Last night’s budget included $1.5 billion over six years in a new Solar Flagships program. “The program will aim to establish an additional 1,000 megawatts of solar electricity generation capacity in Australia. This is similar to the generation capacity of a coal fired power station.”

At the same time it included $2 billion for carbon capture and storage (CCS) over 9 years. “This program will support the development of industrial scale demonstration projects for CCS technology in Australia. The portfolio of projects is expected to include a carbon dioxide storage hub with pipeline infrastructure, as well as integrated CCS projects to demonstrate a range of technologies to capture carbon dioxide from coal fired power stations.”

The contrast between renewables and supposed ‘clean coal’ couldn’t be more stark. The investment in solar is expected to create 1GW of real, emissions free power within the next 6 years. Wheras the larger investment in CCS will support the development of demonstration projects over 9 years. Reality vs Illusion.

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Of course, the decision to give another $2billion to support the coal industry is just a political sop to an industry that has the Government over the barrel. The coal industry is well capable of funding their own research and development into CCS if they were really interested, but so long as they can get taxpayers to continue subsidising them they are unlikely to get their snouts out of the trough.

As well as the $2billion for CCS, the coal industry recently got $500 million for a new coal rail line in the Hunter Valley (more than the entire funding for Renewables Australia) and Greenpeace estimate that there are still around $7billion in subsidies that promote fossil fuel use.

But the future is clear. Renewable energy is here, it is growing, it works and the more we invest in it the faster the prices will drop so that it becomes cheaper than coal. The energy revolution is happening, but for political reasons Rudd and Swan are still hedging their bets – torn between the past and future.

mr_solar09_0661
This photo is of the PS10 11 Megawatt Solar Thermal Power Plant located in Southern Spain. The solar radiation, mirror design plant is capable of producing 23 GWh of electricity a year – which is enough to supply power to a population of 10,000.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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