News | 1st Nov, 2003

Coal should be dead and buried

November, 2003

The coal industry is indeed a “desperate” mob aware that – as Kenneth Davidson says (October 23) it has “no long term future”.

However in their last ditch effort to keep coal afloat it looks as if the industry wants to drag the Bracks Government down with them.

This week it was revealed the Energy Minister Theo Theophanous is considering a five-year expansion to the life of one of Australia’s worst greenhouse polluters, Hazelwood power station in the Latrobe Valley.

Victoria is already one of the world’s worst per capita greenhouse polluters. If the Government agrees to the expansion they will be seen as environmental vandals.

Hazelwood currently emits almost 15 per cent of Victoria’s annual greenhouse gases – it’s the worst polluter (per unit of electricity produced) of Australia’s power stations.

The expansion would create an extra 85 million tonnes (Mt) of greenhouse pollution – akin to putting 20 million cars on the road for one year.

The Minister says he wants Hazelwood to adopt cleaner practices, but even if it does it would mean an increase of 55Mt, the equivalent of 12 million cars.

In real terms, an expansion would obliterate any environmental savings made from the $100 million Victorian Greenhouse Strategy, which aimed to reduce greenhouse pollution by up to 8 million tonnes by 2012.

The five-star energy efficiency plan, starting in April next year, would save a comparatively small 30Mt over 40 years, which would be obliterated almost three-times over.

If the Bracks Government approves Hazelwood’s expansion it would make a mockery of all the precious gains the state has made and would wipe out any future successes.

An expansion would send the message the Government is prepared to sabotage the environment, and undermine any foresight and leadership it has shown in greenhouse policies, for the sake of political expediency and pandering to the powerful coal lobby.

The Government therefore must realize that by supporting coal’s expansion plans it is flogging an old horse.

If the Bracks Government is serious about reducing Victoria’s greenhouse gas emissions it will begin moving the state away from coal to gas in the short term, and then more renewable energy, such as wind and solar.

As Kenneth Davidson points out, the world’s best scientists agree that “approaches combining energy efficiency, distributed cogeneration, renewable energy and low-emission fossil-fuelled generation (gas fired) hold the greatest potential for large-scale emission reductions”.

While renewables – and particularly wind power – are a vital part of the balanced energy mix that Victoria needs to replace coal, alone they will not feed this state’s energy appetite for the immediate future.

Natural gas can meet our energy appetites and, because it has the lowest carbon dioxide emissions of any fossil fuel, it can help the environment.
To bring gas on line new investment incentives are required in parallel with coal disincentives.

It is only because of coal’s low-cost price that we have been able to dismiss the high-cost damage it brings.

The key, then, is for the State Government to initiate policies that will charge coal polluters for emitting greenhouse gases – this in turn would make gas more competitive.

As the evidence of humanity’s impact on global warming mounts the pressure to reduce greenhouses gases becomes more urgent.

Just this month the World Health Organisation calculated that global warming kills about 160,000 through its effects every year.

And this year the World Meteorological Organisation acknowledged the increase in the world’s temperature in the 20th century is likely to have been the largest in any century during the past 1,000 years – which in Australia translates as more bushfires, less water, more drought, damage to the Great Barrier Reef and a diminishing snow line.

The energy decisions the Bracks Government makes now will reverberate to 2020 and beyond.

In order to safeguard the health of the earth, the Government should avoid prolonging the life of one of our worst greenhouse polluters.

Rejecting the five-year expansion of the Hazelwood coal mine will be the first step to insuring a healthier future.