Finkel review: Tomago Aluminium chief executive says nuclear energy should be an option

Australia's chief scientist, Alan Finkel

Australia's chief scientist, Alan Finkel

THE boss of NSW’s largest electricity user, Tomago Aluminium, has welcomed increased energy security requirements recommended in the Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s energy market reform report.

But the smelter’s chief executive, Matt Howell, says he believes that if Australia’s politicians were “brave” they would consider nuclear energy.

While the report has generated headlines for its recommendation of a Clean Energy Target, Mr Howell, who called for a “national conversation” about the energy market after a mandatory curtailment during February’s heatwave, told the Newcastle Herald he welcomed obligations on new generators to guarantee supply.

While he said he would “let the political debates go on” about renewable targets, his biggest concern “is really the security of supply”.

“The clear point is that we have an intermittence problem, and anyone relying on a constant energy supply cannot rely on renewables at this point unless they are backed by a conventional supply, be it gas or coal,” he said.

The CET would provide incentives for new generators that produce electricity below an emissions baseline that, for the purposes of the Finkel Review, was modeled using 0.6 tonnes of carbon per megawatt hour.

While it’s prompted dissent in some parts of the government because it points investment incentives away from coal-fired electricity, the scheme has been welcomed by others because it’s essentially technology neutral.

That’s prompted some to call for the government to consider investment in nuclear energy, and Mr Howell is one of them.

“We hear so much about countries turning away from coal, and that’s true, but to overwhelmingly that’s because they’re able to rely on nuclear energy,” he said.

“If Australia isn’t prepared to go down that path it absolutely still needs conventional energy in the market.”

But Shortland MP Pat Conroy says nuclear isn’t an option because it’s too expensive.

“One, it would take 15 years to build up a nuclear industry and secondly, the levelised cost of energy for nuclear is well above the cost of renewables,” he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

“Leaving aside the environmental implications, if you want to get cheap energy in this country that’s reliable, you need to invest in renewables.”

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro has previously called for a debate about introducing nuclear energy to the state’s energy mix, and on Thursday Port Stephens MP Kate Washington accused the Nationals of wanting “to discuss any energy alternative except renewables”.

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