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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

going nuclear « Previous | |Next »
February 15, 2005

Public policy debates are aften marked by stark either/or duality that are designed to eliminate any middle ground. One side of the duality is disparaged leaving us with there is only one way.

An example is Victoria's big problem with sustainability and energy. These are placed in contradiction. This description in an editorial in The Age captures it: journey to the Latrobe Valley today is to witness Victoria's greenhouse emissions problem writ large. Here is the unavoidable evidence of the state's record of pumping a cocktail of fine ash and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The gas clouds are visible night and day, the ongoing price of cheap, reliable power that Victorians have enjoyed for generations.

Building the cheap, reliable energy to drive the machinery of industrial capitalism was done when resources of brown coal were to be fully exploited without any consideration for the environmental consequences. That kind of development was called nation building.

The environmental consequences of producing electricity from coal-fired power stations are global warming produced by greenhouse gases. A sensible environmental policy would, at the very least, involve the short term option decommissioning existing coal-fired power stations when they approach the end of their economic lives.Long term such a policy would involve carbon emissions being factored into the price of electricity.

Is the short term option being taken up?

Hazelwood, which as built in the 1950s, is the worst greenhouse gas emission plant in Victoria and hence Australia. So it should be decommissioned. The plant was due to close in 2009, but the Bracks Government gave it a new brown coal contract--extending its life to 2031--in return for the owners investing to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

Now the Bracks Labor Government is all for reducing Greenhouse gases and signing up to Kyoto. Yet this state government has just committed itself to allowing Australia's worst greenhouse polluting power plant at Hazelwood to remain in operation until 2031.

The Age's solution to the contradiction between cheap energy and sustainability? Lets go nuclear!

The middle ground? Designing the national electricity market so that it becomes an ecologically sustainable one, as well as being efficient and competitive. That is not so hard. But it is not being done.

The reason is that cheap energy is demanded by the energy intensive industry (eg., alumminium industry) who threaten to go off shore, if they are made to pay a carbon tax for the environmental damage they are causing. No costs should be placed on a heavily subsidized industry is the mantra. The environmental costs should be born by the public.

For the energy intensive industry there is no possibility for the middle ground in the form of a tradeoff between economic cost and environmental benefit. It would seem that the Bracks Labor Government concurs.

Update:17 Feb
Kenneth Davidson's op.-ed in The Age gives soem facts and fitures about Hazelwood. He says:

According to The Age energy expert, Rod Myer, for every megawatt it produces, Hazelwood produces 1.54 tonnes of greenhouse gas, compared with 1.2 tonnes for more efficient brown coal plants, 0.86 tonnes for black coal and 0.45 tonnes for modern gas-fired plants.

The deal cut by the Bracks Government was for a new brown coal contract (thereby extending) its life to 2031 in return for the owners investing to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1.43 tonnes per megawatt. This still leaves Hazelwood as the dirtiest power station in the country.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:57 PM | | Comments (0)