One of the most effective ways of concealing something is to hide it in plain sight – and that seems to be what the Rudd government is up to with the future of coal-fired power generation in Australia.
Two big reports in recent weeks – the Treasury’s inter-generational review and the resource assessment by Geoscience Australia and the Bureau of Agricultural & Resource Economics – have laid out news that many would find startling but the media have yet to pick up: despite a decarbonisation plan that will churn some quarter of a trillion dollars through the economy in charges and compensation over two decades, coal generation can be expected to provide about 150,000 gigawatt hours a year of power by 2030.
The current output of the coal burners is about 200,000 GWh a year.
If you allow that a half dozen coal generators will be knocked out by decarbonisation policy in the next few years – one in South Australia, two in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, one each in New South Wales and Queensland – then the remaining plants, and any new ones that are built, will be the single largest contributor to national electricity needs 20 years from now.
This is dressed up by stating it as a cut in coal power’s contribution to electricity consumption from 76 per cent today to 43 per cent in 2030 – with gas power rising from 16 to 37 per cent and renewable energy delivering 20 per cent. However, for coal, it is a share of 260,000 GWh total demand now versus a share of 365,000 GWh then.