No Minister, Australia doesn’t need last century’s expensive, outdated energy

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Resources Minister’s suggestion Australia could meet its climate targets by replacing ageing power stations with emerging ‘low emission’ coal-fired technology is an unrealistic fantasy.

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Australia wants to keep its coal rolling
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Resources Minister Matt Canavan’s suggestion that Australia could meet its climate targets by replacing ageing power stations with emerging ‘low emission’ coal-fired technology is an unrealistic fantasy that would cost billions and set back genuine efforts to tackle global warming, the Australian Conservation Foundation said today.

Australia wants to keep its coal rolling
Australia wants to keep its coal rolling

The Australian reports today that research commissioned by Senator Canavan ­estimates Australia’s climate pollution could be cut by ‘up to 27 per cent’ if the country’s coal-based power stations ran on ‘ultra-super-critical’ coal technology.

There is not a single so-called ultra-super-critical coal fired power station in Australia. The vast majority of Australia’s coal fired power stations use old sub-critical technology and most are well past their use-by dates, being more than 30 years old, on average.

Senator Canavan is proposing that Australia builds a whole new fleet of coal-fired power stations at unknown cost (likely to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars) at a time when the rest of the world is moving away from coal fired power.

It is hard to imagine a company that would be prepared to build these huge white elephants, just waiting to become stranded assets.

French company Engie has pulled out of Hazelwood and two of Australia’s biggest electricity generators, AGL and Origin, have set timetables for the exit of their coal fired power stations and have been clear they won’t be making any more investments in coal.

Even if finance for these fantasy plants was found, the costs would never be recouped over the lifetime of the assets, considering Australia’s Paris climate commitments. 

In contrast, investments in new renewable energy, which has zero fuel cost, will still be useful and productive in decades to come.

Research released by ACF in December shows strong clean energy policies would generate an additional 90,700 jobs across Queensland by 2030.

If Senator Canavan cares about jobs and a healthy future he would stop spruiking last century’s dirty energy and start securingthe tens of thousands of new jobs that flow from strong clean energy policies.

Matthew Rose is an economist with the Australian Conservation Foundation.

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22 Comments
  1. Rob G 2 years ago

    When a Minister who openly denies climate change tells you how to reduce emissions you know it’s just lip-service. He is completely aware of the decline of coal and his interests are in saving it. His problem is that facts stand in his way.

    • Ren Stimpy 2 years ago

      He’s ultra-super-hypocritical.

  2. David leitch 2 years ago

    At best this would only contribute to a reduction in stationary energy emissions. That’s only 40% of the total in any event. An ultra sub critical plant has an CO2 emissions factor of maybe 0.75 compared to around 1 for the sub critical black coal plants in Australia.

    Considering that the science is calling for something like an 80% reduction in emissions globally by say 2035 to stay under a 2C increased its hard to see how USC does the job. It would take a minimum of four years to build one of those plants.

  3. howardpatr 2 years ago

    Canavan – another of the onward roman catholics, like Abbott and Joyce, who like cardinal george pell, stick to their faith in fairies rather than follow the science and technology.

    As already said, Canavan does not let facts stand in his way – like when he castigated the ABC for revealing some truths about the Adani outfit.

    To think that Cayman Turnbull has people like Canavan, Joyce, Frydenberg and Abbott directing his public thoughts on anthropogenic climate change and the renewable energy future.

  4. Dennis Kavanagh 2 years ago

    The climate change deniers in the Liberal and National parties and the Murdoch press are at it again. They are deliberately casting doubt and uncertainty into the energy industry to delay or at least slow down investment into clean energy. Unfortunately they were very successful at this over the last 10 years with constant criticism of the RET and endless reviews. These actions lead to higher investment costs and ultimately higher costs to consumers. But they are happy. Their fossil fuel supporters continue to make windfall profits!

  5. Ken Dyer 2 years ago

    Canavan has lifted a page straight out of the Trumpian playbook. If you say it long enough, and loud enough it might come to be. This particular ploy is known as “truthful hyperbole”. In Australia, it is more commonly known as bullshit.

  6. Chris Fraser 2 years ago

    Never commission research until you tell the researcher the result you want.

  7. John Saint-Smith 2 years ago

    True to LNP form, Minister Canavan offers an absurdly expensive solution which in his own fevered imagination will go some way to meeting the LNP’s absurdly conservative goal of a 26-28% emissions reduction by 2030.

    And what do you propose for your next trick, when we move to 50% emissions reduction by 2050?
    Opps! Matt, you’ve forgotten that Ultra Stupid Coal fired power stations will only reduce stationary electricity emissions, which are less than half of our total emissions.

    These people are so hysterically stupid, it is impossible to parody their pathetic fantasies.

    • George Darroch 2 years ago

      Then we’ll build ultra-super-mega critical coal power plants, obviously.

      What a silly man. Solar and wind have never been cheaper, and they’re zero emissions in operation now.

  8. Miles Harding 2 years ago

    I apologise if this is a bit circuitous…

    For some time, I have been curious as to why we should have elected governments that are so transparently acting against the interests of both the environment that sustains the people and the people themselves..

    There have been a couple of things in particular that help to explain what is going on:

    First was the concept of total conflicts, where a cold war is conducted using every tool available from the outset. We are seeing this in russian interference in the US elections and fake news.

    Another was a youtube documentary titled “Capitalism is the Crisis” which provided a universal explanation to the issues we are seeing. It framed these in a class war context: the rich and corporations versus everything else.

    Both the rich, most of them, and those corporations are slaves to the dollar and acquisition. It defines them, so it’s not surprising that they will use all available mechanisms to achieve their goals (more profit!) with the result being purchase of politicians and mischevious misinformation campaigns designed to fragment and confuse opposition to the obvious harms being perpetrated.

    Consider the current entitlements furore that has engulfed Canberra. There is a great distraction questioning whether the rorts were within guidelines or have a moral foundation, while the obvious question of what sort of obligation a box seat at the races carries or how this will be manifested in public policy remains unaswered.

    In Matt Canavan, we have our answer.
    Every credible modelling study demonstrates that new coal is significantly more expensive than the hybrid renewable biased alternative that can reduce emissions by 85%* before the last 15% issues make the the costs equal to existing coal. I suspect that if this same model was run against new “high efficiency” coal, 100% renewable electricity would be achieved before the costs were equal.

    * West Australian modelling by SEN

    . ,

  9. Bazz12 2 years ago

    OK, so we do not use coal, so what do we use ?
    Solar & wind ? No, we know that they cannot do the job. They cannot even build themselves without fossil fuels.
    Coal for the world is ending as world peak coal appears to have occurred in 2014. The worlds coal ERoEI is too low. Australia is lucky, if we stop exporting our coal we can use it for the long time it will take to build a fleet of nuclear power stations. The only catch 22 that we might have here is can we afford to build the nuclear stations.
    So, if not coal then what ?

    • Calamity_Jean 2 years ago

      This is so stupid it hurts.

      “Solar & wind ? No, we know that they cannot do the job. They cannot even build themselves without fossil fuels.”

      Nothing ever builds itself, everything has to be created using what exists already. Solar and wind power, built using fossil fuels, eventually accumulate enough generation capacity to replace their “parents”. Nuclear takes too long and costs too much.

      • Bazz12 2 years ago

        No Calamity Jean, it is not as stupid as it looks.
        If you look a bit more deeply into the problem you will see that eventually they will have to be replaced. When we have no coal it is more energy intense to make steel and build new wind farms and solar systems.
        It is a bootstrapping problem that must be solved.
        It is a net energy problem and we do not have a solution yet.

        • Calamity_Jean 2 years ago

          “If you look a bit more deeply into the problem you will see that eventually they will have to be replaced.”

          “Eventually” is a long time in the future. There’s existing solar panels that are over 35 (thirty-five) years old and still going strong. file:///C:/Users/Admin/AppData/Local/Microsoft/Windows/INetCache/IE/QVL7RJEG/page0009.pdf (PDF) Newer panels are made with better materials and improved quality control so it’s reasonable to think that panels manufactured in the last few years could last for fifty years or more.

          Wind turbines also last a long time. There’s evidence that wind turbines will last at least as long as natural gas turbines used to generate power, about 25 (twenty-five) years, and maybe more. There’s even one that’s over age 40 and still working, in Denmark. http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_20-2-2014-9-18-49

          • Bazz12 2 years ago

            Hello Jean,
            Well as far as solar cells are concerned one hail storm with hail the
            size of cricket balls or even somewhat heavier could wipe out the lot.
            There would have to be a continuous program of replacing wind turbines. If you do not, it would reach a stage where large numbers
            would reach their replacement/rebuild time all at the same time.

            Many fail to understand the size of the maintenance and replacement program when a system of a few very large systems are replaced by multiple small systems.
            All the work of industry needs the full range of products all made from steel, copper, plastics etc. If we can’t do that, then take up subsidence farming. Cheers

          • Calamity_Jean 2 years ago

            “Well as far as solar cells are concerned one hail storm with hail the size of cricket balls or even somewhat heavier could wipe out the lot.”

            Hail that big is reasonably rare, but you’re right, a solar panel struck by over 100 grams of ice would probably break. Smaller, more common hail wouldn’t do any damage.

            “Most solar panels are fitted with tempered glass and considered to be reasonably hail resistant. This type of glass is designed to withstand a direct vertical impact of hail up to 1 inch in diameter, travelling at 50 miles per hour.”

            Source: http://brightstarsolar.net/2010/08/strength-and-durability-of-solar-panels/ (2.5 cm at 80.5 km/hr)

            “There would have to be a continuous program of replacing wind turbines. If you do not, it would reach a stage where large numbers would reach their replacement/rebuild time all at the same time.”

            I’m sorry, that doesn’t make any sense. The world’s wind turbines were installed in different years and will reach the end of their functional lives in different years. Of course they get regular maintenance.

          • Bazz12 2 years ago

            Up to a point, but what we are talking about is a decision by government on a new regime power system.
            It will be a case of installing them as fast as possible. Except in Australia coal is a dying resource so if the politicals can stand a staged installation then we would be able to stretch the installation over a couple of decades. If because of AGW coal has to chopped out asap then it would have to be done in say five years.

          • Calamity_Jean 2 years ago

            I just went back and read all of your comments for the last four days, starting with this one: https://disqus.com/home/discussion/reneweconomy/no_minister_australia_doesnt_need_last_centurys_expensive_outdated_energy/#comment-3105304956 I’m completely not clear as to what point(s) you are trying to make. Can you clarify?

          • Bazz12 2 years ago

            Jean, I think you are referring to a part that was poorly worded.
            If the government for financial reasons wants to change to a new energy regime over a long period of time they will have to continue using coal.
            If they for political reasons have to stop using coal, then a complete system will have to be built in a hurry, then replacements will all occur close in time.
            But there will then be no coal available.

            Can I recommend a book to you;
            Too Much Magic by James Kunstler

            He touches on the problem of applying the old technology to the new era.

          • Calamity_Jean 2 years ago

            Even if the current electrical system is replaced on an emergency basis with wind and solar, it will still take several years. Wind turbine replacement won’t need to occur all at once; they aren’t like “The Wonderful One-Hoss Shay” (it’s a funny poem, look it up) that have all the parts fall into dust in a ten-second disaster. Plus people are capable of looking ahead and starting to work on replacement turbines in advance. Coal for burning won’t be required.

  10. FIFO69 2 years ago

    Pretty simplistic article from Australian Conservation Foundation with no real facts or justification for the ideological statements mentioned..

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