Some friends brought to my attention that a recent article at Reneweconomy provided, shall we say, a rather creative review of my presentation to the Brisbane Global Cafe on November 12, 2014 at Brisbane City Hall (Memo Coalition: If you want to talk nuclear, talk about its costs)
What really delighted me about your piece is how familiar it is. I have experienced this kind of criticism before. It’s craven, lilly-livered, sniping, over-worked and under-cooked. I know exactly where it comes from. It comes from people who, despite every determined effort and expectation to the contrary, found themselves compelled by an argument in opposition to their own. No sooner have the clanging alarm bells of cognitive dissonance subsided than the pant-damaging realisation sets in that if you found it compelling… imagine what the audience thought.
Oh no…oh no…whatever will I do now? I know… I’ll attack the person. I’ll spin them and their message so hard and so fast that my audience will come to associate him and his name with everything they hate. I’ll contest his contentions with my own Ouroboros of references that are to peer-reviewed literature what cow dung is to caviar. That’ll do the trick.
Well Giles, perhaps it will but on this I’m sure we can agree: it’s a lot harder to pull off when the cameras are running and I am wearing personal voice recorders now, isn’t it?
So let’s revisit your article and compare the assertions with the footage. You said:
In a recent presentation to the Peabody Coal-sponsored energy seminar in the lead up to the G20 meeting in Brisbane, for instance, nuclear cheerleader Ben Heard blamed everyone from lefties to greenies for the current state of the nuclear industry.
Goodness me… did I? Perhaps I dozed-off during my own boring presentation but… I didn’t actually provide any commentary whatsoever on the fate, fortunes or current state of the nuclear industry. I had 15-20 minutes to speak to about 200 guests from around the world and… no, just reviewing my scripts, not a cracker on this topic.
Perhaps you mean question time? Just checking the voice file…no. Sorry, no questions on that topic, and no discussion. What are you talking about? Were you thinking of this article perhaps? You better believe I sheet home some serious responsibility to the environmental movement. But it wasn’t mentioned in this session.
On that topic of responsibility, I like the way you linked me to session sponsor Peabody Coal. I saw what you did there!
I was the guest of event organisers Brisbane Marketing. I didn’t know who was sponsoring this or any other session and nor did I care. The first I knew of Peabody Coal in this event was when I ferreted through my showbag in the hotel room the night before to find their malodorous marketing material.
The fact is I don’t give a monkey’s whether it’s Peabody Coal, Anglo Coal or Old King Cole sponsoring an event. I say what I want to say because I represent myself. So, what did I have to say about coal on this day? Check in at 2 m 20 s.
At 820 g per kWh, we will be spending this week enjoying our time with one of the dirtiest electricity supplies in the world…This brown coal power station is responsible for 19 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year… In the fight against climate change, places like Loy Yang are ground zero. If we aren’t succeeding in driving plants like that out of our economies, we aren’t succeeding at all… we can see the machines simply raking away strip after strip of land. Never to grow trees, never to grow food, never to host biodiverisity. Just sacrificed in our addiction to coal.
Did you see the Peabody execs fist-pumping at that bit? No? Me neither. Funny, I don’t know about you but I did not score an invite to to the Peabody-sponsored lunch after the session… do you think it was something I said?
But back to what you said:
Heard, meanwhile, did the usual pro-nuclear thing of attacking renewables – criticising their “intermittency” a disingenuous meme we hear often in the government and conservative commentariat.
Wha… the Government and conservative commentariat? The last public thing I had to say about the Government was this piece chastising Treasurer Joe Hockey for not understanding our greenhouse accounts. In an earlier piece I criticised the climate policies of the Coalition, Labor and Greens all at once.
As to attacking renewables… did I? That would be a little bit split-personality of me since in two recent and highly viewed pieces I have argued for policy that would all-but-ensure renewables meet 20-30 % of Australia’s electricity requirements.
No, what I did was point out accurate and relevant limitations to what renewable technologies can deliver us in the face of the epic scale of the challenges we face. “Intermittency” is not a conservative political value, it’s an operational reality.
Heard, for instance, argued that wind farms take up too much space – omitting to note that the land can and is used for grazing, crops and other farming activities.
Did I? Have a look from 9 m.
We can look at the size it takes to provide 1320 MW of wind power. It’s 13 kilometres squared of the best windy territory.
This is correct. I didn’t talk about other land use because I wasn’t talking about land use! I was illustrating an issue about energy density and the area required to provide 1320 MW peak wind power. Sure, use the land in the middle for grazing, crops and other farming activities. It still takes that much room in prime wind country to provide that much peak wind power and that’s a real concern when people argue for 100 % renewables. What else did I say, that you omitted to report? 9 m 40 s
I’m a supporter of renewable energy. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. Am I prepared to bet the climate on it? No. Am I prepared to bet the provision of reliable electricity for those who need it, on it? No. No I’m not.
That’s the divider. I’m behind renewables without being so myopic as to imagine they will do it all, with lives of the global poor as my chips on the casino table.
Meanwhile the “pot shot” I took at Ivanpah is a simple and troubling fact and one you acknowledge in your own circular referencing: they, the proponents of the project, do not control the weather. What did I actually say? 10 m 25 s
That is the risk in building a 100 % renewable energy system based on climatic systems.
If you have a few of these systems it doesn’t matter much. It’s a low level of penetration, so a crap year of output hurts the investors, primarily. The existing system reserves can deliver when the renewables fail. Like for South Australia’s successful integration into the NEM of wind. It has piggy-backed on the robustness of the existing system which, I might add, is quite ok by me. The issue here is the notion of 100 % renewables based on climatic variables. That’s an entirely different proposition that you seek to downplay or simply ignore. It’s a challenge that former US Energy Secretary Steven Chu was quite clear about this week in Canberra for the launch of the World Energy Outlook (see my Twitter feed from the day). Was he taking “pot shots” too?
You then seek to use the example of Hinkley to big-up the cost challenge of nuclear.
Mate, I beat you to it. No sooner were the costs announced than I criticised it as too expensive to get the job done on a global scale, a piece that was then republished and widely read. In it I concluded:
Nuclear power is clean. It’s safe. It’s efficient. It can make a big difference, fast. Waste can be managed until we use it as fuel, and fear of radiation can be defused. It is, as I have said, great value. What advocates cannot do is make it cheaper than fossil fuels when it isn’t, in a world with weak consensus on climate change action and lackluster energy planning.
We need to keep working for that climate consensus, for sensible long-term policy to support massive clean energy and to overcome the ill-conceived objections to nuclear. At the same time we urgently need a stronger and more visible vision and plan for better nuclear prices and faster roll out, and this needs to come from the industry.
Is that the conduct of a nuclear cheerleader? According to you “what they – and the pro-nuclear advocates – never mention is cost”. I mention cost all the time. Like in this article with Barry Brook. Cost is a real issue for nuclear. It’s not some fairy tale of the rusted-on anti-nuke. It’s real and it’s something I want to see people talk about more, not less, provided the discussion is well informed and in context of our options.
That the cost-problem is the same, but much worse, for dispatchable renewable technologies is why we called for a technology-neutral policy to reward firm capacity from zero-carbon sources in a competitive way. If nuclear loses that fight, fine, I really don’t care. What I care about is decarbonisation.
So Giles, please work harder. This type of writing is garbage. You deliberately and blatantly misrepresented me and the session and, in so doing, kept your loyal readership in the dark.
If nothing else mate, a tip: next time check for cameras?
Ben Heard; Director: ThinkClimate Consulting; Doctoral candidate, University of Adelaide; blogger and commentator through DecarboniseSA