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.
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.