The so-called “clean coal” power generator being promoted by the Coalition has been revealed to be a 2009 proposal from businessman Clive Palmer that would be used to help provide electricity to Galilee coal mines planned by Palmer himself, Gina Rinehart, and Indian group Adani.
Waratah Coal, the company owned by Palmer’s Mineralogy, confirmed to the ABC on Tuesday that it had made an application to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation last Friday to finance a proposed 900MW coal generator that proposes to use an unproven technology, carbon capture and storage.
The revived plan was originated in 2009, and the details can be found here. It proposed to bury the emissions from the coal plant under the very same coal province that the three mining groups propose to mine – except that it will be “sequestered” in an “un-mineable” area of coal seams some 1km underground.
The $1.25 billion figure comes from its 2009 estimates, but it is expected that this is well out of the ball-park now. It also does not, the application makes clear, include the cost of carbon capture and sequestration.
No plant in the world has come close to making this a commercially viable proposition and the owners of the most advanced project, Kemper in Georgia, now admit it would be impossible make money from coal generation and CCS.
But that hasn’t stopped the Coalition continuing to push “clean coal” over renewables, despite overwhelming consensus that it would cost at least twice as much – and possibly four times as much with CCS – than wind and solar alternatives.
Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull – who as recently as 2010 supported 100 per cent renewable energy scenarios – has now pitched the Coalition’s energy policy firmly behind the construction of new “ultra supercritical” coal plants.
Resources minister Matt Canavan has been particularly vocal in support of a new coal-fired power station in north Queensland. This proposal, from Palmer, is the only proposal in the pipeline. Most other energy investors in the area are instead looking to solar and wind farms.
This comes as new data shows that Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, jumping another 2.2 per cent in the last financial year and taking the growth since the repeal of the carbon price to more than 7 per cent.
Much of this growth has come from the electricity sector, due to increased coal-fired generation, and from the new LNG export facilities in Queensland, where more coal and gas is being burned to power the liquefaction of coal seam gas, so it can be shipped overseas.
New studies have again questioned whether coal seam gas is any “cleaner” than coal power, given evidence that “rogue methane emissions” which are not measured by the gas companies, are actually making CSG a dirtier power source than coal.
And meanwhile, the Coalition’s ties with the coal lobby have deepened. Sid Marris, a former analyst with the Minerals Council of Australia, and a 16-year veteran of News Ltd, has joined Turnbull’s staff as an advisor.
This week, the chairman of the Minerals Council of Australia, the most vocal coal lobby group, Vanessa Guthrie, was appointed to the ABC board despite not making the shortlist prepared by an independent panel.
The Minerals Council, it has been widely reported, supplied the lump of coal brought into Question Time last month by treasurer Scott Morrison, in the middle of a record-breaking heat wave. The coal was lacquered so Coalition ministers and MPs would not get their hands dirty.
The proposed coal-fired power station in the Galilee Basin reveals the farcical depths of Australia’s energy policy debate. Even the Energy Supply Council, which represents the country’s fossil fuel generators, admits that new coal power is now “un-investable”.
The Coalition wants such coal plants to be funded by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, but this has been dismissed on several occasions by CEO Oliver Yates, who points out that co-financiers would be impossible to find, and any such investment would require billions of dollars in government guarantees and indemnities against a future carbon price.
The Minerals Council, though, is pushing the Galilee coal basin hard. It has previously fought against a carbon price and has launched numerous campaigns to promote coal as a commodity.
The 2009 proposal suggests that the coal generator could be built in two stages, one a 450MW unit and then another to follow. It then proposes to inject the Co2 into deep underground coal seams.
“The favourable findings from overseas studies, together with presence of deep un-mineable coal seems (i.e. approximately 1,000 m at a distance of 20 kms from the proposed power station) within the Galilee Basin highlights the definite potential of the Galilee Basin to develop into a large-scale geosequestration opportunity to support a coal-fired power station,” the project documents say.
It also indicates that the proposal relies heavily on the anticipated “500-600 MW” growth in electricity demand over coming years “as production from surrounding mines increases to meet future ore exports.”
These clearly relate to the proposed Adani and Rinehart mines. But there are now questions over the future markets for such coal, given the downturn in China demand and the change in the India coal supply situation.
Adding to this, at least three large-scale solar plants, and one solar-wind hybrid, are planned for the north Queensland region, including one 116MW plant to be built by zinc refiner Sun Metals in response for the high cost of coal and gas-fired power through the Queensland grid.
Waratah Coal manager Nui Harris told the ABC on Tuesday that the new expression of interest was prompted by recent statements by Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg. “He said we should consider carbon capture and storage as part of the clean energy mix.”