While it has been amusing to see the some of the reaction to Malcolm Turnbull’s recent comments about coal and nuclear, including one think tank describing the former Rhodes Scholar and investment banker as not understanding markets, we should all welcome a broadening of the Australian energy debate.
In reality, the prime minister is merely stating the obvious on both issues – that:
- Australian coal exports can help hundreds of millions of people worldwide who have no or limited access to electricity; and
- the development of an Australian nuclear industry is worthy of consideration.
Australia, and particularly South Australia, needs industries that can stand on their own two feet and are internationally competitive. According to today’s AFR, a nuclear industry could potentially be worth $35 billion per year, while coal of course earns us at least $40 billion per year in export income, provides over 40,000 jobs, and is responsible for most of the east coast’s electricity.
South Australia alone is said to have 25 per cent of the world’s uranium, and already has Australia’s most expensive electricity. After its last coal-fired power station closes in March 2016, it will gradually start experiencing power supply problems, especially during peak demand periods. Wind is no good for reliable base load power, as the below screen-shot from NEM Watch, taken in the middle of today, shows. So much for South Australia’s much vaunted 1,473 megawatts of wind capacity!
The role of government should be to ensure a level playing field for the various energy sources and technologies to compete, rather than trying to pick energy winners. If Australia can power itself with coal and with uranium, and also help India to reach its extraordinary potential by exporting both, then government should not be get in the way.