Sunday, 30 December 2012

Why we need to be simple and harsh about coal

Today's Australian has a strange article titled ‘Modern Don Quixote tilts at wind turbines’ which is a strange outline of Hamish Cumming, whom The Australian says:
“doesn’t fit the mould of an anti-environment crusader, climate-change denier or fossil-fuel industry stooge”
because of his interest in organic farming and the protection of brolgas in northern Australia.

What The Australian is saying about Cumming is that he has revealed the subsidies to wind farms have served to reduce the efficiency of coal-fired power stations so that they emit the same quantity of CO2 that they emitted before wind subsidies began. He says that a mockery is made of the carbon-saving ability of wind farms when much coal is burned without producing electricity.

Cumming’s major criticism is the inability of the Australian Energy Market Operator to obtain details for how much CO2 comes out of the exceptionally dirty brown coal-fired power stations of West Gippsland. What is telling is when Cumming notes:
“…when Inquirer asked International Power Australia, owners of the Hazelwood and Loy Yang power stations, for coal-use data it was told “this is a difficult time of the year; I’m afraid we will have to politely decline””
Such a result is very telling about the power of the coal industry in Australia – and it is totally unacceptable that the owners of such environmentally destructive machines should be permitted to get away with it. In fact, it has been telling ever since Australia failed to shut down these power plants when demands in that direction were made some time ago now and highlighted in publications like Green Left Weekly.

There is not doubt that a plan to completely shut down coal-fired power stations in Australia is the most essential step anywhere in the world to combating CO2 emissions. Australia has the highest per-capita emissions in the world and is at extreme risk from the likely loss of its winter-rainfall ecosystems in the south and the potential loss of its breadbasket in the Murray-Darling Basin. The environmental cost of shifting to nations with poorer regulations is minimal as I have outlined in 2009: most nations with poor regulations have neither coal reserves nor reliable hydropower nor the infrastructure to absorb smelting of metals like aluminum.

It is probable that a plan to shut down coal- and other fossil fuel-fired power stations would involve fewer and less expensive regulations than plans based merely on power output restrictions: the simplest laws are always the most efficient and effective if they attack a problem directly. Australia therefore needs a serious plan to phase out coal production and use the land where it stands for seriously needed expansion of its laggardly conservation reserve network.

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