Audio interview

Independent national electricity commission needed, says energy engineer

Power resources Energy industries Nuclear energy Australia

Energy and power prices have dominated the political debate this year. It follows the massive storm and statewide blackout in South Australia last September, which led to the federal government appointing chief scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, to review Australia's energy system. The deadline for final submissions for that inquiry is tomorrow.

Among those who have lodged a submission is Barrie Hill—he's an energy consultant and engineer with experience in the nuclear, coal-fired and hydro power sectors.

He's told the Finkel inquiry that more than $150 billion of new investment is needed over coming decades to re-build Australia's energy sector, but it's unlikely to come from privately-owned power generators.

Barrie Hill suggests an old technology called 'refined coal' should be looked at again in Australia, as well as nuclear power. Hill said the electricity sector was now 'quite vulnerable', because of the high penetration of renewables and private owners of generators are 'not prepared to reinvest anything in the system'.

He said at least $150 billion would be needed over coming decades to replace 30,000MW of power generation and a new independent national energy authority—the Australian Electricity Commission--was needed to manage and finance the transition.

Barrie Hill said private power station owners were very good at 'sweating' electricity assets, extracting value from them, 'but they are not interested in building new stations'.

He said only government could borrow the billions of dollars required at 'very, very low' rates of interest. 'The private sector would be looking at 20 per cent before tax return on investment'.

He said nuclear energy was the only technology currently available that could deliver power effectively and efficiently, with zero emissions.

He said exclusion of the nuclear option from the Finkel Review of Australia's future energy mix was 'really quite strange'.

He also suggested Australia look at 'refined coal', a technology developed by Germany during WW2.

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