1Our Campaigns 0Safe Climate The myth of ‘clean coal’

The myth of 'clean coal'

'Slightly less dirty coal' is not the answer to the climate crisis.

The shift from coal to safe, truly clean energy sources like solar and wind is already underway around the world. Australia should be part of this change and not cling to polluting technology of the past.

Quick facts about clean coal:

  • New coal plants are only slightly less dirty than current ones, and still more polluting than gas.
  • Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is largely untested, prohibitively expensive and still doesn’t address the impacts of mining.
  • It is much cheaper to build and generate energy from renewable sources.
  • With the addition of smart flexible technologies like batteries and demand management clean energy can provide the same level of grid security.

New coal is still more polluting than than even the dirtiest gas plants

More like ‘slightly less dirty coal’ (SLDC)

TCI emissions

Source: The Climate Institute, Factsheet


What about carbon capture?

In theory, the emissions of coal burning power stations could be brought down using carbon capture and storage (CCS).

CCS is experimental technology that aims to capture greenhouse pollution from burning coal, and ‘transport’ (sometimes hundreds of kilometres away requiring a vast and extensive network of pipelines) it for storage underground, hopefully forever.

There are unknown consequences of storing gas underground. Scientists have identified risks to soil acidification and erosion associated with this process. Leakage can also occur, undermining the emission reduction benefits.

The other downside is the the whole process of capturing and liquefying the gas would use a significant amount of the energy the power station produces in the first place, making it even more expensive and inefficient.

Click here for six reasons why we think relying on carbon capture and storage is a risky strategy that’s likely to fail.

But don’t take our word for it, this is what the former head of BHP has said about carbon capture…

“I think it’s as big as the issue of nuclear waste … What are you going to do with millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide that is not nearly as compact as nuclear waste?…I don’t think the concept of pumping carbon dioxide down into a cavern under the ground is going to be the long term solution.”

Paul Anderson, director and former head, mining giant BHP Billiton, 2007

More recently the chief executive of CS energy, one of Australia’s major electricity generators, has said

“It’s possible to retrofit this to existing coal-fired plants but commercially the numbers don’t stack up.”

Martin Moore, chief executive of CS Energy, 2017

Building a new coal plant is much more expensive than shifting to renewable energy.

Research from Bloomberg New Energy Finance found that to make back the cost of investment, electricity prices from a new ultra-supercritical coal plant could be as high as $203 per megawatt hour – which is more than three times the wholesale cost of electricity recorded last year!


By comparison, a new wind farm costs an average of $75 per megawatt hour and solar is around $110. These costs are expected to come down to as low as $50 MW/h by 2025 – which is about the earliest we could expect a new coal plant to come online.

It is for this reason that no investors are interested in building new coal in Australia and the largest generators have publically ruled out building new coal without CCS.

Anglesea-Coal-Mine-(partial)-(square) Flickr CC, Takver

Even CCS wouldn’t address the toxic impact of coal mining.

The Climate Institute has estimated that new coal power stations could only be built in Australia with significant taxpayer handouts. They calculate that to build a new power station the size of Hazelwood, would require $27-44 billion of tax payer money over 30 years.

New ultra-supercritical coal power stations take up to ten years to build (this is before the addition of CCS) so for the reasons above, they are likely to be obsolete by the time they are complete.

By that time we could have built many more megawatts of truly clean renewable energy to ensure the safe clean future that we need. Therefore building new coal power stations is incompatible with Australia’s commitment to do our bit in limiting the dangerous impacts of greenhouse pollution.


We support the move to safe, clean, renewable energy for our state. So we’re calling on the government to invest in and support renewable energy projects.

Check out how you can get involved