Australia: Time and lack of alternatives are clean coal’s allies

Much of the criticism Simon Holmes a Court directs at clean coal is correct (“It is no wonder the world has gone cold on so-called clean coal”, 9/2). “High efficiency low emissions” coal power stations fall far short of the 80-90 per cent emissions reduction needed to tackle climate change. Carbon capture and storage is not, and has never looked, promising as a feasible power station technology at any useful scale. Coal is presently in decline in many economies, and the investment outlook for new coal of any kind is discouraging to say the least.

What he omits, however, is any discussion of alternatives and time scales. Given the limitations to future hydroelectricity and the failure of deep hot rock geothermal technology, there are only three practical sources of growth in clean energy; solar, wind and nuclear.

It will take several decades for any combination of these sources to reach the huge outputs (at least three times present generation) needed to replace fossil fuel energy. The feasibility of solar and wind ever to supply those outputs is contested. Nuclear is illegal in Australia. Add all these together and one can see a case for the interim use of the cleanest possible technologies based on the cheapest and most abundant fuels. That’s the practical context for evaluating HELE properly. It just might be needed.

Tom Biegler, St Kilda East, Vic

It is reassuring to hear from Simon Holmes a Court that the world has gone cold on clean coal, and that there are only 11 coal power stations under construction in Japan. Only 11? As at 1 July 2017, there were 1600 coal-fired plants planned or under construction in 62 countries around the world. This included over 500 in China where Mr Holmes a Court says construction was halted on 151 recently. Presumably it is good news they will only proceed with 349 plus.

Ken Starke, North Balwyn, Vic

Perusing The Australian in my usual inner-city elitist cafe, I nearly spilt an organic soy latte all over my free-trade cotton kaftan when I read the brilliant evisceration of the Mineral Council’s “coal campaign of half-truths” — so kudos for publishing it, as those who use HELE, CCS or the building of new coal power stations in their ideological war against renewable energy in future will simply reaffirm that half-truths are essential for a half-witted argument.

Having already fallen well behind the rest of the world in the immutable switch to renewable energy sources — former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres’s recent comments that time is running out after “10 years of dithering” are correct — Australia’s energy future is in wind, solar and hydro where, given our abundant natural resources, we should already be a world leader.

Just as “nobody in the energy sector believes the MCA’s costings”, so too nobody in the international community believes that fossil fuel use is not in terminal decline, so it is indeed well past time that our energy debate moved on, and Adani’s white elephant with it.

Chris Roylance, Paddington, Qld

Finally, our politicians are starting to ask what the rest of Australia has been asking for years: Adani, where is the money? Regional Queensland has been strung along for too long by a company that hasn’t got the funding or capacity to commit. Adani is trying to milk every penny it can get from our local, state and federal governments and from taxpayers. The world knows that thermal coal is a market with an expiration date that is coming up fast. People in my community in Mackay have been built up and let down by the mining industry. It’s time our politicians pull their head out of the sand and look to projects that will actually deliver for regional Queensland — because Adani has brought only false promises.

Maggie Mckeown, Mackay, Qld

Let’s assume Mr Homes a Court is correct — renewables produce electricity cheaper than coal-fired power stations. Yet the income they receive selling their power is roughly double that received by coal-fired power generators. The difference is the subsidy that renewables receive.

The forced purchase of renewable energy certificates by electricity retailers does not produce any electricity; it represents a subsidy. If renewable electricity is cheaper to produce than coal-fired electricity, why does it receive a subsidy, which consumers pay?