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No Case For Coal

By Alan Hewett

Since the release of the Finkel report the debate about coal fired power stations has intensified. Putting it plainly, the use of coal in generating electricity is high polluting, uneconomical and harmful to our health.

The burning of coal is the single biggest contributor to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. The average black coal plant in NSW emits 900 kgs of green house gasses for each megawatt hour of electricity it produces. The latest plant using supercritical technology emits 840 kgs. Even an advanced ultra-supercritical plant would emit around 700 kgs. A gas fired plant averages 400 kgs, while renewables emit zero emissions.

But wait what about clean coal? Surely this is the biggest confidence trick ever played on the Australian public. There is no such thing as clean coal, only cleaner coal. A modern, state of the art coal-fired power station where coal is burnt at high temperatures is still 700 times more polluting than renewables. What about carbon- capture and storage? This is still largely untested, and the full consequences of transporting and storing gas underground could result in soil acidification and erosion.

The cost of building any new coal plants would be prohibitive. No electricity generator has built a coal-fired station anywhere in Eastern Australia for a decade. AGL, Energy Australia and Origin have no intention of investing in coal. No financial institution will back such a project. Any new plant would lock in high emissions far into the future where rising carbon prices would make plants unviable. Power plants are long time investments and no one wants to build something that that will be uneconomic in fifteen years time.

The proposal to use tax-payers money to fund a coal-fired plant would be in the billions and take years to build. What would happen to electricity bills in the meantime? The costs of solar and wind, with storage capability are reducing rapidly, surely a better alternative.

There are significant health risks from coal plants. There has been a rise in coal-related pollutants; these include sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and invisible particulate matter known as PM10 and PM2.5. These can cause a range of conditions, including asthma, lung disease and heart attacks.

The world is turning away from coal and embracing renewables, isn’t it time Australia did the same?