After carbon tax, coal to power the economy

Following economists’ recent prediction of the impending end of mining boom cycle, the Federal Government is scrambling to find an alternative solution to power the Australian economy and is now turning to seam gas and brown coal projects.

New South Wales and Victoria received the green lights to go ahead with the projects, respectively – stirring rounds of uproar from local industries, farmers, consumers, and environmental groups.

Hunter Valley in NSW is home to one of the world’s finest wineries and is now under seam gas exploration threat.

In January this year, the Federal Government created the Independent Expert Scientific Committee to provide impartial advice on the environmental effects of coal mining and coal seam gas projects. But ABC’s Lateline revealed that four out of the six members have financial links with the mining industry.

  • Professor Chris Moran – director of the Sustainable Minerals Institute at the University of Queensland. In 2010 the institute received $17 million, more than half of its funding, from coal seam gas and mining giants Santos, BHP Billiton, BG Group, Rio Tinto and many more.
  • Associate Professor David Laurence – head of the University of NSW Centre for Sustainable Mining Practices. It’s funded with a $1.1 million grant by Mitsubishi Development, a Japanese-controlled coal miner with significant investments in Queensland.
  • Professor John Langford – shareholder in coal seam gas and coal companies for his self-managed superannuation funds.
  • Professor Peter Flood –  a regular consultant for the resource industry.

Affected by the coal, the Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association represents stallion farms, broodmare farms, the largest equine hospital in the Southern Hemisphere.

The committee is chaired by Professor Craig Simmons who said the committee is made up of distinguished academics with long and credible public records. He rejected any suggestion that the committee’s work is influenced by industry.

Professor Gary Willgoose, a hydrologist who holds a prestigious position of Australian professorial fellow said it is virtually impossible to find an independent expert as the coal seam gas industry funds and provides the vast majority of research and consultancy work.

Larissa Walters, Federal Green Senator, however said, “These people have been appointed to scrutinise the impacts of coal seam gas and coal mining. You want to make sure that they’re not getting paid by the industry and therefore might turn a blind eye to some of the more dastardly impacts of the industry.” Read ABC TRANSCRIPT.

In Victoria, the brown coal investment is in full swing under the Ted Baillieu Government. The federal and Victorian governments today announced the creation of a $90 million fund for new brown coal projects in the Latrobe Valley.

North brown coal power station in Gippsland, Victoria. (Photo: Aaron Francis/The Australian)

The Sydney Morning Herald said each government will contribute $45 million to pay for the development and rollout of brown coal technologies, including drying for export, conversion into fuels and fertilisers, and reducing emissions from coal-fired electricity generation. The announcement comes ahead of the Victorian Government opening its controversial tender for new allocations of brown coal in the Latrobe Valley.

Federal Energy Minister Martin Ferguson said the program will create jobs in the LaTrobe Valley region, spur economic growth, and create a sustainable source of energy for Victorian industries and households.

The Minister also said,

There is a potential for brown coal to develop into a valuable export, which would not be possible without the technological innovation that may also assist in meeting the Government’s emissions reductions targets of five per cent fewer emissions than 2000 levels by 2020.”

Victorian Energy Minister Michael O’Brien said,

Our brown coal resource has for a long time benefited all Victorians, delivering a reliable and affordable power source that has underpinned our economic growth and been a competitive advantage for the state.

There is a long term viable future for the Latrobe Valley based on the sustainable use of brown coal.’

Expressions of interests for grants will close on November 19. The governments said construction of the  first funded project will be scheduled for 2013-14.

Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth campaign coordinator Cam Walker released a media statement to express his group’s disappointment over the government’s sneaky plan of scrapping clean energy projects.

The Yallourn brown coal power station in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley. (Photo: News Limited)

Last week, the Federal Energy Minister announced it will cancel the $100 grant to the proposed HRL coal-fired power plant in the Latrobe Valley. He said the announcement is devastating for the Victorian communities. The $45 million Victorian government contribution could be use to invest in clean energy technology. Walker said the announcement is a massive lost opportunity.

Instead of continuing to peddle the notion of ‘clean’ coal technologies, the government should be putting public funds into job rich renewable technology. The state government has shut off much of the state to wind energy, and refuses to listen to community concerns about coal and CSG. Having done a U Turn on climate action, it seems the government of Ted Baillieu is determined to take Victoria back into the 1950s by continuing to support the expansion of the obsolete brown coal industry.

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Defeat of QLD Labor, death of Green projects

The official tally of Queensland State Election 2012 (Photo: The Australian)

With the political massacre of the left-wing Labor Party in the recent Queensland state election, new leader from the Liberal National Party Campbell Newman ordered the demolition of environmental projects.

Newman has already directed to scrap the $1.2bn Solar Dawn solar thermal project near Chinchilla, west of Brisbane. This will stop the $75 million in state funding pledged for the scheme which the Anna Bligh government signed last February, the SMH reported.

Resources Minister Martin Ferguson noted he Solar Dawn project was initially thought it would bring $60m in research funding to the University of Queensland, and provide an average of 300 jobs during the three-year construction phase, due to start in 2015. He also suggested the federal government to withdraw its own $464m contribution pledge last month.

Solar Dawn solar research and power plant at Chinchilla (Photo: SMH)

Newman is now working  to axe seven other green schemes saying the carbon tax would make them redundant. The Australian reported. These include the following:

  • $430m Queensland Climate Change Fund which provides $30m a year for climate change initiatives
  • $50m Renewable Energy Fund which supports the Geothermal Centre of Excellence
  • $50m Smart Energy Savings Program which helps businesses improve energy efficiency
  • Waste Avoidance and Resource Efficiency Fund
  • Local Government Sustainable Future Fund
  • Solar Initiatives Package
  • The Future Growth Fund set up in 2006 with the net proceeds from the sale of state-owned energy corporations

Newman assigned the demolition job to bureaucrat Greg Withers, the husband of the now defunct Queensland leader, Anna Bligh. Withers led in setting up the green energy schemes.

Coal-fired power stations in Victoria are one of Australia’s dirtiest. (Photo: Paul Jones/SMH)

Meanwhile, in Victoria, gas emitters are welcome to do business. The Ted Baillieu Government removed the cap on greenhouse gas emissions from new coal-fired power plants, the SMH reported.

Energy Minister Michael O’Brien announced this development contradicting earlier government’s decision to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by the end of the decade. It also came as the state government released a report on future impacts of climate change in Victoria, finding average temperatures could increase by 1 to 4.2 degrees by 2070 relative to 1990.

The Coalition –Labor and Greens–  had proposed a new coal power standards that would cap emissions from new coal-fired power plants at 0.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide for every megawatt hour of electricity generated. They also suggested the installation of new power plants that would use clean coal technology.

Environment Victoria’s Mark Wakeham said ”polluters are welcome in Ted Baillieu’s Victoria while the government is going out of its way to make it harder to build clean energy projects”.

Baillieu is reported to have released an independent review of Victoria’s Climate Change Act that “recommends repealing the state’s 20 per cent emissions target – which the state government has agreed to – because it would have no extra environmental benefit and would only lighten the load for other states in meeting a national 5 per cent emissions target.”

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