07/10/2010 - 00:00

Powering down a path laid by Howard

07/10/2010 - 00:00


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The push for renewable energy could put nuclear power back in the frame.

RETIRED Deakin University lecturer and long-time analyst of political environmentalism, Ray Evans, credits John Howard with many things.

The former prime minister was unreservedly committed to: the Australia-US alliance; our constitutional governance arrangements, including the monarchy; the traditional family – husband, wife and children; and opposed further lowering of standards in our educational systems.

And he grasped the growing threat of Islamism, according to Mr Evans, who writes: “He [Howard] understood the magnitude of the gulf between the Islamic terrorists and ourselves.”

For such political incorrectness, the former PM deserves acclamation.

But he’s not in the same league as Vaclav Klaus, the Czech Republic’s one-time prime minister, now its president, and the author of Blue Planet in Green Shackles, which warns against the global warming hoax.

“I understand that global warming is a religion conceived to suppress human freedom,” President Klaus wrote.

“It is used to justify an enormous scope for government intervention vis-a-vis the markets and personal freedom.”

For his part, Mr Howard viewed the environmentalist movement, including especially its anti-carbon dioxide crusade as, “just another interest group whose demands had to be balanced according to the political leverage they could exert and the economic costs of acceding to those demands.” (The Howard Era, Ed. Keith Windschuttle. page 497)

Mr Howard believed it could be electorally finessed, “as he did with the logging industry in Tasmania before the 2004 elections”.

But unlike President Klaus, he never believed it could be fairly and squarely taken on and defeated electorally.

One possible reason for his defeatism was that shortly before Mr Howard won government in 1996, the Western world’s green movement had its ranks markedly boosted by cohorts of demoralised leftists who, when the Cold War ended in 1989-90, could no longer credibly proselytise smoke stack Sovietism as mankind’s saviour, and needed another bandwagon.

So many joined the emerging ‘renewable energy’ crusade.

Suddenly, activists who’d previously backed rusty socialist industrialism became wind and solar power enthusiasts, no matter how costly and burdensome to private businesses.

“This demand had received only lip service in Australia until December 1997, when John Howard was persuaded to commit to requiring electricity suppliers to purchase electricity from renewable sources as windmills, whenever they happened to be delivering power,” Mr Evans writes.

Unlike President Klaus’ resolute stance, the Howard way was to appease, slowly give ground, and hopefully claim electoral points along the way.

The truly crucial turn came in December 1997 when Mr Howard decided without cabinet discussion or approval to impose the Renewable Energy Target scheme upon Australia’s electricity generating sector.

This meant, primarily, that scores of imported windmills would be forever heavily subsidised to produce uneconomic – meaning exorbitantly expensive, unreliable – wildly fluctuating electricity.

Initially the amount of electricity coal- and gas-fired electricity producers were compelled to buy from wealthy windmill owners for re-sale to consumers was 2 per cent of their market.

That’s now rising to a whopping 20 per cent of total electricity output by 2020.

Put otherwise, Australia is heading for a doubling of the wholesale price of electricity over the life of the next three parliaments.

In 1998 Mr Howard established the Australian Greenhouse Office with Canadian environmentalist, Gwen Andrews, as chief.

Thereafter this well-funded office promoted the global warming creed via ongoing conferences and targeted grants.

And just before losing his seat and the 2007 election, Mr Howard enacted the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act.

This compelled businesses to audit their carbon dioxide output annually and is a bonanza for big law and accounting firms, which charge heftily for such auditing.

In other words, he laid the entire basis for quick adoption of the taxing of atmospheric carbon dioxide and the resultant escalation of electricity charges for business and domestic consumers.

Liberal politicians may now try to blame this onto Labor, the Greens, or perhaps even independents.

Have none of it.

All this happened during the Howard years – 1996 to 2007.

That’s not an anti-Liberal or anti-Howard remark as some on that side of politics may contend. It’s simply a historical fact.

So why did Mr Howard do this?

The answer is that he, like a significant even if very silent, number of coalition and Labor politicians believes Australia must eventually tread down the nuclear path.

Their reason is, firstly, that Australia is a major uranium exporter.

Secondly, nuclear energy doesn’t emit carbon dioxide, so the Greens’ complaints about carbon dioxide gas would be somewhat neutralised.

And finally, if the day ever arrives when Australia needs to become nuclear armed, the country would have a core of technicians, engineers and designers capable of embarking upon such a path.

Currently Australia lags far behind even relatively nearby countries like Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea, in nuclear research and engineering.

Should this state of affairs be permanent?

Mr Howard’s Green-appeasing path therefore had deeply embedded within it a seemingly shrewd upside, since it meant the Greens’ demands for costly wind and solar generated electricity could be used to piggy-back Australia into nuclear energy application.

So, for example, on October 16 2006, Mr Howard said: “It [nuclear energy] is part of the solution.

“I just think that if we’re serious about having a debate about global warming, particularly as the holder of some of the largest uranium reserves in the world, we have got to be willing to consider the nuclear option.”

But Australia’s abundant and cheaply extracted coal reserves mean nuclear energy, like costly wind and solar, is an uncompetitive energy source.

So what?

That could be overcome by Greens demands for compulsory usage of uneconomic, unreliable, and wildly fluctuating solar and wind power that will lift the cost of all electricity.

Rather than seeing this as a hindrance, the Howard view was if they want to use expensive and unreliable wind and solar power they can do so, because as the price of electricity rises, nuclear energy becomes competitive.

Readers will have undoubtedly noticed that Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced the convening of what she’s chosen to dub the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee, but which should be called the ‘Higher Electricity Charges Committee’.

This despite saying before the election: “There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.”

Tony Abbott refused to participate because a condition of membership was agreeing to back a tax on carbon dioxide.

Rather than boycotting the Gillard higher electricity charges committee, the opposition leader would have been wiser to say he’d join if its terms of reference included considering adoption of nuclear energy using thorium reactors, which have no long-term waste and are infinitely more reliable than fickle wind and solar.

That, after all, was where the Howard-led Liberals were quietly heading between 1997 and 2007.

Why dump the Howard nuclear agenda now? Why appease yet again?



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