More jobs in renewables than in new coal or gas

November 17, 2017

Renewable energy projects currently under construction in Queensland are set to create a comparable number of jobs to those of the controversial Adani new coal project, if it proceeds. The growth of renewable power generation will create more jobs than have been lost in coalmining.

 A new report Renewables Powering Queensland’s Future released by the Climate Council of Australia on October 30, highlights the significant potential for the state’s clean energy future, as 14 clean energy projects, the highest number in Australia, get under way this year.

According to the report, investment of more than $1.6 billion in new large-scale projects will create more than 1300 construction jobs in the energy sector. This compares with the 1500 jobs Adani stated under oath in the Queensland Land Court would be generated by its proposed mine in the Galilee Basin.

Fluctuations in the world price of coal and reductions in the cost of renewable, have impacted on Australia’s coal industry with a number of mine closures, particularly in Queensland.  

Coalmining currently employs about 20,000 people in Queensland — less than 1% of the workforce. This has fallen from a highpoint of 30,000 in 2013. Nationally, coalmining companies are projected to cut their workforce by 21% by 2020. In Queensland, jobs in coal, gas and other mining industries are projected to fall by 7400 by 2020.

According to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the renewable energy industry in Queensland currently provides 2710 full-time equivalent jobs across the state. Employment modelling has shown that transitioning to 50% renewable energy by 2030 will create more than 28,000 new jobs nationally, nearly 50% more than would be created under business as usual conditions. More than 6000 new jobs would be created in Queensland, particularly in rooftop and large-scale solar and wind.

The Climate Council report compared renewables and new coal power on costs and timing. Renewable energy is the cheapest form of new power generation. Even with all the existing subsidies and externalised costs associated with coal and gas power (diesel fuel rebates, health and environmental impacts, carbon emissions), renewable power technologies are now cost competitive or cheaper than new coal and gas power plants — $78 per MWh for renewables compared with $134 for coal or $352 for carbon capture and storage.

Time frames for completing new projects also compare favourably for renewables: large-scale battery storage 4–6 months; new wind and solar 1–3 years; large scale pumped hydro 7 years; coal or gas fired 6 years.

The Report concludes: “ Building new coal plants is an expensive and time-consuming option for replacing Australia’s existing ageing, inefficient coal fleet. Furthermore, new coal plants are generally considered too risky for private investors. Building a new coal fired power station in Queensland would effectively lock in over 40 years of pollution. This is well beyond 2050 when the Queensland Government and Australian Government have committed to net zero emissions in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.”

The Climate Council report raises the question of how the Queensland government will achieve its targets of 50% renewables by 2030 and zero net emissions by 2050.

“While the Queensland Government is actively pursuing a strong renewable energy and net zero emissions target, it also provides support for fossil fuels, principally the opening up of the Galilee Basin for thermal coal and additional areas in the Surat Basin for exploring and developing coal seam gas.

“Climate change is also contributing to the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, which supports 69,000 jobs and is estimated to contribute $7 billion to the Queensland economy.

“Developing new fossil fuel deposits, like the Galilee Basin, will significantly worsen Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution and threaten thousands of jobs.”

Both the federal coalition and the LNP opposition in Queensland support new coal mines and have called for a new coal-fired power station in north Queensland. While the Labor opposition in Canberra has said it opposes federal government funding for the proposed Adani mine, it has been reluctant to explicitly state its opposition to the project.

In the context of the Queensland election and in response to public and social movement pressure, Labor has had an 11th hour conversion and now says it will exercise its veto of a federal funded loan to Adani. However Queensland Labor continues to support the Adan project and the opening up of the Galilee Basin to further coal extraction. 

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