The Victorian State Government is currently considering a plan to offer mining licenses for large reserves of brown coal, with the aim of kick-starting a brown coal export industry in Victoria. They are also considering a taxpayer funded public relations campaign, on behalf of the coal companies, to convince Victorians that brown coal is great.
Mining companies are already lining up to bid for the right to dig up billions of tonnes of brown coal, in some of Victoria’s most productive agricultural regions.
This comes on top of the Baillieu Government’s destruction of the wind energy industry and is occurring alongside their destruction of the solar energy industry (they aim to get rid of the solar feed-in tariff for rooftop solar).
Under any reasonable analysis, this plan is indefensible. The only beneficiaries are the coal companies, who happen to donate money to the Liberal and National Parties.
There is a lot of misinformation and corporate propaganda flying around on this issue, so Yarra Climate Action Now wants to clear the air with a few key points:
1. There’s no such thing as “clean coal”.
Brown coal is the dirtiest and most polluting fossil fuel used in Australia. Some of the “new” technologies proposed for treating the brown coal (which the coal lobby deceptively refers to as “clean” or “pristine” coal) will only reduce brown coal’s greenhouse gas emissions to the level of black coal, or at best, fossil gas. This is far from clean and nowhere near the zero emissions status of renewable energy.
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) which is also sometimes referred to as “clean coal” doesn’t exist, and is still only theoretical. Even its most enthusiastic proponents say it will not be ready for at least another 20 years, by which time renewable energy will be far cheaper anyway.
“Clean” coal is nothing but a delay strategy put forward by the coal lobby to slow down the roll-out of renewable energy and ensure they can keep making obscene profits for a little while longer.
2. Baillieu’s plan will increase electricity prices.
Baillieu’s destruction of the wind energy industry already means that Victorians will be paying billions more for our electricity than we otherwise would be. A brown coal export industry will expose Victorians to international pricing for coal, something we are shielded from since brown coal is not currently exported. This will increase domestic coal prices and increase the cost of electricity production in Victoria.
3. Brown coal development will kill jobs.
If you invest your money in one thing, then you don’t have money to invest in another. Money going into brown coal development will reduce the amount of money going into renewable energy technologies. And guess what! Renewable energy is far more jobs-rich than fossil fuel technologies are.
The Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan calculated that if we transitioned our whole economy to one that is run by 100% renewable energy, 40,000 permanent jobs would be created, and 20,000 jobs would be lost. That is, for every job lost in the fossil fuel sector, 2 jobs would be created in the renewable energy sector due to its higher labour needs.
If the money going into brown coal was shifted to building renewable energy and establishing a renewable energy components manufacturing industry, then far more jobs would be created, and they would be sustainable for the long term too.
4. Investing in coal is bad for the Victorian economy.
Lobbyist Dan Cass outlines the economic stupidity of investing in brown coal in his article on the ABC website. He says:
“Premier Ted Baillieu’s plan to expand Victoria’s brown coal sector is a blow to our economic credibility.
“The world is switching to renewable energy and brown coal, the dirtiest, least efficient way to generate energy, will be left for dead.
“China is the biggest coal consumer in the world, but it is planning to cap coal imports in 2015. That is only three years away. Victoria’s new brown coal mines will not even be a hole in the ground by then, let alone a viable export industry.
“India is another big coal customer that is turning to renewable energy, because it is more economically viable. The Indian government put an industry plan in place to bring the cost of solar below the cost of coal, by 2022. A review of this ‘Grid Parity’ by KPMG found that it was likely to be reached five years earlier, by 2017!
“The USA is still the economic powerhouse and it sets the global energy agenda. It also has an industry plan like India’s, which will get solar cheaper than brown coal by 2020. That is only eight years away.”
To summarise – the world is shifting away from coal and we will be left with stranded assets and a product no one wants to buy. We should be putting our money into the energy technologies of the present and future, not the 19th Century.
5. A brown coal export industry is a climate disaster.
The climate science is clear. There is already too much carbon in the atmosphere to prevent catastrophic climate change. We need to get to zero emissions and start removing the excess carbon we have been adding to the atmosphere as quickly as is humanly possible.
Brown coal is currently not exported due to its unstable nature. If left at room temperature it can spontaneously combust, making it too dangerous to transport long distances. If the coal companies get their way and they can develop technologies to make brown coal suitable for export, then more coal will be exported, making coal more accessible to countries currently deciding their energy futures and thereby delaying the urgent and necessary transition to zero-emissions technologies.
6. This brown coal plan will reduce our food security.
Coal mines are planned for Bacchus Marsh and many other areas in Victoria, particularly Gippsland. These are some of the most agriculturally productive regions in Victoria, supplying Melbourne and many other places with fresh fruits, vegetables, grain and dairy products. With the impacts of the climate crisis, including droughts, floods and heatwaves, reducing our ability to produce food globally, the productive land we do have is becoming more and more precious.
No matter what the coal industry says, we can’t eat coal. Food security is more important than the profits of mining companies.
7. We don’t even need coal anyway.
We already have the renewable energy technology to get to 100% renewable energy and replace the baseload power we get from coal and gas. Renewable energy is rapidly dropping in price, and the more we build it, the cheaper it gets. Contrast this to coal and gas prices which are set to become even more volatile and will just keep going up in the long term. We don’t need coal anymore to produce our electricity.
The Greens have already come out and rightly condemned this plan, saying they will fight it. As has the Bass Coast Shire Council (Wonthaggi) and even the state Liberal Member of Parliament for that area, Ken Smith. The Federal Labor Party has continued its usual support of the fossil fuel lobby by saying they will allow a brown coal export industry to be developed, while the State Labor Party maintains an unprincipled silence (we have contacted our two state members of parliament, Bronwyn Pike and Richard Wynne, and await their responses).