The topic – ‘Energy – Where to Now?’ – provided a lively debate for Politics in the Pub on Monday at the Astor Hotel in Goulburn.
Guest speakers included Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of NSW John Storey, Chief economist at AGL Dr Tim Nelson, Warren Murray from Intelligent Metering Australia and National Party member and Yass Valley Councillor Nathan Furry.
Various topics were covered on the night, such as what type of energy sources may emerge as mainstream in the future and what that energy mix might look like, including a discussion on the increasing use of batteries to provide extra power during periods of peak demand.
There were some interesting questions from the floor about how we transition to a renewable energy future without hurting people or jobs?
It emerged that communities are taking the lead in creating their own localised energy solutions (such as the Community Energy for Goulburn Solar Farm) in the absence of clear political leadership on the issue.
Professor Storey said in order for Australia to become carbon neutral by 2050, we need to not only start de-carbonising the electricity market, but also creating net zero emissions across all industries including transport and agriculture.
“The Greens policy calls for us to be 90 per cent renewable by 2030, which is more ambitious, but we can’t leave these problems to the next generation to solve. We need a gradual and orderly replacement of coal-fired power stations,” he said.
”Wind and solar are very reliable and predictable - they are not intermittent - they are variable sources of power and as we introduce more renewable energy into the grid we have to make changes to the distribution network to keep the grid stable.”
“We want despatchable power - when you turn a light switch on you want it to come on – and for that reason we need battery storage and hydro storage to give us that.”
Cr Nathan Furry talked up community solutions to solving the energy problems of the future.
“At the end of the day we live in a free market - the reality is that there will be community-run solutions within decades. There is division about renewables energy but we need to keep moving forward,” he said.
“I think communities will take over - such as what is happening with the Goulburn Solar Farm - the movement to localised energy solutions will happen more in decades to come.”
Profesor Storey warned against being too localised in power generation.
“The problem is becoming too reliant on the climate and variable of just one area rather than taking advantage of the dispersal and distribution of renewable energy across our vast continent.”
Dalton AGL proposal ‘a disgrace’
The Dalton Gas-Fired Power Station proposal was also a hot topic of discussion at Politics in the Pub on Monday, with Professor Storey calling the AGL plan a “disgrace.”
“By getting approval to build a gas peaking plant out there under Part 3A of the old legislation meant they avoided proper scrutiny and this means AGL did something in the past that I would have thought they were embarrassed about,” Professor Storey said.
“Instead they dragged it back out of the dustbin and said we want another two years on this approval - I think that is bad. There is small chance of it being built because these stations will be competing with battery storage in a few years and battery prices are going down while gas prices are rising.
“AGL does not appreciate that although it has this site as an insurance policy it is causing the community great harm and stress by introducing this uncertainty. It is also a geologically active area and it is only 3km from the village. I think it is a disgrace.”
Cr Nathan Furry agreed. “It is not right for the community out there,” he said
AGL chief economist Dr Tim Nelson said proximity to transmission line and a fuel source (gas pipeline, wind) were economic considerations for power station site selection.
Leadership is lacking
During the debate it emerged that clear leadership on renewable energy in Australia is lacking.
Professor John Storey said Australians produce six times the global average per person of carbon dioxide.
“We are producing twice as much carbon dioxide as New Zealand and three times as much per capita as the UK. What is wrong with us? Why are we lagging behind so much?’ He asked.
“If this depresses you, visit Germany or Scotland where they are approaching 100 per cent renewable generation.
“While we don’t expect our governments to solve our problems - we don’t expect them to put in roadblocks either. We had a world-leading carbon tax and a new government came in and trashed it - the result is that we are now producing 7.5 per cent more carbon dioxide than before it was trashed. In the absence of any leadership for the electricity market - the wholesale price of power is now twice as much as what it was before the carbon tax was removed.”
Nuclear power not ‘a silver bullet’
President of the Australian Nuclear Association Rob Parker said nuclear power should be considered in the energy mix.
“Given that France is running at 75 per cent nuclear - why is it not presented as a complete solution for Australia,” Mr Parker said.
Professor Storey replied that “the idea of nuclear power is dangerous.”
“The idea of nuclear power is dangerous. It is held up as the silver bullet to all the problems but it is too expensive and it is too late to start now to start now,” he said.
“It needs a lot of water and this is something this country does not have a lot of. It is also a highly inflexible base load power source - you cant ramp it up quickly.
“The mining of uranium, transport of the fuel and disposing of the the waste opens up a lot of difficult problems as well. There are better and cheaper options available to us now.”