The for and against of clean coal - The Adelaide Advertiser

CARBON gases will be buried underground if the Federal Government goes ahead with proposals to fund “clean coal” power stations.

The Government intends to make carbon capture and storage, also known as geosequestration, a key part of any coal power station projects supported by the taxpayer-funded Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday pointed to the construction of an offshore carbon storage facility as part of Gorgon natural gas project in Western Australia as proof that geosequestration could work.

“This is a proven technology,’’ Mr Turnbull said during a visit to Perth.

“That is obviously a way to deliver clean energy.’’

As part of the Gorgon project, Chevron plans to compress inject CO2 into a reservoir unit 2km beneath Barrow Island.

Mr Turnbull said that the Government was yet to make a final decision on whether to support a clean coal power station.

Minerals Council of Australia executive director for coal, Greg Evans, praised the Government for being open to the idea of investing in new coal-fired power stations.

“It is clear Australians want — power that has 24/7 availability and is affordable. Base load coal offers this and it now has a low emissions pathway,’’ Mr Evans said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten dismissed the idea of carbon capture and storage from new coal power plants as “crazy” and “dumb”.

“It is not in the national interest to spend billions of dollars of taxpayer money on a deal which industry’s driven right past and doesn’t want to put their own money into,” Mr Shorten said.

Major power companies are reluctant to invest in new coal-fired power stations because of concerns that future changes to energy and climate change policies could jeopardise the profits needed to justify construction costs.

Andrew Stock, an Adelaide-based member of the Climate Council dismissed the push for “clean coal”, comparing it to “healthy cigarettes”.

FOR — Brendan Pearson, Chief Executive, Mineral Councils of Australia

Brendan Pearson is the Chief Executive of the Minerals Council of Australia.

THE Turnbull Government’s decision to consider new modern coal-fired power generation as part of the future energy mix is simple common sense.

To explain why, let’s start with first principles.

Surely the goals of national and state energy policy are the security of our energy supply, the affordability of our energy supply and the emissions intensity of our energy supply. And probably in that order.

It would be surprising if South Australians didn’t agree with that.

That means we must start by looking at the strengths and weaknesses of all energy options, not ordaining one the winner. Picking winners is a temptation that policymakers expressly promise to avoid but are rarely able to resist.

So why should coal be a serious option? First, it remains the most cost-effective option available. The Australia Power Generation Technology Report published last year concluded that High Efficiency Low Emissions (HELE) coal generation and natural gas provide the lowest cost available options for power supply in Australia.
Coal could fall under federal 'green bank'

Second, it provides baseload energy, which is why it has been, and remains, the mainstay of Australian energy generation, including through interconnectors across state borders. It is the most resilient, reliable energy source available, which is why is provides 41 per cent of global electricity needs.

Third, it is the energy source of choice in the Asia Pacific region. The argument, one apparently advanced by South Australian Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis, that no country is building new coal plants doesn’t match the facts.

In the next five years, China will build 200 gigawatts of coal fired power. That’s three times Australia’s total electricity grid. Japan is building dozens of new-generation coal power stations. Vietnam is building at least a dozen all-new plants that will reduce CO2 emissions by at least 30 per cent. Malaysia commissioned its high efficiency power plant in April, 2015, and a second in March, 2016. Several more are planned. Thailand commissio­ned its first HELE plant in 2012 and Indonesia and the Philippines are following suit.

Well, that is overseas, some argue. No-one in Australia is building a new coal fired power station.

That’s because successive federal Governments have effectively mandated that all new power must be renewable. It is like mandating that all new jelly beans be red then wondering why there aren’t any white ones.

At the same time that we have force-fed renewables into the market, Australian power prices have risen by 50 per cent. The annual cost to energy consumers of various renewables policies is $3 billion. Every year. And, as South Australians know, the stability of the grid — and security of supply — has suffered.

The case for coal-fired generation is all about choice. It is an odd thing for South Australia to rail against coal-fired generation in one breath and demand access to Victorian brown coal-fired power when the sun stops shining and the wind stops blowing.

It all comes back to the imperatives of energy supply — reliability and affordability and lower emissions. New coal generation can provide all three. It is not possible to say the same thing about many other energy sources.

AGAINST — Andrew Stock, Councillor at the Climate Council, energy expert of 40 years’ experience and Adelaide resident

Climate Council member and energy expert Andrew Stock.

CLEAN coal will deliver us clean, cheap, reliable electricity” — it’s a seductive political soundbite but a world away from hard reality. So called “clean” coal power stations promoted by the coal industry are anything but clean, cheap or reliable. Here’s why.

First — there is no such thing as “clean” coal. It’s like trying to claim there are “healthy” cigarettes. The powerful tobacco lobby put cigarettes in different, pretty packaging, used misleading labels like “light” but the product did not change — it’s still dirty, and deadly.

Coal is no different. When dug up and burnt, coal pollutes our air, strains water supplies and damages our health. Burning coal for electricity emits toxic and carcinogenic substances into our air, water and land, impacting the health of those who work there and those living next door. That cost is passed onto us, with the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering estimating a taxpayers’ bill of $2.6 billion every year from coal’s health impacts. There are less polluting coal plants but they still emit massive amounts of greenhouse gas and, if built, would mean Australia won’t meet its Paris Agreement commitments. One 1000 megawatt “ultra-supercritical” coal power station still produces more than 300 million tonnes of global warming carbon dioxide over its 50-year operating life.

The world wants to limit global warming to under 2C and in order to do so we need to cut electricity emissions to zero by 2050.

A truck hauls 172 metric tons of coal. Picture: TROY SNOOK

Nor will new coal ensure our electricity supply is secure. Coal power is not flexible, reliable or suited to the fast changing power needs of the modern 21st century. Coal plants are notoriously inflexible and must operate 24/7 at high output. That means they run and you pay around the clock, no matter what the demand. There are better ways to balance increasing levels of wind and solar in our electricity grid including greater interconnection, pumped hydro storage, diverse renewable technologies (like hydro and solar thermal) and more battery storage.

Building new coal plants is a more expensive option for replacing our ageing, inefficient coal fleet. New wind and solar plants, both here and overseas, beat new coal, gas or nuclear plants on price — hands down. Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates the cost of power from new coal is $160 a megawatt hour — or double what wind and solar cost. Look ahead, and renewables will only get cheaper.

This is why global investment is being poured into the renewables sector.

Digging up and burning more fossil fuels also accelerates climate change, and that’s bad news for all us.

It means more extreme weather events such as catastrophic bushfires, severe storms and deadly heatwaves.

In South Australia, we experience this first hand.

The choices we make now will determine our power prices, levels of pollution and health outcomes for the next 30 to 40 years. If we choose coal, we are locking in a dirty and outdated technology that’s riskier, inflexible and more expensive. Try convincing taxpayers that’s a wise way to spend their money!

The pros and cons of clean coal


■ Clean coal technology reduces the emissions of pollutants, cuts waste and increases the amount of energy gained per tonne of coal.

■ Examples of the technology include the burning of coal in oxygen to produce a cleaner fuel known as “syngas” which can be used for electricity generation or as transport fuel.

■ Carbon capture and storage involves capturing CO2 from coal and using pipelines, trucks or ships to transport it to underground reservoirs for long-term storage.


■ High efficiency, low emissions coal-fired generators emit 20-25 per cent less CO2 than most existing power stations.

■ A 90 per cent reduction in emissions can be achieved with carbon capture and storage.

■ Between 1990 and 2010, about 830 million people — mostly in developing countries — gained access to electricity due to coal.

■ Unlike intermittent power sources such as solar and wind, low-emissions coal power stations can run 24-hours per day, seven days per week.


■ There is no such thing as “clean coal”. Burning coal for electricity emits toxic and carcinogenic substances into our air, water and land

■ New coal plants are more expensive than wind and solar power stations.

■ Depending on the technology used, natural gas power stations can produce less than half the carbon emissions of a coal-fired power station.

■ Regardless of the technology they use, new coal-fired power stations are economically unviable and would require heavy government subsidies or revenue guarantees.