What’s the Big Deal About Reusing Transmission Lines for Nuclear in Australia?

What’s the Big Deal About Reusing Transmission Lines for Nuclear in Australia?

Something that keeps coming back in the discussion about nuclear energy in Australia is the reuse of transmission lines that would previously connect coal power plants to grids across the country. Among nuclear advocates, there’s an argument to be made in reusing the already installed transmission lines when installing nuclear power, and refitting what were once coal power plants with nuclear reactors.

However, the entire argument is a red herring.

When Opposition Leader Peter Dutton spoke about using those already in-place transmission lines for nuclear energy, and when proponents of nuclear power in Australia have argued for it in the past, they’re leaving out some key elements to those transmission lines that don’t make them nuclear-specific arguments. This is according to economics research lead at The Superpower Institute, Reuben Finighan.

The Superpower Institute focuses on climate change policy in Australia.

“For any energy technology that we choose, transmission costs are going to be a small part of the equation,” Finighan said.

Finighan explained based on research that aligns with that of AEMO and the CSIRO, the costs of putting in new energy transmission lines are far dwarfed by the costs of installing energy generation methods like nuclear.

“Based on the nuclear power plants built in the EU, the US, and the UK, nuclear will cost more than two-and-a-half times as a firm renewable grid, including transmission,” he added.

transmission lines
Image: iStock

Finighan said reusing transmission lines won’t impact the build time of nuclear plants, which would already be considerably high, and transmission makes up the tiniest fraction of the entire process.

Versatility of the transmission lines

Another factor to consider is the versatility of those transmission lines. Firstly, yes, they can make a landscape somewhat less compelling, but they can also be placed underground. This minimises the amount of surface area they take up, and although it can lead to higher installation costs, maintenance costs can drop dramatically.

The other big factor might seem obvious but nothing is preventing other energy sources from using those transmission lines.

“Nothing is stopping renewables, battery projects, biomass plants, or natural gas or hydrogen peaking plants from using those transmission lines where it makes economic sense – and this will certainly happen,” Finighan said.

“This is a bit like a car dealer trying to persuade a thrifty family that they’ll save money buying a Rolls Royce because they’ve already got the wheels for it when those same wheels will actually fit on any car they buy.”

Finigan explained we shouldn’t be caught out on these individual savings and that there’s more value to be had looking at the total cost. He said he’s not entirely sure why the Federal Opposition is using reused transmission lines as a part of the argument. However, he said it could be, cynically, a way of distracting from a higher cost by indicating a small saving.

“We also see that Dutton has been quoting extremely large figures – incomprehensibly large figures – for transmission costs. These figures are around 15 to 20 times higher than those given by energy agencies,” Finighan added.

There is no opposition to reusing transmission lines, we should be reusing what resources we have at our disposal wherever possible. But when you’re talking about the construction of seven nuclear reactors, bringing up such a low-cost part of the equation doesn’t feel like it’s in good faith.

Here’s to hoping Dutton will actually provide details on costs for his plan soon.

Image: iStock/Getty Images

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