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Nationalise coal— to fund a just transition away from it (interview)
Zane Alcorn, Green Left Weekly
This is the second part of an interview about breaking Australia’s addiction to coal between Green Left Weekly’s Zane Alcorn and retired Hunter Valley coal miner and climate activist Graham Brown. They discuss how a “just transition” away from coal could be made – a transition that benefits the workers and communities now dependent on coalmining and coal-fired energy plants.
Newcastle exports about $10 billion worth of coal a year. How much of that do you think is going to wages? We don’t really have to replace that full $10 billion of exports to provide equivalent wages to workers do we?
Well for a start I would dispute that $10 billion is a real figure. [The coal industry] gets that amount of money by multiplying the tonnage through the port by the average dollar price per tonne. The correct way to do it is to calculate whether a company is foreign owned or not. Some Chinese companies are fully [foreign] owned – and all they are doing is paying the production price of coal, which is currently $12-20 a tonne.
So it’s not really worth $10 billion. The money that needs to be coming into the transition away from coal should come from a nationalised coal industry.
If we’re serious about this transition, we can’t afford to have coal companies skipping the country. We should be nationalising it, or at the very least upping the royalties to 80%, and that money would pay for the transition.
Because, make no mistake about it, these coal companies will skip the country once it starts to wear out.
Can coal be phased out and be used to fund a transition in the meantime? Some climate activists I have spoken to over the years say if you nationalise coal, then the government will just want to keep that revenue source and so coal will never be phased out.
Yes, it can be phased out and nationalised as well. This would make it a lot easier to get the money required.
The government would have pressure from the public not to continue with it. Because part of the process of nationalising it would be the actual deduction of [the cost of] the just transition.
(19 Jul 2009)
Graham Brown is a retired coalminer and climate change activist. He’s also a member of the Upper Hunter Greens in NSW, and is helping build a union and community alliance aimed at creating a “just transition” to a carbon-neutral economy. Such a transition would ensure workers in the coal industry move into alternative employment...
Converting rapidly from coal-generated energy to gas is President Barack Obama’s most obvious first step towards saving our planet and jump-starting our economy. A revolution in natural gas production over the past two years has left America awash with natural gas and has made it possible to eliminate most of our dependence on deadly, destructive coal practically overnight – and without the expense of building new power plants.
Whatever the slick campaign financed by the powerful coal barons might claim, coal is neither cheap nor clean. Ozone and particulates from coal plants kill tens of thousands of Americans each year and cause widespread illnesses and disease. Acid rain has destroyed millions of acres of valuable forests and sterilised one in five Adirondack lakes. Neurotoxic mercury raining from these plants has contaminated fish in every state and poisons over a million American women and children annually. Coal industry strip mines have already destroyed 500 mountains in Appalachia, buried 2,000 miles of rivers and streams and will soon have flattened an area the size of Delaware. Finally, coal, which supplies 46 per cent of our electric power, is the most important source of America’s greenhouse gases.
America’s cornucopia of renewables and the recent maturation of solar, geothermal and wind technologies will allow us to meet most of our energy needs with clean, cheap, green power. In the short term, natural gas is an obvious bridge fuel to the “new” energy economy.
Since 2007, the discovery of vast supplies of deep shale gas in the US, along with advanced extraction methods, have created stable supply and predictably low prices for most of the next century. Of the 1,000 gigawatts of generating capacity currently needed to meet national energy demand, 336 are coal-fired. Surprisingly, America has more gas generation capacity – 450 gigawatts – than it does for coal.
...Mothballing or throttling back these plants would mean huge savings to the public and eliminate the need for more than 350m tons of coal, including all 30m tons harvested through mountain-top removal. Their closure would reduce US mercury emissions by 20-25 per cent, dramatically cut deadly particulate matter and the pollutants that cause acid rain, and slash America’s CO2 from power plants by 20 per cent – an amount greater than the entire reduction envisaged in the first years of the pending climate change legislation at a fraction of the cost.
To quickly gain further economic and environmental advantages, the larger, newer coal plants that remain in operation should be required to co-fire with natural gas. Many of these plants are already connected to gas pipelines and can easily be adapted to burn gas as 15 to 20 per cent of their fuel. Such co-firing dramatically reduces forced outages and maintenance costs and can be the most cost effective way to reduce CO2 emissions...
(19 July 2009)
Clean Coal: Competitive Someday, Just Not Today
Keith Johnson, Wall Street Journal
As if Big Coal’s protests weren’t enough, here’s another reality check for “clean coal.” Harvard’s Belfer Center just released an analysis of the costs of carbon capture and storage for coal-fired plants.
The good news? Clean coal could become an economically viable alternative source of energy down the road. The bad news? It’s a long road—and the short term isn’t pretty.
“The Realistic Costs of Carbon Capture,” which examined the economics of trapping carbon emissions from coal-fired plants now and in the future, concludes that making coal plants “clean” will be an expensive undertaking until the technology is mature. Actually storing the stuff underground might cost more money, or might be a source of revenue, depending whether it’s used to juice tired oil fields or just stuck in caves...
(20 July 2009)