Mar 5, 2010

Our love affair with coal: hotter than ever

Forget renewable energy or gas: our states are embracing coal-fired power more enthusiastically than ever before.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

Australia is set for a renaissance in coal-fired power, with up to 12 new coal-fired power stations planned across the country. According to information collated by Greenpeace, new coal-fired plants are under construction, planned or proposed in all states except Tasmania. The plants include the Mt Piper and Bayswater 2GW plants in NSW, for which "concept approval" was announced this week by the NSW Government. The proponents of those projects, Delta Energy and Macquarie Generation, claim both plants will either be coal or gas-fired.  However, both are located next to existing coal-fired plants and need extensive gas infrastructure to either increase local supplies of gas or, in the case of Bayswater in the Hunter, connect to a proposed pipeline from Queensland. The South Australian plants propose to use "coal to liquids" technology backed by Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, while Zero Gen has proposed a new power station in Queensland using a "world first integration" of gasification and Carbon Capture and Storage Technologies to reduce emissions. The Queensland Government is also overseeing the development of two power stations as part of a massive new coal mining development in Central Queensland. They too are proposed to use CCS technology.  The Blueswater 2 coal-fired station in Western Australia is already under construction. Based on companies' and state government's own emissions figures, often based on unproved technology such as CCS, these stations will produce 39 Mt of CO2-equivalent emissions, which will increase Australia's emissions by 7% on 2008 levels. Both the federal Government and the Opposition have committed to decreasing Australia's emissions by 5% on 2000 levels. In NSW, the ALP's disastrous handling of electricity privatisation has undermined the potential for gas-fired power to provide a transitional or complementary power generation technology, according to industry figures. All sectors of the generation industry expect the NSW Government's current privatisation process -- the schedule for which blew out last month -- to collapse, meaning they will need to wait until the election of Barry O'Farrell next March to gain a clearer idea of the state's direction. Garbis Simonian is managing director of the Queensland Hunter Gas Pipeline project, which has obtained approval to build a gas pipeline from Queensland into NSW. That's the pipeline that Macquarie Generation says it would run off if it opted for gas-fired power at Bayswater, although it would need to build a 16km spur to reach it. Simonian told Crikey the lack of certainty around electricity privatisation, and the NSW Government's unwillingness to support gas over coal despite its lower emissions and water-use profile, made locking in base load contracts for the pipeline much more difficult. "Gas is ideal for shoulder and peak power generation, because you can shut it on and off, which you can't do with coal," Simonian said. "There's no growth in baseload power. No one's building more smelters and heavy manufacturing plants. All the growth is in shoulder and daytime consumption.  Gas can work with both coal and renewables because you can turn it on when renewables aren't available, and you can replace your power generation infrastructure with more renewables over an extended period." But that won't happen while no one in the sector can tell financiers what the regulatory framework will be in five years, let alone prices and contracts. The NSW Government is also pursuing the Owen Report's call for new baseload generation in NSW despite subsequent downward revisions in energy consumption projections. As Alcoa's announcement this week that it will source its electricity from Loy Yang Power’s brown coal power station until 2036 shows Australia's energy future is as closely tied to carbon-intensive coal as ever.
Project Name Project description State Size Estimated GHG emissions TCO2-e p.a. Company & website
Mt Piper Proposed new coal (or gas) power station NSW 2000MW 10,470,000 Delta electricity
Bayswater Proposed new coal (or gas) power station NSW 2000MW 12,428,000 Macquarie Generation
Bluewaters2 Proposed new coal power station WA 208MW 1,300,000 Griffin Energy
Bluewaters3 Proposed new coal power station WA 208MW 1,300,000 Griffin Energy
Bluewaters4 Proposed new coal power station WA 208MW 1,300,000 Griffin Energy
Zero Gen Proposed new coal power station -- with CCS. QLD 380MW (net) 930,000 Zerogen (QLD Gov’t)
Galilee Phase 1 Proposed new coal power station and export coal mine. QLD 450MW 2,345,000 Galilee Power
Galilee Phase 2 Proposed new coal power station and export coal mine. QLD 450MW 2,345,000 Galilee Power
Wandoan Proposed new coal power station QLD 400MW (net) 643,000 Stanwell & GE
Arckaringa Coal to liquid plant with new coal power station SA 560MW (net) 2,943,000 Altona Energy
Hybrid Energy Coal to liquid plant with new coal power station SA 40MW 196,000 Strike Energy/Hybrid Energy
HRL Proposed new brown coal power station -- including a drying & gasification process. VIC 550MW 3,000,000 HRL

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44 thoughts on “Our love affair with coal: hotter than ever

  1. EnergyPedant

    Why is the new Bayswater plant supposed to be 20% more emissions than the Mt Piper?

    Those NSW plants are simply posturing to get some subsidy for the gas plants instead. No bank in the world would fund a coal station in Australia now, the risk of an ETS is too great. A coal plant has a 40+ year lifetime.

    HRL and ZeroGen won’t get built either. ZeroGen has already been through a half dozen incarnations with various partners pulling out. HRL can’t get high quality brown coal, which is an oxymoron anyway, but apparently coal quality and reliability is a big problem in the la trobe valley mines.

    Finally proposals are just that. They aren’t real. How many wind farms are proposed and approved in NSW (several thousand MWs)? How many have actually been built (a few hundred)?

    If you really care about emissions in a global sense, look at australia’s coal exports. We export 2-3 times as much coal as is used locally.

  2. Most Peculiar Mama

    Warren Buffett loves Big Coal too.

    Recently to the tune of US$44 BILLION (27% premium) for control of the US’s 2nd largest rail network, Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

    Berkshire Hathaways returns legacy speaks for itself.

    I prefer to back winners, Bernard.


    Shall we watch the CSG-LNG industry crush itself with oversupply and expensive projects or continue to progress ourselves on the world’s cheapest and most reliable energy source?

    Tough choice.

  3. Frank Campbell

    Precisely. Vast reserves of cheap coal. Long-term plans for expansion. Alcoa signed up for decades more filthy (in every sense) brown coal…what a surprise- they can’t use useless wind power…

    The government knows all this. CO2 emissions (as in wind-turbine infested Denmark) will keep on rising, well past the various Armageddon deadlines set by Prof. Kevin (!) Anderson ( humanity virtually extinct in 40 years), the Rev. Clive Calvin-Hamilton and Prince Charles of Jonestown Manor, Surrey.

    Nothing Australia does will affect global climate- not even zero CO2 emissions.

    There’s no need for paranoid conspiracy theories like those advanced by Clive Savonarola last week. The worldwide retreat from ETS isn’t down to evil fossil fool machinations (of course they plot, but so what?) or rabid Denialists whipped into a froth by trollmeisters like Bolt. The denialist side of the climate cult is an artefact of warmist hysteria. Warmism has collapsed because neither social democrat governments or capitalists actually believe in it. They said they did because the Orthodoxy insisted, but were never truly convinced. We now know that the climate modellers, that tiny cohort of self-referential, self-reviewing provincial academics, corrupted the entire scientific process. There’s a surfeit of doubt about AGW.

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a tide of terror and intimidation has been unleashed. You haven’t heard? Well bugger me, perhaps you only read The Age. A couple of days ago, to take just one example, a Mortlake farmer was attacked for opposing wind turbines: two shearing sheds and three hayshed were torched. $1 million damage. Then there was the disability pensions attacked and injured near Waubra in December for demonstrating with signs on the highway verge. They threatened to shoot him. Five company thugs joined in the abuse. There’s plenty more, but I know you’re busy crusading against the license fee increases for live music venues in inner Melbourne…

  4. Steven McKiernan

    Left out is the 400-450MW baseload dirty brown coal Coolimba plant at Eneabba WA currently undergoing Public Environmental Review. Its being tarted up with some glitzy unproven CCS tinsel. The driver for this plant is the rats-leaving-a-sinking-ship scramble to destroy the Mount Gibson ranges, Putting lipstick on a pig and you end up with a dirty polluting ancient technology carbon pum with lipstick.

  5. Rodger Davies

    What we need is legislation to ban miners from making electricity.

  6. Michael James

    @Energypedant, good points, to which can be added extreme scepticism that any of those Queensland plants will do any CCS given the huge cost. At best the coal-gasification would be retrofittable, “capture ready”, unlike existing coal plants.

    @MDM A question of timing, but yes there is probably plenty of time to still make money out of coal mines and coal railways. If money is the only thing of importance to you, many decisions become much simpler. No doubt you would have invested in Bayer during the 1930s with their very successful money-maker Zyklon-B.

    @frank. Denmark has the second lowest carbon per cap in Europe (yes, after France with its 75% nuclear electricity) which is way ahead of Australia. Do you own a farm somewhere near those irksome wind turbines? Had your views impaired? You’ve got to give it a break.
    And if you don’t see a concerted campaign (aka conspiracy) by News Ltd in Australia (and worldwide) then you haven’t been paying attention.

  7. EngineeringReality

    Talk about moths to the flame…

    Well done Bernard – if ever there was a way to lure out the Burn-it-all-theres-plenty-more-and-why-not global warming denialist trolls this is it by Jove!

    Look at them crawling out from the leaf litter of the forest floor – like maggots lured by the stench of rotting flesh.

    These new coal fired stations are a travesty – the final legacy of tired old men, clutching valiently to the remnants of the comfortable world that once was. Yes there will be outposts of new coal being built – but internationally these plants will be the last of their era.

  8. Venise Alstergren

    Perhaps I’m dreaming? Australia is run by companies which are so vast they don’t even need to pretend that there’s an electorate out there.

    Victoria’s premier, a nasty little man on a mission to destroy the state, John Brumby, trumpeted the Alcoa deal as having taken place WITHOUT governmental reference. In other words the state government didn’t know a thing about it!

    Yet if a couple of people had put up a small protest flag outside Yallorn they would have been in the slammer before the first furl had been unfurled. The government would have been in on it from the word go.

    Isn’t life wonderful?

  9. Roger Clifton

    Dear Luddites, would you read this sentence again?

    “We cannot ignore the very real fear of catastrophic nuclear accidents,” Molly Olson said.

    Yes, you can rise above this fear. The cure is to check out the facts, and not from Ms Olsen.

    Was there an environmental catastrophy at Three Mile Island? – No.
    Did thousands of people die of horrible diseases after Chernoble? – No.

    However, there was a catastrophy for clear thinking in both cases. Public opinion was stampeded by voices like the above.

    Benefiting from the widespread apprehension that something was wrong, the hydrocarbons industry surged ahead instead of declining. Now the friends of gas and coal do not want you to forget your “very real fear” of our only realistic non-carbon source of baseload electricity.

  10. Frank Campbell

    Michael James: No turbines near us, but we see the intimidation, arson, death threats etc inflicted on many people in western Vic. And the severe health effects of turbine noise. And the bird and bat kills. Your disdainful attitude for the suffering of others is typical.

    As for Denmark’s “expensive mistake” with wind ( Danish parlt energy c’ttee chair), read this from the Copenhagen Post- all those billion spent on useless turbines, and for what?

    “Denmark’s environmental standards dismal”

    29 Jan 2010

    Agricultural practices and high reliance on coal, oil and gas gives the country a poor environmental ranking

    Denmark is ranked a modest 32nd in the ‘Environmental Performance Index 2010’, compiled by researchers from American Ivy League universities Yale and Columbia.

    The index ranks 163 countries, measuring factors such as greenhouse gas emissions, protection of habitats for fauna and flora, general pollution, aquatic environments and sanitation.

    Although many of the countries that are ranked ahead of Denmark are not industrialised, many others are, including its Scandinavian neighbours Sweden and Norway, which place fourth and fifth respectively. Another Nordic country, Iceland, tops the list as the most environmentally respectful country.
    Christine Kim, one of the researchers behind the project, said Denmark wasn’t the pioneer it claimed to be when it came to the environment.

    ‘When it comes to greenhouse gases, Denmark is not much of an environmental leader,’ she said. ‘And it’s mainly due to the way the Danes use and produce energy.’

    The report showed that Denmark’s reliance on coal, oil and natural gas offsets its use of wind power, where its 20 percent share of the overall energy produced is the world’s highest.

    Coal is still responsible for half of the country’s energy production, and that results in a very high emission of carbon dioxide and other pollutants.

    The Liberal-Conservative government has stated that at some point the country will drop its reliance on coal, oil and gas, but has not said when that will happen.

    Experts and environmental organisations have argued that Denmark has the ability to considerably raise its level of ambition for clean energy.

    ‘We have to renovate our homes, invest more in collective transport and put more money into renewable energy,’ said Christian Ege, president of The Ecological Council. ‘The past few years we’ve allowed our CO2 output to grow and grow.’

    Ironically, the Environmental Performance Index ranked Denmark eighth in the category of ‘Outdoor Air Pollution’. But the country’s ranking of 67th in the ‘Sulphur Dioxide Emissions’ category – and a dreadful 136th with regard to nitrogen oxide emissions – dragged its overall pollution rating down.

    Denmark also received relatively low marks for its Environmental burden of Disease, its Water Stress Index and for its efforts in Critical Habitat Protection.

    ‘Our agriculture is simply too laden with pesticides and nitrogen from the animals,’ said Ege. ‘And that means our nature is dominated by just a few species such as nettles, which can grow in that kind of harsh environment.’

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