Feb 9, 2017

Coal’s time is running out, but Turnbull won’t hear it

Coal production is falling and the best forecasts show coal consumption starting to decline within a decade. But the government continues to spruik it, Glenn Dyer and Bernard Keane write.

Coal Mine

In recent days, PM Malcolm Turnbull has completed his transformation into Tony Abbott. While insisting that the government is undertaking climate action and is “technology agnostic”, Turnbull has assailed renewable energy and fully embraced coal again as an important part of Australia’s energy future. And he has done so while his government has no policies beyond the Renewable Energy Target to achieve even the unambitious targets it agreed to meet as part of the Paris climate agreement. Instead, the Coalition passes lumps of coal around Parliament and insists the lights will go out unless we start building fictional “clean coal” power plants.

But Turnbull’s embrace of coal is increasingly at odds with simple commercial reality. Australia’s major power companies almost knocked each other over in the rush to distance themselves from the prospect of investing in highly expensive “clean coal” plants when Turnbull flagged it at his National Press Club speech last week. Never mind, was the government’s response — we’ll just subsidise it. Just like it wants to subsidise another dud project, Adani’s vast new Carmichael coal mine, which has long struggled to attract finance.

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23 thoughts on “Coal’s time is running out, but Turnbull won’t hear it

  1. bushby jane

    Hydro power IS renewable.

  2. John Newton

    What’s puzzling is that CSIRO reports that 75 per cent of Australians accept the science of climate change and it follows accept that we should be cutting down on our fossil fuel consumption…so Mal is hitching his wagon to a quarter of the population? Won’t have his job for long either way.

  3. Roger Clifton

    “Mtoe” is the language of people who want us to replace coal with oil and gas. However in the language our students understand, 1 Mtoe/a of heat would generate about 200 MW of electricity.

    1. Stuart Coyle

      You’re lucky that they aren’t using BTUs.

    2. Roger Clifton

      Oops, that was incorrect.

      1 Mtoe/a of heat would generate ~400 MW of electricity, assuming an efficiency of 30%. We don’t know what efficiency BP assumes.

      Thus the 70 Mtoe drop would equate to 28 GW less generation from coal across the year. The 2035 prediction of 3785 Mtoe/a equates to 1500 GW of low-carbon electricity.

      1. Matt Hardin

        Surely the units should be Joules not Watts i.e. energy not power.

        1. Roger Clifton

          @ Matt Hardin – thank you for checking the maths, I wish more people would apply that reality test more often!

          In this case, we are talking power, so the units are correctly in watts. Australians average about 1 kW of electricity each, so a megapax city uses 1 GW. A flow of black coal into furnaces at a rate of 1 kg/s is a heat flow of 20 MJ/s=20MW, generating 20 MW * 30% eff = 6 MW of electricity.

          Any confusion is because the reports that the data comes from were written by accountants who thought their shareholders so trenchantly anti-school as to need rates to be expressed in terms of so many lumps that go clunk in a year. A “toe” had little to do with a ton of crude oil, instead it was defined as ten billion calories. The calorie, along with the rest of the CGS system of units, was rescinded in 1960. Don’t sleep with these guys, you’ll wake up in the 1950s.

  4. Dan Telet

    Thermal coal will soon be history but coking coal will be used for quite a while for iron. The ore needs to be reduced to iron and that is most conveniently done with carbon.

  5. Andrew Malzard

    Malcolm, you’re sounding so much like Tony these days it’s only the polished white teeth that tells you apart. Come on Malcolm, it’s time then to shirt-front the Gas and Petroleum producers who are siphoning off our LNG and returning little to Australia in the form of Royalties and Taxes compared with other major exporters. Why is it we receive such small return compared with Qatar, Malaysia, Nigeria, Indonesia, Canada and Norway? Come on Malcolm, use the same formula for calculating gas revenues and you’ll earn your country a cool $20 Billion+ extra revenue. S’pose that doesn’t sound so much when you’re a billionaire yourself. Why Malcolm (and Josh) can’t we fire up places like Pelican Point, which uses the very latest, cleanest and efficient generating technology? Why? It’s because our electricity generators, unlike those in countries that also export LNG, don’t have to buy gas at world market prices. Malcolm, you like to rant about the need to reduce corporate taxes to maintain a competitive business edge, then why are you under taxing the gas producers and letting a real competitive advantage we had until a couple of years ago (low energy prices) slide away. All you have to do is tax the gas producers on volume rather than profit. Like the others do. Then maybe you’ll cease your latest Tony like rant. The one that is falsely blaming renewables for our energy crisis.

    1. John Hall

      Very well said. Massive incompetence or corruption in the LNG market in Australia. Worth a Royal Commision?

  6. klewso

    How was Morrison able to get away with bringing a major Coal-ition sponsor in to the chamber yesterday?

    ….. And how much of his own is Turnbull investing in Adani – as he did his Liberal Party?

    1. Lord Muck

      They probably thought fumbling a lump of coal in parliament was great theatre, but they simply confirmed how pathetic they all are. I hope they didn’t get coal stains on the good leather seats.

  7. graybul

    The PM’s recommitment to COAL will not stand in face of world energy sourced changes. The PM understands. But he needs “coal” monies to bolster LNP coffers if his party is to successfully contest next election. For that he will accept a hoped for short/medium term pain against an anticipated longer term gain. The PM will now attempt to pillory Shorten at every opportunity ( there are grounds) and absorb a leaderless electorate’s unease; confident Murdock Media will hold firm(?) His primary concern is less manageable. Can he corral his backbench, retain numbers and minimise fall-out of frontbencher Minister performance i.e. Brandis et al

  8. Paddy Forsayeth

    Andrew Malzard makes a lot of sense. Norway, which decades ago insisted that the extractive industries pay a direct tax, around 30% is now very wealthy. As I understand it Norway has trillions in the bank and, with a population similar to Australia, each Norwegian is worth a million each. Its sad and ironic that the very ones who torpedoed the super profits mining tax now inherit a tattered budget situation of their own making.

    1. AR

      Small point Paddy – the entire population of all Scandiwegia in about that of Oz. Norway has the smallest population of them all – 5,271,958 – less than NSW.
      It is indeed beyond risible that we give away our gas but the NW Shelf deal was done when the stuff couldn’t be given away back in the 70s.
      Yet further proof that multinationals rip us off without a scintilla of shame or concern for the future.

  9. Paddy Forsayeth

    Scott Morrison’s rant on coal in question time was pathetic and distorted. The man is a fool.

  10. leone

    Don’t forget that agreement with the Nationals that Turnbull signed. He’s now stuck. He has to either bow down and worship coal or he loses his job.

    To Turnbull nothing is more important than hanging on to his leadership. He sold his soul to get it and he’s more than willing to sacrifice the health of the planet to stay where he is.

    1. AR

      Quite right but I cannot understand WHY he stays.
      He can do nothing that he wants, must do so much that he loathes and knows to be wrong, morally, ethically, fiscally and logically.
      Given the one seat in the Reps by which they retain office, not even the trogs & bigots in he COALition would want him to be deposed because he would then resign his seat and the by-election would almost certainly be lost and thereby power for the LNP.
      Even they aren;t that stupid so the mystery is why does Talcum not call their bluff.

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