Legislative Council: Wednesday, November 16, 2022


Renewable Energy

The Hon. S.L. GAME (22:01): I move:

That this council acknowledges that—

1. Green renewables are unreliable and inconsistent;

2. Green renewables are expensive;

3. Green renewables take up too much space;

4. Green renewables increase landfill and recycling;

5. Green renewables cause harm to wildlife;

6. Green renewable technologies, such as green hydrogen, is a series of ever-changing guesswork; and

7. The green renewable industry serves to support particular business interests whilst leaving everyday South Australians behind.

We have been sold a lie. We were promised that renewables were cheap—free energy from the sky. This is untrue. They are incredibly expensive and inefficient, which is borne out by a 56 per cent increase in energy costs over the next 18 months or so. We were promised renewables were environmentally friendly, yet they continue to cause vast masses of land to be cleared and the mining of myriad toxic materials. Significant deposits of copper, lithium and cobalt must be sourced to meet the insatiable demand for wind and solar farms.

We were told batteries would bring us the reliable base load power our industry and society needs to operate around the clock. They cannot. We would need 80 additional big batteries like the one near Jamestown to power our state for only half a day. We were told we would all benefit from the rise of renewables, yet we know there is a huge discrepancy. Certain businesses, frequently foreign-owned corporations, are raking in millions while the average South Australian is suffering from the rising cost of this important utility. I will not sit back and watch this occur without speaking to the concerns of my constituents.

Green renewable energy is sourced from the forces of nature and is consequentially as variable as the weather. Even dams are reliant on the consistent water supply. Capacity factors that measure the percentage of an electricity generator's theoretical maximum output are as low as you can get for renewables. Solar starts at the bottom, with 25 per cent, wind is around 35 per cent and hydro operates at about 40 per cent. Compare this with gas, which operates at about 60 per cent of its theoretical maximum and coal, which traditionally averages around 70 per cent. However, due to their age, our plants are now estimated to be at 40 per cent and nuclear is able to achieve a consistent 90 per cent maximum output.

To put this into context, some figures I have mentioned to this chamber before might be helpful. In 2016, US hydroelectric systems were only operable for 138 days of that year; wind turbines, only 127 days; and solar electric arrays, only operable for 92 days. Our industries and households cannot rely on such inconsistent power sources. This uncertainty is a huge drawback of green renewable technologies.

There is another high cost of producing energy from green renewables and it comes from the short operation life of the equipment. Solar panels and wind turbines, at best, operate efficiently for less than two decades according to the CSIRO. It costs more to produce, and you have to keep rebuilding the equipment to support that production. That is not even considering the storage and transmission costs of intermittent green renewables. The cost of renewables is effectively unaffordable to Australian households. The industry is totally reliant on government subsidies and, perhaps unsurprisingly, we are experiencing the highest energy prices in our history.

Countries that have converted to a predominantly green energy grid are paying up to three times as much for power per user than countries that employ a more diverse energy grid, especially those utilising modern nuclear power. And forget about our current technological capability to store renewables. Batteries and pump storage hydroelectric stations cost around three or four times more to store a unit of electricity than it does to generate it in the first place. We are presently lucky if we are able to store a mere hour's worth of the country's electricity demand.

I question how much our already exorbitant energy prices are propped up by the rebates and incentives further adding to this false economy. In comparison with traditional power stations, we have to use more land for establishing solar and wind farms. Some estimates state that solar farms require 450 times the amount of land as the equivalent nuclear reactor, for example. Solar panels also require 17 times more material to make than nuclear plants require. The land and resources needed for solar is unreasonable.

The impact of mining for these materials is important and there are real environmental consequences, which are not being talked about. Storing energy from intermittent sources is not a cost or space-effective solution. The Manhattan Institute states that it would take 80 additional Hornsdale Power Reserve-sized batteries to keep South Australia operational for just half a day.

Vast land expanses need to be cleared for solar and wind farms. Of the half a dozen large solar farms announced for South Australia, Bungama, Pallamana, Snowtown and Robertstown will have battery farms built alongside, again requiring further land clearance. They also tend to be distributed in more remote locations and the government has allocated $20 billion in the recent budget to upgrade our poles and wires.

The manufacture of equipment used to produce renewable energy is far from clean and green. The aforementioned battery storage required for intermittent renewables is a heavily researched area, propped up with millions of investment dollars, but solutions are yet to be found to make them from anything other than harmful substances. The equipment is also difficult to recycle.

Solar cells have a short life cycle compared to other energy production sources and performance diminishes far more quickly than other alternatives. They are thrown away, with toxins leaking into landfill. A single solar farm in California is responsible for the death of over 6,000 birds every year, which distressingly burn alive and drop out of the sky. It was also responsible for pulling hundreds of desert tortoise hatchlings and eggs out of burrows prior to construction. They were put in captivity where the bulk of them died en masse. Internationally, eagles, kites, hawks and owls are tallied as dying daily from wind turbines. This is clearly counterintuitive to the pro environmental narrative of green energy.

There is an obvious lack of political will to seriously discussing nuclear as a solution to our energy woes. While I am buoyed by the federal opposition leader's budget reply speech flagging his party's intention to relitigate this debate, I am disheartened by the Liberals' lack of action on this issue whilst in government for the previous nine years.

The prohibition on nuclear energy, which was brought about by the Howard government in 1998, is long overdue to be reviewed. Our country hospitals and their patients rely on nuclear technology for the multitude of medical supplies and research that is brought about by our very own sole nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights. I wonder how many Australians are even aware of this fact. I am glad to see that National's Senator Matt Canavan is pursuing his own private member's bill that seeks to remove this prohibition and provide the opportunity for sensible debate on small modular reactors, which are being pursued globally.

Green renewables are emerging technologies and current policies are pushing us towards adoption before rigorous testing. Several experts have reached out to me worried that Labor's fixation on green hydrogen is an impending disastrous experiment at the taxpayer's expense. We have had good headlines: 'Zero emissions', 'Limitless in production', 'Storable and transportable'. What we do not hear are the questions which are yet to be answered about hydrogen, such as: where are they getting the water from? Is it desalinated? Is it from sewerage? Is it going to be piped from the River Murray?

Other questions yet to be answered include: what is the hardness of that water and how much will be required given its properties? Where is the investment coming from? What are the contracts and who has interests in these companies? How exactly will hydrogen lower the cost of the average South Australian energy bill, and will it? What are the technical solutions to improve efficiency performance and deployment of hydrogen energy?

Green hydrogen is going to be an expensive energy storage trial. We were told before the federal election in the Powering Australia Plan that renewables would cut the average family power bill by $275 by 2025. We were told that 604,000 new jobs and a 43 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would result from Labor crowbarring us towards 82 per cent renewable electricity production. What have we seen? A promise of electricity price rises of 56 per cent over the next 18 months; a trickle of jobs, led by industry, propped up by government grants and subsidies; and 800,000 Australian current jobs at risk, warned by their own unions that the energy industry is at breaking point. And we have seen state Labor governments, including our own, further committing their constituents to this path of expensive power blackouts.

The plan was a fable; a betrayal of faith to voters, as Labor appealed to the 'Teals' in their inner-city electorates. As Dr Michael Green wrote in The Spectator last week, Labor wanted 'renewables to be the magic pudding of 21st century Australia', and that 'the fairy tale promises of renewables-only ideology and the reality of our [dependency on alternative fuels will result in ongoing energy policy chaos]'.

We need real solutions and our businesses need reliable power. Our households need cheaper power, and I have heard loud and clear from my constituents that South Australians do not want more empty promises. They do not want a future filled with debt. Let us dispense with the idea that our poorest residents should be slugged with disproportionately higher energy costs just so that our politically elite can bask in their moral superiority. Green renewables are not the solution we have been promised.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.