“Clean” King Coal – the emperor with no clothes

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Any suggestion “clean coal” can deliver cheap reliable power should stand for what it is – a naked claim befitting an emperor with no clothes.

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Any claim that new “clean coal” power stations should be built and heavily subsidised by the taxpayer in a bid to deliver cheap reliable power should stand for what it is – a naked claim befitting an old emperor with no clothes.

The facts.

Coal power is always polluting. Coal is dirty and harmful to the health of workers and communities when it is mined and transported. It pollutes when burnt to make electricity. Not just with greenhouse gases that cause climate change, but also more than 30 toxic substances harmful to health including heavy metals like mercury, fine particles, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

Australian emission standards for coal power stations are significantly less stringent than those applying in the European Union, United States and China.

HELE, supposedly High Efficiency Low Emissions, coal plants are neither efficient nor clean. Compared to gas they are 30% less efficient and produce twice the greenhouse gases per unit of electricity. Coal makes infinitely more emissions per unit of electricity than renewables like wind and solar which produce zero greenhouse gas pollution when they operate.

A new so-called “clean coal” power station will still produce hundreds of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gas pollution over its technical lifetime of 40 to 50 years. ‘High Emissions Low Efficiency’ would be a more accurate description.

Capturing greenhouse gas pollution from coal stations (called carbon capture and storage or CCS) is expensive and risky. No one has captured and stored all of the emissions from a coal power plant at commercial scale, ever.

Globally, only three coal power generators have been built or retrofitted to capture part of carbon dioxide stream at full scale. One failed to work after billions of dollars were spent building it. The two that do operate have been deemed unreliable, extremely expensive and have perversely resulted in increased emissions (as in these cases, emissions pumped underground are used to extract more oil).

The Australian government has already thrown half a billion dollars of taxpayer funds at “clean coal” technology with no tangible lasting benefit. Any new coal power station would carry extreme financial risks from the carbon exposures it creates. No serious Australian industry player will risk investing in such a venture.

Why should Australian taxpayers be forced to underwrite this expensive risky and polluting technology?

Renewables such as wind, solar and storage are the technologies of choice globally. They are clean, modern and low cost.

Investors are voting with their wallets, which is why these technologies now dominate new build power capacity and investment. Renewables are cheaper than new fossil fuelled coal and gas power here, they are infinitely cleaner, and coupled with storage, they provide 24/7 power on demand, that is truly clean, reliable and affordable.

Australians are now witnessing the impacts of accelerating climate change – reefs bleaching, more intense storms, bushfires, droughts, severe heatwaves and higher temperatures. In the face of this damage, building any new coal power fails the simple common sense test.  Taking up to ten years to permit and build, and then polluting continuously for up to 50 years, new coal would be an anachronism. In fact, it already is.

Australian taxpayers should not become the fall guys for this political folly. It’s time to call out “king coal” for what it truly is – the old emperor with no clothes.

Professor Andrew Stock is a Climate Councillor and energy expert.

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18 Comments
  1. Ray Miller 1 year ago

    Added to this is the water requirement of the plants as most (except Kogan Ck in QLD which is air cooled as it was designed in a drought and located away from any reliable water resource).

    • Shilo 1 year ago

      There is also Millmerran, that was built well before the drought, its also air cooled.
      Which actually make them on average around 3 to 5% less efficient, but great for reduced water use. Millmerran uses waste water, Kogan uses ground water, from bores which is not as ideal.
      Just by the by, so to speak.

  2. Shilo 1 year ago

    Not even to keep the transition smooth and to make sure of the new way of doing things?. Remembering its actually worked, the new ones are in fact better than the current ones, the amount I am sure anyone is considering is much less than currently in operation, so overall the amount of Co2 and nastys just keeps dropping. Then turn the new ones off early or do not even start them. What is 2, 4 or 10 billion, it the scheme of things when the NBN gets built thats out of date before it was started, evry state builds Desalination plants that virtually all never run.
    Overall security of supply has to be the way to go, meaning having the option, a extra option. Like a extra life jacket or two, even if they are the old type that dont work as well as the new ones.
    YES I KNOW YOU ARE ALL GOING TO PILE IT ON TOP OF ME, So go ahead!!!!!!!!!!!!!.
    Sorry if I am simply being stupid in advance.

    • Joe 1 year ago

      I always thought that humans were the most intelligent species on Earth. But there is only one species on Earth that wilfully soils its own nest and hence threatens its very own existence – a most unintelligent behaviour and yes that would be us HUMANS. When you know something, ie Coal power, is actually expensive, is actually damaging to human health, is actually damaging to future life on the planet as we know it and you had a ready to go alternative energy source/s to Coal power why on Earth would you still persist in using the Coal. There is no need for it. Disguised as ‘Clean Coal’ or ‘HELE Coal’ its still killing us and planet Earth.

      • mick 1 year ago

        and pidgeons (crapping in their nests)not the rest

      • Barri Mundee 1 year ago

        Its not so much stupidity Joe – shortsightedness is more like it.
        I think its the wallet that rules above everything for some. These walleteers are quite prepared to fcuck the planet and even their own environment if it will further enrich them.

        • Joe 1 year ago

          I think there is quite some truth in what you say. The $’s makes people blind but when the climate change shite really hits the fan…its too late.

    • Nick Kemp 1 year ago

      Given how quickly RE can be built the transition would likely be over before the first clean coal plant fired up. Given the price difference of the generation they probably wouldn’t bother lighting the fire anyway

      • Shilo 1 year ago

        Yes I agree.

    • John McKeon 1 year ago

      Yes, let’s build a spare coal fired power station just in case. Why not two or more? ……

      Ahem. We’ve only got one earth with one atmosphere and no spares … and no chance of terra forming Mars just in case.

      Me thinks the Emperor’s shills are naked too.

  3. MaxG 1 year ago

    The problem is: the majority of Australians will never read this article; let alone act on it by no longer voting for the LNP, which brought us privatisation, the increase in pension age… soon a privatised health system.

    • Joe 1 year ago

      Hi Max, even if the punters did read this story they would be told by Matteo Coalavan, the Abbott, the Kelly, the Abetz and of course dear Rupert that Coal is the cheapest electricity that their money can buy. And sadly most Aussies will happily swallow that line and stick with ‘Old King Coal’.

      • MaxG 1 year ago

        So… it is 1. Aussies do not want to change; 2. do not want to inform themselves; 3. get fed bollocks by the leaders they elected.
        Implying, the change we seem to hope for is never going to happen.

  4. Glynn Palmer 1 year ago

    Andrew, I note that you have avoided being specific regarding the emissions of a new build HELE USCPC generator. So I will venture in to fill in this gap. I source my data from table 31 of Australian Power Generation Technology Report published by CO2CRC in November 2015. An ultra-supercritical black pulverised coal generator will emit 773kg/MWh of CO2. With CCS it will emit 106kg/MWh CO2. Without CCS it also emits 3,013g/MWh SOx; 2,223g/MWh NOx; and consumes 33 litres/MWh of water. With CCS it emits 1g/MWh SOx; 3,109g/MWh NOx; and consumes 310 litres/MWh water. Because the CCS operation consumes a significant amount of the power generated it captures 950kg/MWh CO2 sent out. I calculate that with CCS it needs to generate 1.36MWh to send out 1MWh of electricity.

    The CSIRO “Electricity Generation Technology Cost Projections” published in December 2017 forecast in figure 4-1 the LCOE in 2030 of black coal with CCS will be $130-$155/MWh; Large Scale Solar PV $40-$60/MWh; Wind $50-$60/MWh; Solar Thermal $65-$95/MWh. In figure 4-2 They forecast 40% renewables in 2030 and an added cost of $10/MWh for balancing and firming to bring the cost of reliable, secure and dispatchable renewables to $75/MWh.

  5. howardpatr 1 year ago

    Matteo Coalavan, the Abbott, the Kelly, the Abetz and of course dear Rupert that Coal and his Sky and Fox outlets will deny climate change and oppose the renewable energy future for ever but at least some in Australia might be interested in the above video._

    • John McKeon 1 year ago

      Thank you for the reference, Howard. I’m going to be a spoiler and comment that the title of this video is high quality click bait with a high quality sting in the tail for anyone who relies on headlines to feed their confirmation bias.

  6. B&J Lakey 1 year ago

    Coal is a very well established industry with every part costed and understood – from mining, transport, operating and financing every component is known. If it is such a sure thing then the government should stand aside and let the market operate. However, the simple fact that the market will not fund and support new coal is a clear statement that something else is more efficient and cost effective.

  7. Alan S 1 year ago

    This is from the technical geniuses that gave us the NBN – what could go wrong?

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