In recent weeks the coal lobby has launched a renewed propaganda offensive, including Pauline Hansen offering support for Coalition tax legislation in exchange for a new coal-fired power station in North Queensland and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott calling for government funding for new coal-fired power stations.
In a prime example of coal-ition spin, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Senator Matthew Canavan was quoted telling The Australian on July 2 that “the market conditions are right” for Queensland’s Galilee basin to start digging up large amounts of coal.
“At current prices we’d be mad not to open up the Galilee Basin as soon as possible,” he was quoted as saying. “Opening up the Galilee would generate 16,000 direct mining jobs and tens of billions in taxes.”
The pro coal propaganda juggernaut refuses to recognise the role of renewables in Australian energy generation. In a move reminiscent of the attacks on then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s mining tax, the Business Council of Australia (whose members include Origin Energy, AGL, EnergyAustralia, Engie, Snowy Hydro, Jemena, network operator Ausgrid and News Corp.), declared Labor’s proposed target of 49% renewables would “wreck the economy”.
However renewable energy projects are set to outstrip coal. Not only is renewable energy far cheaper than commissioning new coal-fired power, the timeline to full operation is shorter. Projects have been growing strongly in Australia, accompanied by a rapid increase in employment in the renewables sector. About 4000 people are employed constructing and operating wind and solar farms and in Queensland alone the more than $4.2 billion worth of renewable energy projects currently under construction or financially committed will add 3500 more construction jobs across regional Queensland.
Green Energy Markets (GEM) suggests that Australia will source one-third of its electricity needs from renewables by 2020 thanks to the surging household market and booming corporate demand.
GEM analyst Tristan Edis said: “Even if contracting and construction commitments to solar farms and wind farms halted from today, ongoing installations of rooftop solar should see renewables share reaching 39% by 2030.
“Given a range of corporate procurement tenders are also underway it is now reasonably likely renewables will exceed 40% share by 2030. This substantially exceeds the emission reduction ambition within the National Energy Guarantee (NEG).”
According to pro-coal “Monash Forum” parliamentarians, of which former Prime Minister Tony Abbott is a founding member, the future of coal exports from Australia will be assured by India’s plans to construct 116 new coal-fired power stations, or around 88 GW.
However, since the start of 2010, as a result of shelved and cancelled projects, India’s coal plant pipeline has shrunk by a staggering 547 GW. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) estimates that of the remaining pipeline no more than 10–20 GW will actually see the light of day, meaning more than 84% of India’s 2010 coal pipeline will have been cancelled. India is rapidly approaching peak thermal coal.
While the Coalition government says coal may be part of the energy mix “for ever”, and reports insist that some plan is being cooked to keep aging coal-fired power plants open, India has just announced that it is aiming to have renewables supply 55% of its capacity by 2030.
Coal will not be gone as soon as we might hope, but the era will end sooner than many in the Coalition expect.