in winter and 3000MW in summer, this will be of limited value. Ironically the back up system for the next two years will be a set of diesel generators which can produce about 100MW. By this time the planned government run gas fired power station should be up and running. This assumes we can afford to buy the gas.
The SA government stuffed up big time last year when it refused to take over the Port Augusta Power station and the associated Leigh Creek coal mine. They were offered the whole set up for next to nothing. The Leigh Creek coal is quite dirty, and would have lasted for only about another ten or so years anyway. This is not an ideal solution but would have saved the jobs of hundreds of people, not to mention retaining Leigh Creek as the only decent sized town in the northern Flinders Ranges–it has a good set of services, including a hospital, shopping centre, decent motel/hotel, all weather air strip, etc. (I have a personal interest in this because in 2005 I broke my wrist in the field, had an X-Ray at the hospital and was flown by the RFDS to Adelaide). It would have given the government time to plan out something sensible rather than the present panicked approach. Of course whether governments of either political persuasion are capable of decent planning is another matter. When was the last base load power station built in Australia?
Again, it depends what you mean by baseload. I think what will eventually happen is that instead of having large coal fired power stations, we will have smaller, more distributed gas fired power stations, and that many people will simply be off grid. We have friends who are at present and have been for years, using old, massive, lead acid batteries and a large array of solar panels. I have no faith in the federal government doing anything of consequence in the near future, perhaps until the right wing insurgency is crushed.