Greg Hunt says the carbon price didn’t work. But two new studies show that coal generation and electricity emissions have jumped sharply sinc the carbon price was dumped by the government 100 days ago.
Two new studies released on Tuesday show that electricity emissions in Australia have taken a dramatic turn for the worse, just as the international climate change body and the United Nations called for a rapid decarbonisation of the world’s energy systems.
The two new studies show that brown coal and black coal generation has jumped sharply in the four months since the carbon price was dumped by the Abbott government. The share of coal has gone up from 69.6% of sent out electricity in June to 76.4% in October.
And emissions have also jumped sharply, with one study from the Melbourne Energy Institute saying “emissions intensity’ has already jumped an “unprecedented” 10 per cent, and another saying that Australia’s aggregate emissions could rise more than 10 per cent over the year, after falling nearly that much while the carbon price was in place.
This comes as Australia’s conservative politicians commit themselves even deeper to coal. The mining lobby has insisted that coal is “here to stay” and the Australian government – which apart from dumping the carbon price also wants to slash the deployment of renewables – has fallen in behind.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt has responded to the IPCC report by saying that Australia’s best hope of reducing emissions is by cleaning up coal, but the technology he cites will not be ready before 2020, according to the CSIRO, and many doubt it will ever be effective or price competitive.
Critics say it will only bring the emissions of brown coal down to the level of black coal, and the IPCC report makes clear that fossil fuel generation of all types needs to be cut rapidly.
Victoria Premier Dennis Napthine, meanwhile, says the state must continue to rely on brown coal generators such as Hazelwood (pictured) and has ruled out any shutdown of the state’s highly-polluting brown coal power generators.
This is despite Tasmania offering to replace one of those generators with “baseload” renewables – a mix of hydro and wind – and South Australia aiming for 50 per cent renewables by 2025. It is already at 40 per cent wind and solar.
In Germany, one of the country’s largest brown coal generation company, the Swedish-based Vattenfall, has announced plans to exit brown coal and focus instead on renewable energy sources.
Hunt – while promoting the greater use of brown coal and the deployment of technologies that have not yet been developed – has been insisting that the carbon tax did not work. But the evidence proves the opposite is true.
Hugh Saddler, from Pitt&Sherry, in his latest monthly analysis, reports that the “emissions intensity” – the amount of greenhouse gases per megawatt hour of electricity – has already jumped 10 per cent in the short time between June and October, and total emissions have risen despite an overall fall in demand and production (see graph above).
One of the reasons is reduced hydro generation, which with the removal of the carbon price has less incentive to be produced. In its place has come an increase in brown coal generation as well as black coal generation, which is rebounding after dramatic falls in previous years (see graph below).
The impact was compounded by lower gas-fired generation and wind generations (due to lower wind speeds. See our story, Is Australia about to reach peak wind?).
Saddler says that these trends, sustained over a year, would represent an increase of more than 1 per cent Australia’s national emissions, which he says is “not negligible when set against an official target of 5% reduction.” Or an even higher target of 19 per cent as called for by the Climate Change Authority, and the IPCC.
Meanwhile, Mike Sandiford, from the Melbourne Energy Institute at the University of Melbourne, says the “the odds are firming that we will smash previous records with an unprecedented rise in our electricity sector emissions by around 9 per cent this financial year.”
Sandiford says that in the first hundred days since the repeal of the carbon price, emissions in the National Electricity Market were up 4 million tonnes on the equivalent period last financial year.
“To put it in historical context, this recent increase in emissions is currently tracking at about 250% higher than the previous largest recorded increase,” he writes.
Meanwhile, Greens leader Christine Milne says the decision by Abbott to abolish the carbon price clearly meant that the coal industry would benefit.
“Tony Abbott always intended to back coal against renewable energy. He is a climate denier,” she said in a statement. By putting a price on carbon, we had seen the emissions from electricity generation come down. They were down by at least four per cent. it was a really good news story.”
She also said i was “a nonsense” for Hunt to suggest that with Direct Action he’s suddenly going to have the technology to clean up coal. “Why would the coal industry bother with new technology when they don’t have a cap on emissions, when they don’t have to pay for their pollution, and when the taxpayer is handing out the dollars to prop them up.
“The only way technology will save the day for the planet is by helping us shift to renewable energy. That’s why we should be keeping the Renewable Energy Target at 41,000gwh by 2020 and increasing it to 100 per cent as soon as possible.”