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The clean coal con gets another airing

Here we go again on the never ending fight by the Coalition to prop up the fossil fuel industry.

Josh Frydenberg announced yesterday that he will seek to change the rules governing the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to allow it to invest in carbon capture and storage technology.

Mr Frydenberg told reporters that carbon capture and storage could cut emissions from fossil fuels by up to 90 per cent.  I would love to know where he got that figure from.

He quoted the International Energy Agency as having said carbon capture and storage would be important in meeting targets to limit climate change.

According to the IEA, “CCS could reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by 13%.”

Further, the IEA state that the level of fossil fuel energy in the global energy mix in 2013 was 81%. To keep global temperature rise below 2oC this will need to decrease to 40% of primary energy use by 2050. This would require 95% of coal fired power plants and 40% of gas fired power plants to be equipped with CCS.

“This is proven technology – technology that should be made to work here in Australia to reduce emissions and help us meet our Paris targets,” Mr Frydenberg said.

He said there were 17 successful projects across the globe, storing about 30 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. To put that in perspective, Australian annual emissions alone are about 550 million tonnes.

A paper published in 2014 titled Determining the success of carbon capture and storage projects found that CCS projects which are nowhere near oil fields (CO2 can be sold to enhance oil production of flagging oil fields) or have no hope of selling large volumes of carbon dioxide are likely to be hopelessly uneconomic.

The main results are that project experience, non-commercial storage of CO2, public funding and carbon policy are negatively linked to project success likelihood.

Reneweconomy examined the Canadian experience at Boundary Dam.

The overblown hype surrounding the official opening of the Boundary Dam CCS project says a lot about the desire of CCS supporters to have one plant they can at long last point to as operating “commercially” even if it is a small and hideously expensive plant with limited long-term applicability to anywhere else in the world.

It is interesting to note that, back in February, it was reported that Clive Palmer was seeking government funding for CCS projects.

Waratah Coal wrote to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to express interest in obtaining funding for a $1.25 billion coal-fired power station and carbon capture and storage facility in Central Queensland.

The proposal for a 900-megawatt power station and carbon capture and storage facility is attached to Waratah Coal’s $6.4 billion China First coal mine in the Galilee Basin – projects that have been dormant for the past five years as the coal market went off the boil.

The revived plan was originated in 2009. It proposed to bury the emissions from the coal plant under the very same coal province that the three mining groups propose to mine – except that it will be “sequestered” in an “un-mineable” area of coal seams some 1km underground.

The $1.25 billion figure comes from its 2009 estimates, but it is expected that this is well out of the ball-park now. It also does not, the application makes clear, include the cost of carbon capture and sequestration.

No plant in the world has come close to making this a commercially viable proposition and the owners of the most advanced project, Kemper in Georgia, now admit it would be impossible make money from coal generation and CCS.

Resources minister Matt Canavan has been particularly vocal in support of a new coal-fired power station in north Queensland. This proposal, from Palmer, is the only proposal in the pipeline. Most other energy investors in the area are instead looking to solar and wind farms.

This path to promote coal was an inevitability heralded by Turnbull’s appointment of Sid Marris as his climate and energy adviser and Vanessa Guthrie to the board of the ABC.

Marris has worked for the Minerals Council since 2008, after spending 16 years at the Australian newspaper.  Guthrie has more than 30 years of experience in the mining and resources industries and is the chair of the Minerals Council.  She was appointed to the ABC despite not making the short list recommended by the independent panel.

Clean coal is a con but the corporate vultures are circling at the smell of government handouts to keep them going.  CCS may become essential but it will be enormously expensive for very little result.  There are better options.


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  1. Zathras

    Months ago after the South Australian power outage I suspected that it would be used to soften-up public attitudes toward the increase in local coal usage at the expense of other sources.

    The deliberate stunt of handing around a lump of coal in the House of Representatives just added to my suspicion and then the increased references to “clean coal” and perpetuating the myth that exporting more of it to India would somehow liberate millions of disadvantaged poor meant it would be just a matter of time before the Government showed their hand.

    Then there was the fear campaign of continuing nationwide power outages and the ominous threat of huge price rises and now here we are at last.

    There are many disappointed in Trump’s self-interested stance on climate change but I wonder how they will feel about this development.

  2. John Ward

    Are you confused by the issues of alternative energy and climate change?
    Here is why.
    The president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim MD, PhD recently stated that it was crazy that governments were still driving the use of coal, oil and gas by providing subsidies. “We need to get rid of fossil fuel subsidies now”, he said.

    In July 2016, Nicholas Stern estimated that tackling climate change would require investment of 2% of world GDP each year. The IMF indicates that if governments stopped world fossil subsidies of $5.6 trillions per year, it would benefit world GDP a year by 3.8%.

    How did the Fossil Fuel Industry react to this knowledge in 1980?
    The Global Climate Science Communications Plan, written with the direct involvement of fossil fuel companies including ExxonMobil (then Exxon) and Chevron, detailed a plan for dealing with climate change that explicitly aimed to confuse and misinform the public.

    How did Governments and Fossil Fuel Industries collude?
    There is collusion to bring about World Government subsidies of $5.6 trillions per annum (according to the IMF calculations), to create the illusion of low costs and reliable coal generated electricity, and to manage, resist and delay the growing threat of investment in renewable energy as competition to the dominance of the fossil fuel sector.

    There certainly has been a climate hoax that continues today. It is the four decades long campaign by the world’s largest fossil fuel companies to deceive the public by distorting the realities and risks of climate change.

    Why do taxpayer funds subsidise the Fossil Fuel Industry while coal and oil giants pay virtually no tax?
    Malcolm Turnbull has been subsidising the fossil fuel industry with (the IMF estimates) $1,712 per Australian a year or $41 billions of taxpayer funds.
    This includes exploration funding for Geoscience Australia and tax deductions for mining and petroleum exploration. The IMF calculates that Australians subsidisations to the Fossil Fuel Industry account for hidden adverse costs spread out across the states and the ATO, that ultimately, permanently come out of taxpayers’ pockets.

    Why Does the CEFC cause offence to the Fossil Fuel Industry its institutions and the IPA?
    In 2013 Tony Abbott addressed the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA). “I want to assure you” he said, “that the coalition will repeal the carbon tax, abolish the Department of Climate Change, and abolish the Clean Energy Fund. (CEFC)”. That was his intent. However, the Legislature (Parliament) twice refused to allow the Executive’s Bill to abolish the CEFC Act to become law. To undermine the purpose of the Act;

    The Executive attempted for two years to alter the CEFC investment mandate, by revoking a provision of the CEFC Act 2012. The fact is any change to the CEFC Act 2012, must be to the original Act. Altering the CEFC Act to achieve the executive’s purpose can only be done by going back to the Senate.

    What is the CEFC?
    The CEFC was set up by the Gillard Government in 2012.
    It mobilises capital investment to facilitate increased flows of finance into the clean energy sector in renewable energy, low-emission technology and energy efficiency in Australia.
    The corporation operates like a traditional financer, working with co-financers and project proponents to seek ways to secure financing solutions for the clean energy sector.

    Was the aim to change the Law or maximise confusion and demoralise the Alternative Energy participants?
    LNP Ministers have schemed with coal and oil corporations to support coal generation of electricity and attacked alternative energy, by removing all possible funds from the CEFC.
    Treasurer Hockey created a disruption so great that the alternative energy industry collapsed by 88%, mirroring a similar executive incursion into the car manufacturing sector. Prime minister Turnbull caused similar disruption during the 2016 election campaign by pledging a total amount of $6.5 billion, left in the CEFC account to other non-climate change related LNP causes.

    As the PM reallocates funds by disrupting and ignoring the directly expressed objectives of the Act that; The CEFC invests to increase the flow of finance into the clean energy sector.
    Also ignored were the CEFC’s constitutional functions relating to external affairs powers (section 51(xxix) of the Constitution), i.e., giving effect to Australia’s obligations under the United Nations Climate Change Convention, by investing in the development of renewable energy and low-emission technologies that could reasonably be expected to control, reduce or prevent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases.
    Recently, the Cabinet created a third investment directive to modify the intent of the CEFC Act and in doing so has exceeded its authority, ignoring the need to return to the Parliament to get the required authority from the Legislature. In doing so, committing misfeasance by benefitting the coal & oil energy sector, but causing a deficit to the alternative energy sector.

    Expressed or Implied, which is it?
    Ministers Hunt and Cormann have claimed that the power to issue new investment mandates is implied in section 64(1) of the Act, what they continue to ignore are the express limits placed on them by the Act section 65. As responsible ministers they cannot issue direction that has the purpose or that is likely to have the effect, of directly or indirectly requiring the Board to, or not to, make a particular investment that is inconsistent with the CEFC Act – (including the object of the Act) – which is: The Object of this Act is to establish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to facilitate increased flows of finance into the clean energy sector.
    When will the correct interpretation be made to sweep away this manufactured confusion?
    The level of malfeasance and misfeasance and corruption in Federal and State Governments must be addressed by courts as a matter of urgency. The High Court and Federal Courts are ultimately the only Judicial Bodies with the constitutional authority to address these Executive levels of wrongdoing

    The fundamental rule of interpretation is that a statute is to be expounded according to the intent of the Parliament that made it, and that intention has to be found by an examination of the language used in the statute as a whole. It is abundantly clear that the Parliament that produced the Clean Energy Finance Corporation Act 2012 intended that the Act not be easily diverted or altered by new directives inimical to its purpose.

    Former Chief Justice of the High Court Murray Gleeson on ’The Rule of Law.’

    The High Court is given jurisdiction in matters in which a writ of mandamus or prohibition or an injunction is sought against an officer of the Commonwealth. This jurisdiction cannot be altered or taken away by Parliament. It confers on the High Court the power, by making certain forms of order that historically followed judicial review of executive action, to compel officers of the Commonwealth to act according to law. The expression ‘officer of the Commonwealth’ includes the Prime Minister and Ministers, and all public servants. The effect of the provision is, no one is above the law. Thus government officials must exercise their powers according to law. If they do not, then, in the last resort, the High Court may order them to do so The Constitution, which is the basic law, itself declares that the government must obey the law, and gives the High Court the jurisdiction to compel such obedience.
    That jurisdiction cannot be removed or modified except by constitutional amendment.
    Parliament, if acting within the limits of the powers assigned to it by the Constitution, may change the law. The executive government must obey the law. That is what the rule of law means.”

  3. Terry2

    Oliver Yates, former CEO of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) was interviewed by Fran Kelly this
    morning : http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/clean-coal-gets-a-leg-up-in-josh-frydenbergs-overhaul/8574804

    My understanding of what he was saying was that carbon capture & storage for new coal-fired power stations was purely an academic argument as, with the costs dropping on renewable power sources together with battery technology, the economics of a new coal power station with CCS technology could not be justified and nobody would build a coal-fired power station going forward.

    He also noted that clean-coal does not exists as a proven technology.

  4. Kaye Lee

    Very interesting link thanks Freethinker. CCS for industry makes sense. Using coal makes none.

    I am listening to question time (without watching it) – Frydenberg and Joyce have both given screeching hysterical endorsements for coal. I can’t listen anymore.

  5. Frank Smith

    The Kemper power plant with CCS in Mississippi that has recently started generating took seven years to build (three years longer to build than expected) and cost US$7.1 billion ($4.1 billion more than budgeted). Sounds like the sort of thing “entrepeneurs” like Clive Palmer should be investing in and, of course, Canavan’s NAIF piggy bank should be throwing at least $1 billion Clive’s way to facilitate it. Kemper relies on brown coal as in the Latrobe Valley for gasification as fuel. It’s designed to only capture 65% of carbon dioxide output, but has not achieved anything like that to date. Oh, what the north Qld renewable energy industry could do with $7.1 billion.

  6. Peter F

    But,But,But,….. we have all seen clean coal- the treasurer took some into Parliament, and didn’t eve get his hands dirty.

  7. helvityni

    Yes, Peter, but that lump of ‘clean’ coal was what Mal called ‘nuanced’ coal; now we have to find out where it’s hidden and we can start digging it out…it’s so hard to get the nuance right….

  8. Freethinker

    On a good note (not coming very often) Acland coal mine: Queensland Land Court recommends scrapping expansion

    In his judgment, Land Court Member Paul Smith said he was satisfied air quality, noise and dust levels could be sufficiently managed and the economic benefits of the mine were likely to be significant, but he said the risks to groundwater were too great.

    Someone “saw the light”

  9. Frank Smith

    Great news Freethinker. I drive past the Ackland mine quite often and reflect upon the beautiful farmland it is destroying. By the way 2GB host Alan Jones will be thrilled – might be worth listening to his rants tomorrow for some enjoyment.
    Wish the Land Court would look at the unrestricted water licence that Adani has negotiated!

  10. Freethinker

    Remember Frank that is only a battle win but not the war against stupidity.
    The article say ” State Government is the final decision maker for the project and will need to decide whether to follow the court’s recommendations or approve it regardless.”
    IMO will be a political error of judgment if they do that but “brown paper bags”have a lot of force.

  11. David

    The only explanation would be corruption. Commonwealth ICAC NOW!

  12. Pete Petrass

    This all reminds me of a bloody minded Morris Iemma in NSW and his desalination plant, his wonderful legacy (at all costs) to the people of NSW.

  13. Ceridwen66

    The COALition – Fossil fools. Zathras, I agree. I live in a once burgeoning South Australian town on the Eyre Peninsula, the one in which the talking Tomato gleefully informed the entire nation a lamb leg would eventually cost $100. During the September blackout, one of the most surreal things was listening to senior government ministers on the radio stating we had no power due to an over reliance on renewables. I guess they didn’t see the tornadoes ripping apart trees, uprooting and mangling huge power lines, the 82,000 lightning strikes, the unbelievable strength of the wind which lifted our garden shed off its foundations and moved it ten metres across the yard. An over reliance on renewables my arse. More like a violent, vicious once in a hundred years storm and a toxic government trading truth for its fossil fuel agenda.

  14. Zathras

    It’s a shame that the SA Government didn’t make that other connection to the NSW Grid as was originally planned. It seems they didn’t want to spend the money needed and preferred to sell it off just the way it was and let it become a problem for someone else later on.

    Politicians have always seemed to live in an alternate reality with their vision of the future extending only to the next election.

    (Hope you’ve recovered OK from the storm).

  15. Arthur Tarry

    Carbon capture and storage (CCS) may have a role though surely only as a transition strategy away from using coal/gas/gasoline. Let’s think beyond a CCS and aim at diminishing the pouring out of green-house gases, and other pollutants. There is a ‘road map’ for this though it seems many are unable to read it.

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