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Turnbull caves in, declares support for new “clean coal” generator

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Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull appears to have caved in to the fossil fuel lobby and the right wing of his Coalition after announcing that he would look at the need to replace coal-fired power stations with “continuous power sources” such as new coal, or gas.

The announcement, along with the repeal of the limited merits review for network owners, and moves to restrict exports to guarantee local gas supply, was made by Turnbull as he sought to deal with a mini-uprising from the right wing of his party following the release of the Finkel Review on energy security.

The mining lobby, led by the Minerals Council of Australia, has been pushing to replace the output of the closed Hazelwood power station with a “technology neutral” auction of “continuous power” – but the clear hope and assumption was the ability to build a new “clean coal” power station.

“It would be good if we had a state-of-the-art clean coal power station in Australia,” Turnbull told journalists at a media conference in Canberra on Tuesday.

He said that this did not necessarily mean the federal government would build it, although the question remains if an auction is held, who would be the counter party. He noted that Snowy Hydro plans to build 2GW of pumped hydro with storage, and Canberra is looking to take on full ownership.

Turnbull insisted any auction would be technology neutral, but when asked what technologies could provide “continuous” and “synchronous” power, he mentioned only “clean coal”, gas and hydro, although he noted that gas would be too expensive.

There was no mention of solar and wind with battery storage, or of other technologies.

“We are seeing a real change in the nature of the energy market … with more variable sources of energy, more distributed sources,” Turnbull said.

“We have seen big shocks already from the retirement of large synchronous generators, and we need to ensure we don’t get those shocks in the future.”

His comments were full of references to energy security and affordability. Only twice did he mention emissions reductions.

The announcement comes after a ruckus in the Coalition party room over the Finkel Review recommendations, specifically the “clean energy target” that would likely guarantee coal supplied one quarter of Australia’s generation, even as late as 2050.

Although the Finkel Review took no account for Australia’s commitment to reduce emissions to meet the “well below” 2°C Paris pledge, this was not good enough for the right wing, which is calling for new coal plants.

In effect, however, Turnbull is hand-balling the issue to the Australian Energy market Operator, who he has commissioned to identify the gaps and holes in the market for continuous power.

He noted that any new coal-fired power station would take years to build. Analysts such as ITK’s David Leitch have pointed out that an equivalent amount of output of wind and solar will be built over the next 18 months, and storage is also being brought online.

Energy minister Josh Frydenberg indicated that any decision on a CET (clean energy target) would be kicked down the road, but a proposal to require new wind and solar plants to be accompanied by battery storage would be put to COAG energy ministers next month.

The repeal of the limited merits review is expected to put a cap on consumer bills, given that network costs make up around half of all electricity costs.

The Coalition says the ability of networks to appeal against decisions by the Australian Energy Regulator had added $6.5 billion to consumer bills in recent years. The ability to appeal to courts would now be removed and he AER would get an extra $67 million in funding.

The Coalition is also introducing its gas policy to restrict exports to the extent that it will guarantee that enough gas is made available in the domestic market by LNG exporters. The move was flagged earlier this year in response to soaring gas prices.

Greens climate spokesman Adam Bandt welcome the decision on network spending, saying it was well overdue.

“The power companies have been fleecing consumers for years, gold-plating their networks and ignoring more cost-effective alternatives, like managing demand. Recent court decisions only reinforced the need for action,”  Bandt said.

“The electricity grid is an essential service, not an opportunity for big companies to make big profits at the public’s expense, so we welcome government intervention and greater public control of our energy networks.

However, he was less keen on Turnbull’s new request for AEMO to newly assess the closure of coal fired power station.

“We need to close the equivalent of a Hazelwood a year to meet climate targets, which means a government regulated timetable or other mechanism to drive an orderly transition and timely new investment. We don’t need another review, we need a national plan for the energy transition.”  

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  • DevMac

    “It would be good if we had a state-of-the-art clean coal power station in Australia,”

    It would be good if we had a state-of-the-art government in Australia.

    • solarguy

      Too bloody right!

      • Robert Westinghouse

        Are the LNP idiots (yes we know the answer) – there is NO such things as clean coal…just like being a little pregnant….I may as well be talking to the washing machine….but at least that cleans my clothes….ahhhh

        • Joe

          …what do we want ?….a “CLEAN COAL Energy Target”…when does Big Mal, Bananaby J, Joshie F, Matty C want it…”NOW and FOREVER”. Altogether now…. CLEEEEEEEEEAN COAL is the one and only solution. Just waiting for Treasurer Scotty to bring out his lumps of CLEEEEEEEN COAL to hand around in Parliament.

    • Matthew O’Brien

      Mmaaaaahahahahaaaa.
      Yes indeedy do-di-day. I’d like to take Hunt, Frydenburg, Canavan, Morrison and now Turnbull and “kick them down the road” …

      • Marg1

        Me too Matthew, back to the caves they crawled from!

    • Alastair Leith

      And they torched an entire planet just for the sake of a little bit of power and money.

    • Tom

      I wonder who the next prime minister is going to be?

      I don’t think it will be too long until we find out.

    • MaxG

      Not going to happen… 😀
      Don’t blame them… They are playing from their song book; what they stand for; what they will pursue until anything benefiting the people has been either dismantled or privatised.

  • Simon

    (Crystal ball gazing) I get the feeling that this is all going to lead to higher grid prices v lower pv + storage prices which will result in grid defection which will lead to a nonviable grid. That would be unfortunate as the grid would play a very valuable (irreplaceable!) role in a distributed system. The goose may be cooked however… Dunno… There may be a way around it – but it may be financially stressful…

    • Tom

      I was thinking about the electricity death spiral the other day. What would happen if the grid became unviable?

      Possibly, there would be a limited grid supplying industrial precincts only. The residential dwellings who are unable to have solar + storage (+/- backup generator), such as high-rise apartments, will have a battery at their house, and every week or so a “battery truck” might drive past with a cable, recharge their batteries, and send them a bill for the energy supplied.

      A bit like when the horse-drawn coal wagon would supply coal down all the residents’ coal chutes in the 1800s.

      Remember – Monday: rubbish night, Wednesday: Battery day.

  • Brunel

    If EU is building undersea HVDC transmission lines, an undersea HVDC transmission line from NZ to NSW via Lord Howe Island should be looked at.

    Will AUS have 48 million people in the future?

    • john

      That is rather a large distance to cover.
      Doing a very wild guess at cost say 9 times vic to tas it would be $21 billion

      • Brunel

        Nope. There are at least 2 islands between NZ and NSW.

        Look at the cost of building undersea HVDC lines in Europe.

        • john

          Sorry I have not looked
          I honestly do not know the cost but I do know the further the distance the larger the dimension of each wire has to be to prevent voltage loss, and that leads to high cost.
          Perhaps tomorrow i will look into it.

          • Brunel

            The undersea 580 km NorNed cable cost €600 million.

            Maybe a cable between NZ and NSW is not worth it at that price.

  • My_Oath

    ““It would be good if we had a state-of-the-art clean coal power station in Australia,” ”

    It would be good to have one anywhere on the planet.

    It would be good to have a gold-vomiting-unicorn in my back shed.

    It would be good to be lying on a beach with 40 naked super model assistants competing to think up new ways to be nice to me.

    There are many things that would be good to have. However, we have to live in reality.

    • Joe

      …don’t spoil the fantasy of those 40 super models.

  • Steve

    There are exactly TWO “Clean Coal” CCS coal fired power stations connected to the grid in the entire world. One in Canada, one in the US. That’s it. Both use their CO2 for EOR and both are paid for it. They likely would not be feasible without this income stream. https://www.globalccsinstitute.com/projects/large-scale-ccs-projects

    • coreidae

      Exactly. The gas sector can easily strip out CO2 from raw gas and does this to reinject to depleted gas reservoirs so as to build up pressure and increase hydrocarbon recovery. Post combustion CO2 capture, liquification and storage is another matter entirely, and from what I have read briefly would add 25% to the fuel consumption of an existing plant. The best option is to use cleaner generation, it’s a no-brainer.

      • Steve

        Indeed. Gorgon will be the world’s biggest carbon sequestration project once implemented – but until then, what are they doing with the CO2? Venting? And the CO2 stripped from Gorgon is only the CO2 associated with the natural gas, it does not take into account carbon sequestration from the onsite power generation, which is in excess of 500MW. All of that CO2 is considered ‘inconsequential’ and vented in the same way as a normal GPG.

        • coreidae

          CO2 sequestration is also used in the Cooper Basin to “push” hydrocarbons out of reservoirs (not correct reservoir engineering but you get the picture). The Santos Moomba plant currently flares or vents vast amounts of hydrocarbons and CO2 from processing so I can only imagine other plants vent their CO2 in the same manner. In some cases CO2 is a significant proportion of the raw gas so the quantities we discuss are not small.

      • Ian

        Not a problem, build a solar pv and battery storage plant next to the state-of-the-art coal plant to provide the necessary power for Carbon capture and storage. For each MW of coal perhaps another 2 MW of solar plus storage.;)

        • coreidae

          Yes of course!

      • Miles Harding

        Add to this, the considerably greater build costs and the need to burn decent quality coal in the first place and the additional operating cost may be considerably more than a 25%.

        What makes CCS really dodgy is the power operator’s idea of what consitiutes a suitable formation to place the VAST amount of CO2 the generator will produce:
        Essentially it amounts to “Just outside the power station fence” when the only sensible place to put this is in a fomation that we know doesn’t leak like a depleted gas or oil field. Unfortunately, these are often located an inconvenient distance from the station.

        At least the bad economics should kill off this turkey of an idea.

        • coreidae

          CCS is really only effective under a carbon price! I wonder if the LNP has thought about that properly. *crickets*

    • Ren Stimpy

      Yeah but try telling that to Jude and Chris (Murdoch Media shills). Hopeless old 20th Century Romantics.
      Here’s something they should get aligned with -with all other climate change denialists – i.e. other old hopeless 20th century romantics

      Who produced some bloody excellent music btw, see above, but not a great deal of science!

      • Ren Stimpy

        Although what that has to do wth the price of eggs ? ?

    • Joe

      …its a brilliant scenario, yes. Burn more “CLEAN COAL” to be able to pump out those last drops of Oil so that we can burn it all…and keep belching out our emissions. Just gotta luv this thinking.

    • Alastair Leith

      And neither of them removes 100% CO2 or even close nor does it scrub all the NOx, SOx, PM, benzines, heavy metals, isotopes etc etc from the smoke stack.

  • DogzOwn

    CCS in coal fired power stations is a fairy story, very expensive and ineffective. But Frydenberg still blusters CCS success in Australia, only in Otways and Gorgon, but this is different, it’s separating CO2 from methane(unnatural gas). A new one recently, is similar success with coal but separating CO2 from combustible gas in gasification. There’s no time left for CCS, we need results which are certain, immediately if not sooner

  • Peter Campbell

    FFS. We can’t vote this lot out soon enough. What is the point of Turnbull if he can’t stare down these loonies?
    Ever so slightly less dirty coal is all he means.

    • solarguy

      The problem with Turncoat is he has no balls. He offered them to the right wing nitwits as a sacrifice for the top job.

  • coreidae

    “a proposal to require new wind and solar plants to be accompanied by battery storage would be put to COAG energy ministers next month.” – you can easily expect this to be rejected by the ALP governed states, especially SA.

    • Rod

      I dunno.
      Weatherill was gushing positive at Finkel and I’m yet to understand why.

      • solarguy

        You and I both.

      • Farmer Dave

        My memory has it that it was Weatherill’s idea to have Finkel do that review – I think he saw it as an opportunity to dispell some of the rubbish being said about the SA blackout.

        • Yes, Canberra wanted the review done, Weatherill suggested Finkel to do it.

  • Just_Chris

    So coal is so cheap we have to subsidise it now? I’m sick of the whole party political system and how corrupt it is, first half sane independent to put their hand up gets my vote.

    • jm

      You do have the greens 🙂

  • ShaneH

    Tasmania should reject compulsory storage since Hydro Tas already runs a giant storage battery in the form of lakes – installing batteries next to wind farms makes no sense at all. Coalition desperately looking for any way to make solar/wind more expensive.

    • Tom

      +1

  • Chris Fraser

    But is it really like that for Turnbull ? The Palazczcuk government doesn’t actually hold out hope that Carmichael will commence. Therefore, is Turnbull just allowing a small utterance – for the benefit of the local Nutcases – but with his aim still on the big goal ?

  • John Saint-Smith

    Actually Giles, I interpreted the Prime Minister’s mangled announcements slightly differently. At first he use the term ‘baseload’ referring to the ‘unpredicted’ loss of Hazelwood and Northern coal-fired power stations. Then he began to use the word ‘despatchable’ for future power needs, almost as if he knew the difference. I sat up. But then he confused the issue again by describing his grand plan for Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro as if it were a form of ‘renewable energy’, and used the term despatchable in conjunction with ‘continuous’ power and ‘synchronous’ power.
    Rather than ‘caving in’, I think the great Turnup has finally descended into meaningless babble – like he’s heard the grown-up using these words and he thinks we’ll all be impressed.

    • I think that a fair interpretation. i don’t think one would go ahead, but he has to dance in front of the right wing, which a problem and explains his babble. and yes, he was all over the place, but he did say what a nice thing it would be to have a new coal plant.

      • john

        Giles the regional representatives in Qld are babbling about building a coal fired generator in North Queensland.
        The story this will reduce your power bills, and this is taken as a given by the morons who publish the local papers.

        • Brunel

          I hate coal, but how would a new coal power station in QLD help SA in the absence of an UHVDC transmission line from SA to another state?

          • Joe

            ..interconnector direct from QLD’s ‘CLEAN COAL’ power station to Premier Jay and his long suffering citizens. Another media opportunity there for Joshie F and Premier Jay to go hard at it…Round 3 coming up.

        • Joe

          Well the NAIF has plenty of spare dosh lying around even after giving Adani a $1million to build ‘our’ rail line. Money sitting in the bank is just so unproductive. Build it, The NQ coaler and…CLEEEEEEN COAL will come.

    • Cooma Doug

      There a little more to it. He does get it. He is leaving a window in the panic wall. Im not sure if it is for coal or a window to slow the transition for political polish and donations.
      See thenpiece I wrote concerning Snowy 2

  • solarguy

    My first reaction was WTF, the second was anger, after that………. bloody ropeable!

  • phred01

    Michael Bloomberg says clean coal …sequestration of CO2 is pie in the sky and it is BS

  • David McKay

    I don’t think they are talking CCS here. Ultra super critical is my take on their push. Slightly lower emissions without complicated & expensive failure of CCS, Coal groups have been pushing this in TV adverts. By the time this became operational it would require enormous subsidies to compete with the new & emerging technologies.

  • Radbug

    We are going to be treated to a horror story in Curtis Island as a combination of world’s highest capital costs, very low oil prices, an American recession and now, curtailment of gas exports, will see the financial obligations incurred by the Curtis Island refrigeration train operators being defaulted on. This spectacle will serve to impress upon any prospective pro-coal investors the folly of irrational exuberance regarding “clean coal”.

  • john

    So lets build a best in class Coal Generation Plant that will pump CO2 into the ground and the cost of the energy will be at least 14 cents or upwards of 16 cents a KwH.
    Lets build a simple Coal Generator and cost of power is what above 10 cents a KwH.
    Please just build lots of distributed RE either Wind or Solar and put in lots of storage and yes how about using the pumped hydro like Wivenow that has been left never used.

    • jm

      CCS is not going to be used. The costs are horrendous, apart from the fact that full CCS is a fantasy. They are probably talking about “cleaner coal power”. Costs a fortune to build, lowers emissions a little, takes more coal to power…. So its great for the coal industry, they get to sell more coal and the taxpayers and consumers pick up the bill

  • Mark Roest

    Re “There was no mention of solar and wind with battery storage, or of other technologies.” So could someone please figure out what utility-scale Australian solar and wind, with six hours of battery storage purchased at US$100/kWh, would cost, relatively near large towns and cities? To calculate the levelized cost of electricity storage, assume 10,000 cycles useful life by 2021, and 20,000 cycles by 2024. Also assume zero constraints on supply. Sum the simple solar and battery levelized costs, and add something for the cost of money until savings for the owner have paid for the plant (assume that all of the savings would be used to pay down the cost, so the owner can get to free energy as quickly as possible). Six hours of storage is what the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory said is the sweet spot for getting the best ROI from storage.

    If someone does this, I believe the comparison between the result, and the cost of their blatant transfer of wealth to the fossil fuel industry, would be a strong selling tool.

    • john

      I will get back to you on that perhaps tomorrow.
      INPUTS Cost build plants Cost of Battery R&M usage with percentage of use
      Yes i will get back to you.

    • Ian

      Okay, here goes: solar $1/watt, storage $100/KWH, output 5KWH/KW/day nameplate capacity solar, store 25% of this 1.25MWH/MW. So, per MW of solar: $1000000 + $125000= $1125000 assume service life of 15years: 15 x 365x5MWH =27375MWH cost per MWH= 1125000/27375 =$41/MWH add 10% if you like for interest repayments.

      Double the storage requirement: $1 250000/27375= $46/MWH +10% =$50/MWH

      • Mark Roest

        Cool! Thank you! So, roughly 5 cents per kWh. It’s a small fraction of the cost Australians pay now, from what I read on Renew Economy.

    • solarguy

      Keep in mind Mark, that 10,000 cycles at one cycle per day gives a life of 27yrs.

  • Cooma Doug

    Gentlemen, gentlemen, think a bit more.
    Ask yourselves this question.
    Why is the the snowy pump storage not used at the moment?
    Why has it been very lightly used over the recent years of rising prices?
    Why is it not a good idea for large wind and solar to use it?

    The answer is in market rules. The market rules are designed for large slow, old technology, base load fossil fuel

    The snowy peaking plant at a low 13% capacity factor and its existing and proposed pump storage system also sits in the same rule bucket and empowers avoiding new tech adoption and a slowing of transition.

    To be true however, this will be a government choice. It is also the ideal, best transition tool at this time. It will support the transition in all technical aspects. It is perhaps the cheapest option at this time and the technology is proven and can be genuinely costed.

    If the market rules enabled and rewarded the true technical/practical/economic value of existing pump storage, coal could not compete. The capacity factor of peaking plant would be expensive to hold low….by this I mean excess capacity is only economic because of market rules. You would not build a 13% capacity factor generation plant as large as Snowy Hydro today, given the technical realities of today.

    • Rod

      Agreed and IMO NSW and Vic would be crazy to sell their hydro assets to the Feds.

    • Joe

      What happens with Snowy Hydro 1.0 and 2.0 when the snow stops falling because of climate change ? I guess the artificial snow makers at Jindabyne etc can be redeployed to Snowy Hydro…problem solved ?

      • John Saint-Smith

        Pumped snow? Brilliant idea! There’s nothing ‘cleaner’ than fresh snow. I can see the Great Turnip hunting out the beanie and hi-vis scarf, ready for the next economy saving announcement!

      • Cooma Doug

        Snow has about 13% water content.
        It takes up a lot of space. As the winter progresses it becomes deeper and the water content increases due to a number of factors.
        Around about October long weekend the water content reaches around 50%. At the 50% water content level snow melts. Other factors matter not, this includes even a cold snap. The snow melts and the yearly snow melt begins. It is a very difficult event to manage and requires huge costly infrustructure to do so.
        If we have the same quantity of mousture fall each year as mostly rain it will be easier to manage and have the same energy result to the scheme.

    • Tom

      Snowy 2.0 is a con – the only reason they want to build it is so that they can generate more energy from coal.

      Coal-fired power stations don’t know how to turn themselves on and off, and so Snowy 2.0 would be a brilliant solution to consume the coal-fired power outside the peaks. Then they can burn more coal day and night.

      Even better – given that Tantangara and Talbingo are over 30km apart, I can’t see Snowy 2.0 having an efficiency factor of more than 65%, ie, for every MWh consumed by pumping, only 650kWh are produced by the turbines. This will increase the market for coal-fired energy even more!

      Everyone’s a winner!

      • Cooma Doug

        Snowy has pump storage now. It operates at about a quarter of the head of the new system proposal.

        This means the new system will use a quarter of the flow of the older gen and pump system at the T3 Ps per mwh.

        Using Tantangarra dam the new pump system will have available up to 225 gl of air space. Do the numbers its huge energy storage and would be amazing. It is like 20 times the daily capability of the existing pump storage system because of the higher head, the independance from other system flows and the large capacity of Tantangarra dam.
        Because of the head and infrastructure cost factors this system is less then half the cost of any equivalent pump storage system I can think of that could be built in Australia.
        Much of the ifrastructure already in place and the location perfect for NSW snd VIC.

        As for the pumping of coal generation. That wont happen for a number of reasons. Pumping coal is the most pollution intense inefficient thing we can do. When you do the numbers because of the carbon cost added to the energy cost then the cabon cist attributed to the hydro generation ising it as a source for pumping, the ecconomics are nuts….as it should be.
        Pumping coal overnight is not done evan now and is a non event because of the market rules. Pumping coal generation would be the worst possible choice for market reasons let alone the science.

        • Tom

          “Pumping coal overnight is not done evan now and is a non event because of the market rules. ”

          If that’s the case, then when does Tumut 3 pump? It hardly pumps at the peak pricing/ use times. And coal-fired power stations hardly turn themselves off so that Tumut 3 has enough surplus power to pump.

          Cooma Doug – you come from Cooma I assume, so you probably know more about the Snowy scheme than I do. But even 225 GL at 1000m head (it’s not quite 1000km) is only 600GWh. It’s a lot of energy, but only about a day’s worth in the NEM. Seriously – where do you think the coalition proposes that the “baseload” and the night-time surplus is going to come from.

          • Cooma Doug

            When the system is 100% renewable, the load profile will be flat all day 24/7. This will be acheived by load shifting and managrment as well as storge.

            I used to wonder why snowy wouldnt own or contract large wind projectd and supplement its value by using pumping to maximise market opportunities.perhaps also using solar systems.
            It didnt happen because snowy is peaking plant. It doesnt run long. It runs often. Such is the nature of the market rules. This will change with new tules. The new system if ideal will recognize the practical and technological value as well as encouraging efficiencies and low infrastructure requirement dystens.

  • Gnällgubben

    It will take at least 5 years to plan and build this coal plant. In that time the cost of storage will have halved and RE of course be even cheaper than it is today. So when time comes to turn the key on this plant it will already be obsolete! Great plan!

    • EdBCN

      5 years?!? more like 15 years and $5billion over budget. The great ‘clean coal’ hope in the US, The Kemper plant, is years and $billions over the original plan and it now looks like they are going to abandon coal and convert it to natural gas. Total failure.

  • onesecond

    When is the next election and are the Australian voters dumb enough to vote for these clowns again?

    • Joe

      Next election will be shortly after Turnbull is knifed by his own party. Looking at Turnbull’s own barometer for holding leadership ie.30 lost Newspolls in a row then The Libs only have to wait 16 more Newspolls to roll Turnbull or just get on with it in the “Killing Season”…the month of December. Then it will be quickly onto an election. Yes, there are plenty of ‘DOLTS’ to vote The Libs back in again. Boosters like Rupert and his Newsletters masquerading as newspapers, the radio shocker crew of Jonesy, Hadley, Smith etc will fly The Liberal flag exhorting us to give The Libs another go.

  • Alastair Leith

    This study found that replacing coal plants in the USA with PV would save 51,999 lives a year. And not only save so many lives, but do so not a a high cost, but at a negative cost of a couple of million dollars per life saved!!

    https://www.academia.edu/33288631/Potential_Lives_Saved_by_Replacing_Coal_with_Solar_Photovoltaic_Electricity_Production_in_the

  • EdBCN

    The subsidies and incentives that have been provided to spur the development of renewables will end up being a relative pittance in comparison to those that the fossil fuel and utility industries will wring from compliant conservative politicians in order to protect their increasingly uneconomic business model.

  • Pixilico

    “State-of-the-art clean coal” is just a hyper oxymoron! There’s no such thing!