Is the carbon tax the end of dirty coal power?

Labor and the Greens claim the carbon price means the beginning of the end for coal-fired power. But at best we will see a large expansion of gas-fired power, which the government labels a “cleaner fuel”.

Greg Combet told Lateline in April, “What we’re really talking about is bringing on baseload gas-fired electricity generation”.

But gas still releases greenhouse gases and is no solution to the climate problem. Campaign group Beyond Zero Emissions point out that gas plants, “emit between 45 to 70 per cent of greenhouse gases compared to a coal-fired power station”, when emissions released in mining are included.

And emissions would be locked in for 30 to 50 years, the life of a new plant.

Even the end of new coal power plants is uncertain. The government’s evidence for this is Treasury modeling which says the $23/tonne starting price is enough to make coal unprofitable. Modeling done by consulting firms Deloitte and ACIL Tasman has said a price of between $40 and $60 is necessary to drive out coal. And the Treasury admits in one of their modeled “scenarios” that one large new coal power station will be built.The carbon tax devotes billions to compensation and buy outs for coal power stations, but little for the workers jobs

Buying out Hazelwood?
The government is also proposing to buy out and close 2000 Megawatts (MW) of coal power by 2020. This is targeted at heavy polluting plants like Hazelwood in Victoria and Playford in South Australia.

These plants need to close. But they should not be replaced by more fossil fuels, nor billions wasted on compensation for their owners.

The government has promised a “comprehensive structural adjustment support package” for workers at closed plants.

But it will do little more than help workers with resume preparation and interview skills—not much help if there are not new jobs to go to. The government has offered only $200 million over seven years to assist all regional areas across Australia affected by the carbon tax package.

Hazelwood owners International Power-GDF Suez have demanded up to $3 billion to close—although the money for buyouts will not be available until after 2016.

Overall power stations will get free permits and cash compensation estimated at $5.5 billion over six years, as well as government loans if they have trouble refinancing existing debt.

Workers at the power stations are rightly worried. AMWU Hazelwood delegate Phil Bramstedt told AMWU News, “We don’t want another situation like the Kennett privatisation, when we lost 8000 jobs overnight”.

The Electrical Trades Union has rightly refused to support the government’s plan over the question of jobs, saying, “800 direct jobs would be lost if Hazelwood closed while the loss of indirect jobs could flow into the thousands”.

If these workers are thrown on the scrap heap it will fuel opposition to phasing out further power stations.

There is every indication the 2000MW electricity generation capacity eventually shut down will be replaced by natural gas, or even new coal, rather than renewable energy.

Soon after becoming prime minister Julia Gillard promised no more dirty coal-fired power stations would ever be built.

But the federal government still has a $100 million grant on the table for the proposed HRL brown coal “demonstration” plant in Victoria. Gillard refused to rule out HRL going ahead when asked a direct question about it on ABC TV’s Q& A.

We are still going to have to fight for a renewable future.

That means backing both the campaign to stop HRL, and unions fighting for new jobs in the Latrobe Valley.

By Chris Breen


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