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Coughing up for coal-fired power

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Dawson MP George Christensen was recently reported saying he thinks it’s fair if the federal government (ie. the taxpayer) ‘coughs up’ to get a new coal-fired power station to the investment stage.

If this uneconomic plan ever goes ahead, north Queensland residents will also be coughing up – literally.

EJA’s coal and health team works with communities in the Hunter Valley, the NSW Central Coast and the Latrobe Valley who are affected by a whole host of health problems directly related to coal-fired electricity.

Our report, Toxic and terminal: How the regulation of coal-fired power stations fails Australian communities, is littered with stories of people who live with the burden of coal-fired power.

What does that burden feel like?

It feels like not being able to get enough air to breathe when you or your kids have an asthma attack. It feels like repeated, regular, throbbing headaches. It feels like nausea. It feels like respiratory disease, lung cancer, heart attacks and stroke. It means babies born with reduced birth weight. It means years of life lost.

Coal-fired power station pollution causes and contributes to all these conditions. Communities that live within 100 kilometres of coal-fired power plants know all about it.

These illnesses and irritations – not to mention the daily reality of having to wipe coal dust off every flat surface around and often inside your house – are part of life for tens of thousands of households in the Latrobe Valley, the NSW Central Coast and Gladstone because coal-fired power stations emit more than 30 toxic substances and are Australia’s biggest source of fine particles, sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen.

Queensland already has coal-fired power stations in residential areas of Gladstone and just outside Rockhampton.

Now some federal and state politicians are pushing for a new coal-fired power station further north – perhaps in Townsville or Collinsville.

This should be of grave concerns to north Queenslanders who are concerned about their health and the health of their families.

While power stations in every Australian state are inadequately regulated, the Queensland Government does even less than EPAs in NSW and Victoria to protect the community from power station pollution.

Despite the obvious health concerns, One Nation and Queensland’s Liberal National Party are pledging $1.5 billion towards a new coal-fired power station. (Queensland Labor, the Greens and the Katter Australia Party have rejected the idea.)

Proponents of these new coal-fired power stations, like Senator Matt Canavan and LNP leader Tim Nicholls, put much faith in the assurances of the coal industry that any new power station would be an all-new ‘HELE’ (high efficiency, low emission) model.

But evidence from overseas shows these much-hyped ‘HELE’ power stations only marginally reduce toxic emissions. They still generate electricity by burning coal. It is inevitable that they will release fine particles, sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen and other nasty pollutants into the surrounding area.

By contrast, solar and wind are completely clean sources of energy. They don’t cause asthma, lung cancer, heart attacks, stroke, respiratory disease, headaches or nausea. And they can be constructed much more rapidly than a coal-fired power station.

Solar is the right source for the sunshine state.

Dr James Whelan is a coal and health researcher at Environmental Justice Australia  

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  • Joe

    Christensen can add… ‘Denier of Medical Science” to his CV. How anyone these days can stand up and spruik building new Coalers is beyond the pale. They / COALition really do not care about individual welfare or the greater welfare of the planet (climate change). To return serve on the recent comment of Eric Abetz ,’coal evangelism’ has a stranglehold of The COALition.

    • It will be their demise. Rejects.

  • solarguy

    Good article Dr Whelan, but these HELE plants produce much higher amounts of NOX, because the higher the combustion temperature, the higher the NOX.

  • Alex Hromas

    The HELE station much hyped by the coal lobby on TV is somewhere in the north of Japan with winter temperatures in single digits or negative. This climate really pushes up the efficiency of any thermal plant. They will struggle to achieve anything like this in far north Queensland

    • Joe

      ….blocks of ice perhaps to cool down the HELE?

  • Chris Andersen

    It’s the oxides of nitrogen that present health risks not nitrogen itself. Coal fired power stations also pump out neurotic mercury and cadmium. A class action is long overdue.

  • RobertO

    Hi All, I though our pollies were smarter that average member of public, but their maths leaves a awful lot to be desired. If Mexico has Solar heading for $10.00 (USD or about $25.00 AU, how long before they work out Solar is cheaper than Coal, just on sheer costs alone and when it becomes cheaper to build new RE that feed coal, what happens then. I beleive the next phase will be Reliability/Capacity payments to Coal just to keep the prices up for Joe Public. COALition has a lot to answer for!

  • Just_Chris

    One of the most depressing things that happens in modern Australia (and pretty much anywhere else in the world) is when you go to your GP expecting a baby and they hand you a list of foods that a pregnant woman should restrict in her diet:

    “Fish that may contain high levels of mercury – Food Standards Australia New Zealand recommend consuming no more than one serve (100g cooked) per fortnight of shark/flake, marlin or broadbill/swordfish, and no other fish that fortnight, or one serve (100g cooked) per week of orange roughy (deep sea perch) or catfish and no other fish that week.”

    Why do you have mercury in our fish? Gold and coal. The gold industry in Australia has, at great expense, had to clean up its act but the coal industry – nope. Is it mentioned in the election campaigns of anyone – nope.

    The other thing that bugs me about a new coal plant in Queensland is that they only way it will stack up is if they close an existing coal plant in Queensland so the net benefit is nothin’ – if power consumption is flat and the power stations are young (which they are) why build anything new? The only reason to build any big new power station in Queensland is to clean up the power industry. If you are just going to build another coal fired power station don’t bother you already have plenty.

    • RobertO

      Hi Just_Chirs, No way will they close a QLD coal power station, it’s need to replace Hazelwood power station and then it will be needed to replace Liddell. It will be supplied by Australian Taxpayers (say $5-$10 billion) and then used to keep power prices way up (about $1.00 kWh). Remember greed is good for the COALition and the RWNJ’s. We should also use the best coal available (from the Adani Mine with it’s high ash content (and they can also ship the ash back to the mine so they save peoples health by burying the coal dust / ash (one dose in and one dose out). Our pollies have (their hands out) such high IQ.

  • mick

    any farmer who still holds on to the belief that the national party represents them look at the $40,000 gift !?! to a certain kiwi from the mining industry