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Monday, August 6, 2012

Further subsidies for Victorian coal by Victorian and Federal Governments

Last week Federal Funding for new Victorian coal fired power station was withdrawn. This week the Federal and Victorian Government announced $90 million in funding for 'clean coal' type demonstration programs to justify continued exploitation of Victoria's brown coal resource. Two steps forward, now two steps back.

On Friday Federal energy and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson and his State Minister equivalent, Michael O'Brien, announced $90 million funding support for "advanced lignite technologies". These are supposed 'clean coal' technologies to convert the high carbon intensive content of lignite into a product somewhat less carbon intense, to justify continued reliance and addiction to coal technologies and to even justify development of a processed brown coal export industry.

"The Gippsland region contains more than 20 per cent of the world’s low rank coal reserves, with an estimated economic life of about 490 years and it is important we look for improvements in the way we harness this valuable resource,” Minister Ferguson said.

There was no mention in the Minister's joint press release of Global Warming's Terrifying new Math which states that to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees C, which has been agreed to as a necessary target in multiple international forums, we need to limit our carbon pollution budget to 565 gigatons by mid-century, while we have 2,795 Gigatons of potential carbon emissions in existing known fossil fuel reserves, such as Victoria's lignite deposits, a particularly dirty form of coal.

"The Program will ensure continued opportunities for economic growth, employment in the Latrobe Valley region and a sustainable source of energy for Victorian industries and households." said Ferguson.

But Environment Victoria’s Campaigns Director Mark Wakeham commented "If Ministers Ferguson and O’Brien were serious about creating jobs and investment in the Latrobe Valley this fund would be technology-neutral, and renewable energy projects in Gippsland could apply. However this is not about jobs, it's about keeping the dream alive for a polluting fuel that is beyond its use by date."

Wakeham pointed out that this funding program is in addition to enormous State and Federal funding of the coal industry, "This new fund is on top of existing funds to support the coal industry such as the Federal Government’s $1.68 billion CCS flagships program and the State Government’s $430 million ETIS program. It's not as though we’re not already throwing enough taxpayers' money at the coal industry."

Carbon capture and storage is cited as an important "clean coal" process, yet it has not been demonstrated to work on a large scale full commercial level and involves substantial climate risks. See my June 20 article on Carbon capture and storage and the Melbourne Earthquake.

What is needed is the gradual phasing out of the mining and burning of Victoria's brown coal. Expending money and energy in developing processes to extract moisture from brown coal and process it as bricquettes to make it the equivalent in emissions of black coal does not change our addiction to coal technologies. It just keeps the subsidies flowing to an outdated and polluting energy source. Neither does investing $millions in carbon capture and storage, wean us from our coal addiction. Don't believe me? Then read Neil Perry, a research lecturer from University of Western Sydney on Carbon lock-in: social-technological inertias increasing our addiction to coal-fired energy.

A substantial change in technology needs to be made. Away from carbon intense, carbon polluting coal technologies. And encouragement of a range of renewable and non polluting technologies like wind, solar, ocan wave and tidal.

As Mark Wakeham observed, "The Baillieu Government is actively undermining the renewable energy industry by making wind farms more difficult to build and reducing support for solar power. Yet renewable energy industries are ready to go right now and among the world’s fastest growing industries. Meanwhile so-called ‘clean coal’ projects are languishing, with even the coal industry accepting that carbon capture and storage is decades away from commercialisation and may never arrive."


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