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Fossil fuel marketing terms swamp the ABC and mainstream media

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coal-insetHats off to ABC Radio National’s Breakfast announcer, Fran Kelly. On Wednesday, when picked up by a listener following an interview, Kelly said she was wrong to use the term “clean coal”, because it didn’t exist.

She was right. But then Kelly got into murky territory.

Better, she said, to use the term “low emissions” to describe the coal plant technology now known as HELE (high efficiency, low emissions). But why? It may not be as extreme as “clean”, but “low emissions” in this case is just another marketing term from the coal and fossil fuel lobby.

After all, these plants claim – at best – to emit between 0.7 tonnes and 0.8 tonnes of greenhouse gases for every megawatt hour of electricity produced. That sounds like high emissions technology to me.

It is only “low” in comparison to the incredibly dirty coal plants that preceded them, and their emissions are substantially higher than any other technology – including gas, but particularly solar, wind, hydro and nuclear.

Energy analyst Simon Holmes à Court explained more in his detailed analysis published here in May, with a focus on the four plants in Queensland touted by the Minerals Council in their marketing campaign. Those plants average more than 0.9 tonnes of Co2 equivalent for every MWh produced.

And they are not that efficient either. More efficient than their predecessors, but still struggling to get much more efficiency than 40 per cent. Which means that 60 per cent of the energy they produce is wasted.

A more accurate description of the technology would be high emissions, low efficiency.

Certainly, when the likes of Radio National’s Kelly and others in the media causally use the generic term “low emissions” then they are simply falling for the coal lobby’s PR trap.

And a Google search shows the term “low emissions coal” has been used hundreds of times in recent months in Australia’s mainstream media, which is a lot for something that doesn’t exist.

While on the subject of marketing terms, what is this stuff about “technology neutral” or “technology agnostic”?

Tony Abbott thinks it means that if you promise to build a pumped hydro plant, then you should be building a coal fired generator as well.

That makes as much sense as the false premise of “fair and balanced,” which to the ABC has meant giving as much time to a minority of climate science deniers as the 97 per cent of climate scientists who say that humans are largely responsible for climate change.

Malcolm Turnbull also claims to be “technology neutral” but then goes on to say that anything approaching 50 per cent renewable energy is “reckless” – despite the CSIRO and the networks lobby rubbishing that claim, and Transgrid saying 100 per cent renewables is both feasible and affordable.  

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  • lin

    The ABC has been moving towards the government propaganda unit end of broadcasting for a while now, so no surprise they have adopted minerals council PR bullshit. However, Ullman is moving to channel 9. This might help balance a bit, for the ABC at least.

    • Alastair Leith

      I’ve been saying Uhlmann’s “natural” home was Ch Nine for years now. Thank you if it’s become true.

  • Chris Fraser

    Today and forever, the comparison between renewable and the new ‘fossil-waffle’ technology simply on costs alone would decide the argument. We sure couldn’t convince them to back renewable on basis of the need for safe climate …

  • Tim Forcey

    My favourite is “natural” gas…

    These days I am not sure what is so “natural” about fracking, drilling 40,000 coal seam gas wells in Queensland, or installing offshore platforms in thousands of meters of water to drill thousands of meters beneath the sea…

    In fact, all that seems sort of un-natural.

    • solarguy

      Agree Tim, the only natural gas is biogas.

      • David Hurburgh

        The only form of methane (apart from biogenesis) that is not of “fossil” origin is abiogenic methane formed when ultramafic rocks are serpentinized. The volume of these resources, which lie mainly on the sea-bed, exceed all known sources of “conventional” gas

        • Alastair Leith

          News flash, David. It’s the “anthropgenic” in AGW which is mostly Driving climate change (unless we’ve already crossed catastrophic tipping points). Even if it wasn’t, antropogenic emissions are the ones we have control over. Arctic thawing is even more reason to get fossil gas fugitives to as close to zero as possible. Even if it costs that (generally irresponsible when is comes to emissions and public health) industry money.

    • Alex Hromas

      Its an old term to distinguish it from coal gas that was produced by reacting coal and steam at high temperatures to produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide.This lead to a popular method of suicide turn on the oven and put your head in the CO will kill you real quick

    • neroden

      Natural gas is a very old term. It meant the gas came straight out of the ground.

      Before it, in the 19th century, we had “manufactured gas” or coal gas, which was made using coal and steam. Even nastier stuff. The residue from making “manufactured gas” was called coal tar. It’s toxic and still being cleaned up all over the US and Europe. (And probably urban parts of Australia.)

      • David Hurburgh

        Go into any Pharmacist and ask for an anti-dandruff shampoo. Most of them have as their essential ingredient coal-tar.
        Buy any foodstuff that has a smoky flavour, that again is coal tar.
        Yep, real toxic

    • Alastair Leith

      Agree, that’s why I always refer to it as fossil gas, as you and Matt Wright do too I think I picked it up from one of you two.

    • David Hurburgh

      And how do you classify all the “natural” gas seepages that were occurring before drilling. It was these which allowed the resources to be discovered

      • Tim Forcey

        Yeah I suppose if you went along to some pristine ‘undisturbed-by-man” place and there was gas seeping up out of the ground and if you captured that say by placing a bag over it or something, you could call that “natural” gas. But most gas on the market these days is not produced / recovered in that way. Yeah possibly that was how the term “natural gas” began, along with the need (as others here have written) to be able to differentiate from “town gas” or coal-derived synthetic gas…

  • Joe

    Like I have said before Big Mal speaks with two tongues and delivers different messages depending upon the audience that is in front of him. He gives Premier Jay a public spray every chance he gets and for what. Premier Jay is DOING what Big Mal is only talking…RE with Storage! And yet we had Treasurer Scotty last night on ABC 7.30 still giving hope and life to COAL via The NAIF….with OUR $5Billions just waiting to be pissed away building new Coalers. You just can’t trust or believe the COALition.

    • solarguy

      Oh yes and Uncle Mal must think I’m Armageddon with my home being 100% renewable. Mal, my battery is bigger than yours mate!

      • Joe

        I don’t get the Turnbull on his RE plus storage doublespeaking. The Turnbull does his flyovers of the Snowy and holds the pressers about how awesome Snowy’s pumped hydro ( RE plus storage ) is. At his home in Sydney the Turnbull has a decent Rooftop Solar install and he now has home battery installed ( RE plus storage ). But given all of that he just gives Premier Jay a big public spray at every opportunity, against Premier Jay who is DOING what the Turnbull is always banging on about…RE plus storage! And that hopeless dope, Treasurer Scotty, reckons the Elon and Premier Jay’s big battery is just some sort of roadside tourist attraction like The Big Banana at Coffs Harbour or The Big Prawn at Ballina. Turnbull and Morrison make fools of themselves and then they wonder why the punters don’t listen to them anymore.

        • solarguy

          It’s like waking up in the nut house every morning isn’t it. What gets me is he thinks nobody will notice. Unfortunately there are weak heads out there that believe that coal and gas is cheap, like the nitwits who build a house with gas hot water, gas heater and a big f%&K off ducted air con and then when they get their first bill of $1,500 or more, call me for a solar quote. When I get there, the air con is running and it’s a lovely 28 degrees outside, the clothes dryer is going etc, but they can’t work out why their bill is so expensive because they run the A/C 24/7 but they deny it, however their power consumption profile on the bill tells the true story.

          These people balk at the price for solar, even when I show them their ROI is going to be 4yrs. They will also tell me that renewables are responsible for high power prices because they believe the COAL alition bullshit.

          • Joe

            Honestly, some people you just can’t save them from themselves even if the bald facts are staring them in the face.
            I can’t speak for others but I could never get my head around homes that have quarterly energy bills of $1500.00 plus. But you have kindly provided me with some answers. Clothes dryers should be banned. Senseless running of A/C and over running pool pumps are energy consumption killers…I give up.

          • solarguy

            Well clothes dryers are handy, but the idiots should only use them sparingly and only for what they need to wear that day.

          • MaxG

            See above…

          • Greg Hudson

            I moved from a solar home to one without. The new one has a 14kW aircon (heatpump?) as the sole heating cooling… We had it running for 6 hours when guests were here for dinner last Sat night. The cost of doing so (plus our normal day time use, mostly without the air on) was a mind numbing $8.88 ! (at 24c/kWh) OUCH !

          • solarguy

            Good inverter splits are far cheaper to run than ducted. It then becomes doable to run free from PV. We did it and haven’t looked back.

          • MaxG

            I have to share, what I have found to be the most impressive presentation on the behaviour of the modern population… Watch it! Six minutes of your time, will certainly make you think for six seconds. — Watch the audience… priceless.

          • solarguy

            Thank you Max. This is an example of how to reinforce ignorance with an illusion.

          • David Hurburgh

            Surely you mean payback , not ROI ?

          • solarguy

            Pay back is part of ROI.

        • Miles Harding

          It’s not a good look.
          Turnbull appears deply conflicted between knowing what a good policy should look like and serving the both covert greedy agendas and the rabid right of the Libel party.

          He also appears to lack the moral fibre to stand up to these destructive forces within his own party, so the result is the two-faced duplicitous hand puppet in a suit we see standing in front of us.

          Will the real Mal please step forward.

          • Joe

            I have a correction to make…The Big Prawn is no more. It got torn down. One less tourist attraction for Treasurer Scotty to bad mouth.

          • It was there last week.

          • Joe

            Is it the original one ? My father in law, he lives in Ballina. Maybe he gave me wrong info on this or I got the story wrong. I’ll stand corrected.

    • Miles Harding

      The same can be said of Big Mal’s corrosive sprays at the labor party. The COALition has in been in power for a number of years, as the “Terrible Tony” and “Tragic Turnbull” governments and have had ample opportunity to get national energy policy sorted out. but have totally failed to do so.

      • Joe

        COALition Energy Policy has only one pillar….COAL and long may it reign. For The COALition renewable energy is dirty words and must be demonised at every opportunity even if the Turnbull is a total hypocrite with his doublespeaking acts.

  • john

    To expect a broadcaster person to be across the terminology is a big bridge to cross, they hear the words HELE and understand what it means but explaining it is just too much to expect.
    So at least Fran Kelly got some aspect about HELE being better than the present technology.
    As to being the best delivery of cost of energy that anything else is once again beyond the scope of knowledge.
    So to sum up do not expect a broadcaster to have inherent knowledge about the long term cost of energy let alone the ramifications about the emissions or the underlying cost of producing energy due to rigging of the bidding system this is way outside their sphere of knowledge.

    • Joe

      Journalists are educated people and they do have a responsibility to bone up on topics especially if they are conducting a talk show. They need to know what the discussion is all about.

      • Alastair Leith

        Agree, the federal government has chosen Energy to be one of its main campaigning and policy areas to try and beat off a resurgent ALP that have lead in the last 40 polls or something and now have quite a few of the state governments. It’s odd in a way Turnbull has focused on Energy to attempt to wedge ALP because he’s even more compromised by the coal and gas connections to National and Liberal Parties than ALP.

        Given this focus by LP at both fed and state levels of Govt on Energy then it’s beholden on journalists, producers and presenters in the media to bone up on this stuff.

        The problem is approaching them directly to try and educate them seems to be a lost cause, I and others have tried. Media Watch also refuses to critique ABC presenters on their mistakes in the Energy coverage. Maybe Media Watch needs to have a website where things that don’t air can still be dealt with in a less spotlighted way.

    • neroden

      HELE is just marketing speak. I believe the technical term is “ultrasupercritical”.

      And you don’t need any of that junk in Australia. You have a small population, a small energy demand, lots of local NG (stop exporting it!!!), humungous solar and wind resources, and one of the highest solar and wind deployments in the world already. The world is watching South Australia as it races towards 100% renewable electricity.

      • Carl Raymond S

        I hope that SA start enjoying lower power prices soon. That will put unstoppable pressure on the eastern states to follow suit. A bit more storage and solar thermal in the mix and that day will arrive. That is the thing with renewables, it’s pay now – free later. Inevitably SA will enjoy the fruit of their pioneering efforts. Only then will citizens in the east turn green (with envy).

  • Geoff James

    Language is important. We need to change the language to change the conversation and debate into a truthful one. “Clean coal” is a brilliant example, and another one is “baseload” power which sounds technical, sounds necessary, sounds safe, but isn’t what we need at all. “Dispatchable” also sounds great to have, and it is, but when you probe the meaning you find at least 5 different kinds. And don’t get me started on “inertia”. (Actually you can if you like…) So how do we get the right words out there?

    • jm

      Poisonous coal. Destructive fossil fuels. Fresh energy (non-polluting energy). Poisonous fossil fuel corporations. Deadly smog. 🙂

      • solarguy

        Yep that describes it pretty well.

    • Like during the second (?) Gulf war when the military briefings were full of “surgical strikes”. To which some wit replied with “medicinal napalm”. 🙂

      • Noel Wauchope

        I’ve always admired the way in which Unemployment and other Welfare ‘Entitlements’ was just quietly changed to “Benefits”

    • Miles Harding

      While we are on this subject, the universal associate “sustainable” should come in for the same treatment.

      It’s so badly abused that the term is now meaningless.

    • David Hurburgh

      Please give us 10 word definitions of the terms which you say are mis-defined

  • Have a look at what the ACCC has to say about Advertising and Misleading or deceptive conduct.
    https://www.accc.gov.au/publications/advertising-selling/advertising-and-selling-guide/avoid-misleading-or-deceptive-claims-or-conduct/misleading-or-deceptive-conduct
    It would seem to me that the HELE advertisement are in direct contravention of this legislation.
    The Greens should be all over this and making a legal challenge via the ACCC.

    • Ken Fabian

      Those in NSW may recall the notice the NSW government mandated on all electricity bills – an anti clean energy message that blamed a dubiously large component of electricity prices on Federal clean energy programs. I wrote complaints, first to the electoral commission, then the ACCC – it was partisan political advertising delivered by electricity companies to every household that buys electricity, on behalf of a NSW coalition government opposed to climate action, with no room for any contrary messaging, even as correction of false and misleading claims. Because it was by act of NSW Parliament it could only be stopped by successful lawsuits. A bit different I suppose, but the chances the ACCC will be able to act look slim.

    • Alastair Leith

      ACCC are an irrelevance in Australian issues that matter. All the CEO said on the bid/settle anomaly (read gentailer/gas generator cabal) was that they were exercising their natural (read predatory capitalistic) advantages in the market place.

      • Looks like not even the Greens see the HELE TV adverts as an issue but I suppose they are also “politicians” with self interest. To me these adverts are clearly misleading and deceptive.

        • Alastair Leith

          Maybe it’s a case of them having lots on, and no Larissa (was Climate Change, Environment and QLD GBR etc). I don’t have TV so haven’t seen them. Maybe contact Jeremy Buckingham’s office or tweet him.

    • MaxG

      Forget the Greens; they are not even responding to animal cruelty brought to their explicit attention. Why would they care about misleading advertising on environmental issues?

  • Noel Wauchope

    “Low Carbon” is a nice one. This is a favourite of the nuclear lobby, used by even closet nuclear fans like Alan Finkel. It, along with “clean”, is a safe way to eliminate the term “renewable” from a discussion. But there are many others – some simply designed to confuse and thus shut up nuclear critics. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9b589b22486281e2e5ad4c7d6a3a0efb08f0b81b0fd6ad1de9edb30e1fd00f48.gif

    • Joe

      ….what about ‘CLEEEEEEEN Nu Clear’

  • Ken Fabian

    Redefining the definition of low emissions for PR purposes is alarming enough, but we need to be vigilant to be sure that definition doesn’t make it’s way into the formal guidelines for qualifying for government support for emissions reduction.

  • Alex Hromas

    The efficiencies quoted in the coal adds cannot be obtained in Queensland because of the high condensing temperatures. Our old mate Carnot explained this a long time ago. Efficiency is a function of the difference at which a machine accepts its working fluid, steam and the temperature at which it rejects it. With super critical boilers the top temperature is about 600 degC and in Queensland the reject temperature is at best 20 degC. The power station shown in the add is in the north of Japan where the winter temperature can be as low as -20 degC hence the high efficiency

  • David Hurburgh

    And why , of all countries , has the US achieved the greatest emissions reduction of any country. And Is not gas a fossil fuel ?

    As for HELEs, how come the Chinese and Indians are building 100s of these plants, despite their mouthing of intentions to reduce carbon emissions.

    Just more BS from RenewEconomy.

    • Peter G

      Building 100s of HELE’s is that fact ?

      You would not have the commencement and estimated completion dates and sources please David??

      • neroden

        You want the truth about what happened in China? Corrupt local governments approved useless and unwanted coal plants for local profiteering. They are being SMACKED DOWN. Many of these plants will close soon and lose money. They are all running at under half capacity.

        https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/reports/2017/05/15/432141/everything-think-know-coal-china-wrong/

        • Rod

          Thanks for the link. A good read.
          It does make me wonder how long the ultra-super critical units will last given the >1400F temperatures and high pressures.

        • Peter G

          Great Link thanks

    • David Hurburgh

      Some facts and figures for you Peter G which are all available with a little effort :

      400+ HELEs already in operation in China

      600+ under construction, or in pipeline

      http://www.afr.com/opinion/columnists/why-is-australia-the-only-place-in-asia-where-hele-coal-generation-isnt-clean-20170612-gwpcob

      Japan has 50 HELEs under construction

      http://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2017-01-31/japan-coal-power-plants/8224302

      And as for India , 1066 HELEs alone

      http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/coal-the-best-bet-for-indias-power-needs/news-story/1177d103242ab20ba2d04260b473547e

      For latest worldwide figures, see :

      International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) Clean Coal Centre Reports

      For a coal-rich nation, Australia is looking internationally like a bunch of anti-development hillbillies.
      We are happy to export large volumes of this energy mineral , but too timid and frightened of the Green anti-coal lobby to take advantage of our natural endowment of this vital fuel.

      Coal remains a critical energy source that is necessary to underwrite our industrial development.

      But I guess the Greens with their anti-extractivist mantras want us to be a land of “green collar” baristas.

      • The Australian as reliable source on coal. Don’t make me laugh. try this on China, https://www.sciencealert.com/the-end-of-coal-is-near-china-just-scrapped-103-power-plants and note recent stories about coal plants cancelled in India and Japan. It’s a bit like describing England as world champions of football because they won world cup in 1966. A lot has happened since then.

        • David Hurburgh

          That’s only -10% . I am glad you have a sense of humour, since most zealots and evangelists haven’t

          • think you should read the link i gave you more closely. Pipelines are pipelines. about as much chance to build that as the 15GW of wind pipeline in australia.

        • David Hurburgh

          My references are sound and current, unlike yours.
          The only cutback on coal consumption in China is to displace their high SOx and high PM2.5 emissions from their indigenous coal and replace it with clean Aussie coal. The Indians are obviously going up the same pathway with a huge appetite for our resources,
          As you would know, Australian coal is much cleaner than the Chinese material,and of course HELEs have scrubbers for SOx and electrostatic precipitators for particulates. The only emissions then are H20 and CO2, the latter being your dreaded and vilified, so-called “pollutant”.

          • No, your references are the CEO of the coal lobby in Australia.

          • David Hurburgh

            Yes – somebody who is expert in his field – just as you are an expert in all things renewable, inter alia, network engineering, Li-ion storage, wind turbine design … and I guess the list goes on and on.
            Anybody who hasn’t got a vested interest is a eunuch.

          • Alastair Leith

            Nobody would claim Giles is an expert in Renewables, least of him I expect. He is a specialist reporter/publisher.

            You really have to do better than the CEO of the coal lobby, that is pathetic.

          • So Pearson was a journalist with me at the AFR. He has been paid to spruik coal for a shorter time than i have been writing about RE – how does that make him more of an expert?

          • Les Johnston

            Does this mean there is zero particulates and zero SOx in the discharge with electrostatics and scrubbers respectively?

          • David Hurburgh

            yes – fully compliant with the strictest application of EPA regulations for air-shed quality and minimum noxious emissions quality.

          • Les Johnston

            Air emission limits do not ensure the protection of public health. There is no safe limit for exposure to fine particulates. “Strictist” is driven by cost benefit not health protection. Hence “clean” coal is misuse of terminology.

          • David Hurburgh

            Are PV Panels a form of clean energy?. For every tonne of silicon which makes up the panels, in excess of one tonne of metallurgical coal is required to smelt the silicon.
            And then there are wind-turbine towers. What are they made from – bamboo ? No, steel. Again, every tonne of steel requires over a tonne of coal to manufacture.
            If you account for this embedded thermal energy provided by coal (no other reductant is possible) you are looking at least three years of the operation of these “renewables” in order to eliminate their “carbon footprint”. This percentage of embedded carbon is equivalent to the carbon combusted for the same period in a High Efficiency Low Emissions (HELE) coal-fired power station.
            So bagging coal as not being clean, is just as logical as praising PV and Wind for being “carbon-free”.

          • David Hurburgh

            So our EPAs have got it wrong ? You should tell them.
            And how do you see metallurgical coal which is the most valuable segment of Australia’s coal production? Met coal cannot be substituted in steel making – so we have to shut down the steel industry by your logic.
            The anti-coal lobby is just focussing on its use in thermal power stations, but seem to be ignoring met coal. By obsessing about met coal, it is inconsistent and arguably hypocritical.

          • David Hurburgh

            Can you dispute any thing I say above ? – references please –
            Surely you can do better than quoting pop-science on-line comics, glib one-liners and invocation of conspiracy theories ?

          • Alastair Leith

            An opinion piece is a good reference?

          • David Hurburgh

            Has the International Energy Agency ( an arm of the OECD) got their numbers wrong ?

          • Peter G

            The iea papers you refer to are not current – they are mostly the ones that were there when I last looked in 2012. Many date from 2010. The time frames to build and depreciate coal are long, but the energy markets are turned on their head since 2010 – as are the costs of competing renewable technologies.

      • Peter G

        Thanks David,
        The afr opinion piece and the oz are behind a paywalls. The ABC article refers to Japan rather than India/China but I could not find a reference to actual construction – the analyst quoted: “Tom O’Sullivan, a Tokyo based energy consultant with Mathyos Global Advisory” discusses motivation and the absence of a carbon price providing no dis-incentive for 45 ‘planned’ coal plants.

        Only the editorial specifically on talks of ‘plans’ and quotes no-one actually contracted/ or contracting to build any of these:
        “The Japanese government is moving ahead with its plans to build up to 45 new coal fired power stations…”

        I could understand Japan installing some Coal as a medium term nuclear replacement – but the article provided no verifiable references of evidence for construction actually commencing on any of these plants.

    • Alastair Leith

      Except those emissions reductions are mostly on paper not in actuality. Fugitive emissions from unconventional gas are heavily under accounted for in the USA and in the UNFCCC accounting methodology because methane is counted as being x28 as potent a GHG as CO2 when in fact IPCC AR5 lists it as 105x as potent over 20 yrs and including its role as a precursor to tropospheric ozone.

      Also the level of F.E.s are assumed to be what industry would like us to believe it is, they say around 1% by volume, when in some gas fields it’s anywhere from 5-15% by volume. No small difference and easily covers the purported emissions reduction in the USA and then some.

      • David Hurburgh

        And who accounts for all the abiogenic methane emissions coming from the serpentinisation for ultramafic rocks which according to the USGS far exceeds all fossil fuel resources ?

  • Craig Allen

    I just listened to the ABC Radio National Scince Show episode “The Path to Zero Energy”. One of the panelists was a BHP propagandist by the name of Graham Winkleman. He took the opportunity to wax lyrical about how important coal is for the Australian economy arguing that it’s an essdntial contribution to the modernisation of developing countries. Then later he and Alan Finkle talked up the prospects of clean coal technology. Utterly disappointing.

  • Michael Murray

    Could we have a special fossil fuel version of Wank Word Bingo ?

    http://www.heretical.com/miscellx/ww-print.html

    Someone out there must be able to whip one up. If they haven’t already.

  • Michael Murray

    Would it be sensible to have a simple explainer attached to this website ? A one pager for journalists ? It could have links to more detailed discussion if people wanted them.

    • Alastair Leith

      Even the APH public info on things like “Baseload” is dodgy. Problem is journalists are fiercely ‘independent’ meaning once they believe they know something is true it’s very hard to persuade them of anything else. Like all of us they have prejudices, to a varying extent.

  • MaxG

    It is called propaganda… information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view. — It is this simply; the Aussie term is BS. And people fall for it every day… 🙂