Senate debates

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Renewable Energy

3:27 pm

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Finance and Administration (Senator Minchin) to a question without notice asked by Senator Milne today relating to renewable energy.

You will recall that in Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, Mr Gore made a statement to the effect that you cannot make a man understand when his job depends on not understanding. I think that is the classic case of what is going on with the Prime Minister and this government when it comes to baseload power and the potential of solar thermal technology to deliver baseload power compared with carbon capture and storage.

There are two issues that I want to raise. Firstly, the Prime Minister has said repeatedly, and he continues to say to this day, that solar thermal cannot provide baseload power. He is wrong and the government today utterly and absolutely refused to say what evidence, what science, what of anything at all they have to underpin those statements. I refer the minister to a report from the Cooperative Research Centre for Coal in Sustainable Development, the conclusion of which states:

It should be noted that a 35 by 35 square kilometre area with storage in a high irradiance, low cloud cover location using solar thermal power generation could produce Australia’s entire power demand currently—

I repeat: ‘could produce Australia’s entire power demand currently’. It goes on to say:

It is predicted by others that the cost of electricity from concentrated solar technology will become equal to coal fired generation when the concentrated solar technology in stored capacity is 5,000 megawatts worldwide, and the target is to achieve this by 2013.

Solar Heat and Power, to which the minister referred, has a small presence here in Australia but has largely gone offshore because Arnold Schwarzenegger has required that utilities in California purchase 20 per cent of their energy as renewable energy, and they are even talking about signing up Solar Heat and Power to produce vast amounts of solar thermal technology. It has been operating in California for 25 years.

So the first point I make is that the Prime Minister is wrong. He has no basis whatsoever for saying that solar thermal cannot produce baseload. And David Mills himself, on Alan Jones’s program, said: ‘Two regions in New South Wales—one near Bourke and one near Moree—have the capability to provide the energy needs of two billion people at a European living standard.’ The Prime Minister was specifically asked about it on that day. And he said that he would be very interested in getting that material. So why is it that the government refuses to read the reports from their own scientists? Why do they refuse to read the reports when the information is sent to them? Why are they happy to see these jobs going offshore in favour of carbon capture and storage? That report, from the CRC, was suppressed. The Prime Minister apparently did not want the community to know that solar thermal power is a viable producer of baseload power.

At the same time there is another report from the CRC being suppressed, and this one demonstrates that the government’s much hoped for breakthrough in clean coal technology has been an utter failure. Currently, post carbon combustion capture and storage requires not only sequestration but also getting the carbon dioxide out of the gas stream. And to do that they use traditional solvents at the moment which make it hideously expensive. It will never be economically viable. They have been working on a new solvent process that they thought would bring the price down. This CRC has done a report saying: ‘It is a failure. It does not work. Large amounts of ammonia are escaping. It will never be economically viable.’ They are back to square one.

Yet the Prime Minister continues to tell people that carbon capture and storage is well on the way. And today the minister could not identify a single document, report, map or model that showed any potential in the Hunter Valley for carbon capture and storage, because there are no suitable geological structures in which to store the carbon dioxide. Like the climate sceptics, the Prime Minister just comes out and makes a statement based not on fact or on research. In fact, they go out of their way to suppress the research that contradicts the Prime Minister, so it is not even accidental—it is something that is being done to support an ideological position. And the horror of it all was seen yesterday in Rio Tinto giving evidence in this place, saying governments will need to provide substantial financial support to the energy industry to capture and store greenhouse gases from facilities such as coal-fired power stations. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.