Hats off to ABC Radio National’s Breakfast announcer, Fran Kelly. On Wednesday, when picked up by a listener following an interview, Kelly said she was wrong to use the term “clean coal”, because it didn’t exist.
She was right. But then Kelly got into murky territory.
Better, she said, to use the term “low emissions” to describe the coal plant technology now known as HELE (high efficiency, low emissions). But why? It may not be as extreme as “clean”, but “low emissions” in this case is just another marketing term from the coal and fossil fuel lobby.
After all, these plants claim – at best – to emit between 0.7 tonnes and 0.8 tonnes of greenhouse gases for every megawatt hour of electricity produced. That sounds like high emissions technology to me.
It is only “low” in comparison to the incredibly dirty coal plants that preceded them, and their emissions are substantially higher than any other technology – including gas, but particularly solar, wind, hydro and nuclear.
Energy analyst Simon Holmes à Court explained more in his detailed analysis published here in May, with a focus on the four plants in Queensland touted by the Minerals Council in their marketing campaign. Those plants average more than 0.9 tonnes of Co2 equivalent for every MWh produced.
And they are not that efficient either. More efficient than their predecessors, but still struggling to get much more efficiency than 40 per cent. Which means that 60 per cent of the energy they produce is wasted.
A more accurate description of the technology would be high emissions, low efficiency.
Certainly, when the likes of Radio National’s Kelly and others in the media causally use the generic term “low emissions” then they are simply falling for the coal lobby’s PR trap.
And a Google search shows the term “low emissions coal” has been used hundreds of times in recent months in Australia’s mainstream media, which is a lot for something that doesn’t exist.
While on the subject of marketing terms, what is this stuff about “technology neutral” or “technology agnostic”?
Tony Abbott thinks it means that if you promise to build a pumped hydro plant, then you should be building a coal fired generator as well.
That makes as much sense as the false premise of “fair and balanced,” which to the ABC has meant giving as much time to a minority of climate science deniers as the 97 per cent of climate scientists who say that humans are largely responsible for climate change.
Malcolm Turnbull also claims to be “technology neutral” but then goes on to say that anything approaching 50 per cent renewable energy is “reckless” – despite the CSIRO and the networks lobby rubbishing that claim, and Transgrid saying 100 per cent renewables is both feasible and affordable.