Cutting through the bullshit about clean coal

Last night on 730, there was an analysis of the claims made by  (amongst other people) Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison about clean coal.

Here is part of the transcript:

HAYDEN COOPER: So, why are we here? Well, about an hour and a half from Gladstone in central Queensland, there’s a power station that is pretty much the closest example that we have in Australia to the new-found ideal of the Prime Minister.

It’s a super-critical plant called Callide C.

kFEL2WhXPk_CallideDec2013.jpg

Built in 2001, there’s only four of these in the country. This one is run by Queensland Government-owned, CS Energy.

MARTIN MOORE, CEO, : You can get more bang for your buck. So, as you run the boiler at high temperatures and pressures, you can actually generate the same amount of electricity using less coal, and so obviously less emissions as well.

So when you compare this to brown coal power stations down in the Latrobe Valley, this would have about 25 per cent less emissions than you’d find from there.

HAYDEN COOPER: As CEO Martin Moore showed me how the plant works, I wondered what he thought about the next level up in coal-fired power – ultra-super-critical plants. The answer was a surprise.

MARTIN MOORE: It’s not game-changing. You’ve still got to think that ultra-super-critical produces twice the emissions of gas-fired technology.

HAYDEN COOPER: So would he, the CEO of a coal-powered generator, build one?

MARTIN MOORE: Well, I think CS Energy certainly has no intention of building any coal-fired power plants, ultra-centre super-critical or not.

And it would surprise me greatly if there was any more coal-fired technology was built in Australia.

I think when you look at the risk of the investment, you’re talking about $2 billion-plus investment up-front. These assets have a plant life of roughly 40 years, and so it’s a very, very big long-term bet.

So given the current uncertainty, I think it would be a very courageous board that would invest in coal-fired technology in Australia.

Examples in Asia were cited by BRENDAN PEARSON, CEO, MINERALS COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIA

IAN DUNLOP, FORMER COAL EXECUTIVE: Those coal plants in Asia, whilst they’re all fine on paper, a large number of them are basically being cancelled or mothballed, and the big push is moving away from that.

HAYDEN COOPER: Ian Dunlop is a former oil industry executive and head of the Australian Coal Association in the ’80s when the term “clean coal” first emerged.

IAN DUNLOP: “Clean coal” is an oxymoron. I mean coal is not clean. You can have cleaner coal, but it’s not clean coal.

HAYDEN COOPER: These days, he campaigns for a cleaner planet, and Australia, he says, cannot meet its Paris climate targets if coal power remains in the energy mix.

IAN DUNLOP: The pressure on us is going to be enormous and the fact is that, if we go ahead and do the things the Prime Minister’s talking about, you’re going to lock this in for the next 40 or 50 years.

So, to use the political vernacular, I mean, Australia is pretty much the world’s biggest leaner – not a lifter in any way.

HAYDEN COOPER: Of course, there’s one other way to inject some proper meaning into the phrase “clean coal” and that is through carbon capture-and-storage.

So, the concept of taking the emissions from a plant like this and storing them underground.

Now the problem is that this technology just hasn’t really taken off in Australia.

In fact, in the whole world, there’s only 15 successful operations of carbon capture-and-storage under way.

None of them is here.

CS Energy knows this, because it tried it.

MARTIN MOORE: We proved that technologically it’s possible to retrofit this to an existing coal-fired plant, but commercially the numbers don’t stack up.

So it would take a very, very big investment plunge to try and get CCS moving, which we’re not seeing coming forward.

HAYDEN COOPER: It’s correct to say that there’s no commercial operation in Australia yet of CCS?

MARTIN MOORE: No and it’s unlikely there will be. I think that technology may well be bypassed.

HAYDEN COOPER: Really? Simply because of the cost?

MARTIN MOORE: Simply because of the economics, yes.

HAYDEN COOPER: So what do you think when you hear the phrase “clean coal”?

MARTIN MOORE: Well, clean coal, theoretically, is about that carbon capture-and-storage. So if you could decarbonise coal by capturing and sequestering the emissions, then you’d have clean coal.

It sounds easy if you say it fast enough, but it’s not that simple.

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