Hogsback shoots the breeze on renewables

HOGSBACK loves the convenience of turning on the lights at night without having to worry whether the wind is blowing or if there has been enough sunlight. Coal has provided that peace of mind for decades, but now there are a number of politicians who want to jump on the renewables band wagon.

Lou Caruana

Serious public money is being spent chasing the latest renewables technology, while the catchiest buzzwords are being spouted by politicians around the nation, keen to appeal to the swinging voter.

Take Queensland for instance, which should be called “The Coal State” but no politician is brave enough to suggest this, despite it being so blindingly obvious.

Queensland Energy Minister Mark Bailey is attempting to “set the future agenda for Queensland’s renewable energy landscape” by meeting with a series of energy experts across the US this month.

“The US is recognised as a leader in renewable energy. It is home to leading investors, researchers and policy makers and is leading the charge in a number of fields,” Bailey declared.

“This series of high-level meetings with companies, providers and experts in this field will investigate the latest US developments in renewable energy and help us to better understand some of the challenges with transitioning to a clean energy future.

“As we consider pathways towards a Queensland 50% renewable energy target by 2030, the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory is already investigating various scenarios of high-level renewable electricity generation and its application across the US electricity grid.”

Bailey should listen to his treasurer Curtis Pitt who said the value of Queensland projects identified in the DAE Investment Monitor had risen $15.5 billion since the March quarter report.

“Among the notable projects DAE identifies as joining their list of proposed projects in the June quarter is Origin’s planned $1 billion solar project near Dalby,” he said.

“DAE also notes that the value of the Grosvenor coking coal project by Anglo Coal has risen from $1.68 billion to $1.95 billion, and several projects – including the $500 million Surat to Gladstone pipeline – had moved to the ‘under construction’ phase which helped increase the total value of listed projects.”

So, for $1 billion worth of solar energy you get almost $2 billion worth of coal investment. Double the investment, and probably more than double the benefit because coal is a vital export industry, helping Australia’s precarious balance of trade situation.

Taking a technology-neutral approach to Australia’s future electricity generation would provide the best outcome in terms of ensuring a reliable electricity supply, avoiding large cost increases and achieving reductions in emissions, according to the Minerals Council of Australia.

The simple fact is coal-fired power generation is central to the affordability and reliability of Australia’s energy supply. It supplies 76% of Australia’s National Electricity Market, is reliable and, with the roll-out of new technology, can reduce carbon dioxide emission by up to 50%.

As some of Australia’s ageing coal plants retire, there is an opportunity for them to be replaced by new generation High Efficiency Low Emissions coal plants that can reduce CO2 emissions by 50% and are the equivalent of gas fired electricity in terms of total emissions.

Hundreds of these units are operating around the world with another 1150 under construction or planned in Asia alone – which represents more than 32 times Australia’s current coal fired generation capacity.

“The most dynamic and fastest growing economies in the world are adopting low emission modern coal fired generation – and it shouldn’t be ruled out here as an option especially with our ready indigenous supply of the world’s best coal,” the MCA said.

“The bottom line is that governments should not mandate the composition of the energy mix.”

Instead they should pursue a technology neutral approach, whereby reliable, low emissions power generation is provided by the lowest cost energy sources available. That was the central conclusion of the Australian government’s 2015 Energy White Paper.

While this approach will likely result in a mix of energy sources, including gas, renewables, high efficiency low emissions coal generation and nuclear power, Hogsback is still old fashioned enough to prefer coal.