Nathan Vass, CEO of Australia Power Project, makes some strong arguments in favour of new coal-fired power stations in the Hunter (Opinion, 31/3/2017). But he has omitted a number of key facts.
While Japan is taking our good quality coal for new generation high efficiency low emission (HELE) power stations, they are paying top dollar export prices for the commodity. In NSW the domestic price of coal has been kept artificially low to keep coal-fired power competitive. The main contract to Bayswater Power Station from the Wilpinjong Coal Mine pays $32.90 ($A) a tonne against the going export rate for thermal coal of $112.59 ($A). If the domestic price for coal was raised to world parity pricing (like gas), the current fleet of generators would become unviable.
The myth of coal being a cheap source of power is linked to the current domestic price arrangements. Some new coal mines or mine expansions have a condition of approval that a domestic price contract be entered into. The Mangoola Mine near Denman and Mt Arthur Mine near Muswellbrook were required to do this to achieve approval. Wilpinjong Mine was developed as the main source of domestic coal to Bayswater until 2026. However, power prices continue to climb regardless of this hidden subsidy.
The communities living near the coal mines that supply cheap coal have paid a high price. My community of Wollar, near the Peabody Energy Wilpinjong Mine, has been virtually wiped out because of mine pollution.
New coal-fired power stations, no matter how efficient, still need a constant source of coal. This means ongoing expansion of mines, disrupting more rural communities, destroying more farm land, using more water and causing more air and noise pollution. These impacts are the hidden costs of coal-fired power. While HELE power stations may have 30 to 40 per cent lower emissions than current Hunter generators, such as Bayswater, they still emit more CO2 than any other power source.
The other major hidden cost is the health impacts from burning the coal. The latest National Pollution Inventory has shown that Bayswater has reported a 770 per cent increase in toxic coarse particle (PM10) pollution over the past five years. This Upper Hunter coal-fired generator also emitted over 75 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide and over 50 million tonnes of nitrous oxides in 2014-2015. Hunter people are being asked to sacrifice their health, rural communities, farming enterprises, water sources and a diverse economy for the future of the coal industry.
Liddell Power Station, due to be closed by AGL in 2022, is home to the first pilot solar-thermal power plant established in Australia. This form of power generation can supply reliable base load power through storage. The technology has come a long way since 2004 and is now cost competitive with other power sources. To their credit, AGL has made a strong commitment to renewable energy. This is where the new jobs in the Hunter will emerge.
The arguments of Australia Power Project to continue growing the coal industry do not stack up.
The demolition of Munmorah Power Station is a sign of things to come in the region – positive opportunities for major change. We need to embrace a transition away from coal dependence and work together for a viable, diverse and healthy future.