Raising the BARR – Week ending 22 February 2019

My Position on Coal

Last week there was some media attention suggesting that Hunter Members of Parliament, State and Federal, did not support the coal industry. It was an absurd news story that was factually incorrect.

I have, on many occasions, publicly declared my position of support for our coal industry. I have regularly heard our Federal MP, Joel Fitzgibbon, doing the same. Apart from anything else, the coal industry makes up 20% of our Hunter economy. That means that 1 in 5 families rely on coal as their income stream. You would have to be an insane person to want to shut down coal in the Hunter today or tomorrow or even in the next decade or two or three. Our entire Hunter economy would crash.

We use coal for two things – making steel (coking coal) and producing heat to make electricity (thermal coal). To the best of my knowledge I have not heard anyone suggesting we ban steel, so we can’t ban coking coal. But that’s not a Hunter problem.

Thermal coal is what we produce here in the Hunter. It is some of the best in the world which means that you need to burn less coal to produce the electricity. More than 80% of the coal produced here in the Hunter is shipped off to foreign lands for their use. Many of those countries are still building new coal fired power stations, meaning they will want our coal for at least 30-40 years into the future.

The use of coal will come to an end at some point in time and we should walk in that direction with our eyes wide open and a plan in action. That might be 30-40 years away, or it might be a bit longer. Many of the decisions about the longer term use of coal will be made by various countries, of their own free will. We here in the Hunter, or NSW, or Australia will not be able to make those decisions for foreign countries. We can only make a decision about whether to sell them our coal, or not. Given that our Hunter coal creates less pollution, because you don’t need to burn as much of it, compared to other lower quality black and brown coals, it is likely that even climate aware Governments will still allow Hunter coal to be sold.

There’s a Fair Bit of Snake Oil On Offer in the Electricity Debate

Beware the person wanting to commit us to a new coal fired power station here in NSW/Australia. We are an advanced country with a wonderful electricity network. We also have wonderful naturally occurring energy resources in the form of sunshine and wind. And we have a very advanced technical scientific community that can steer us toward renewable energy.

If you were to build a new coal fired power station today, you would be locking in electricity prices at $100+ per megawatt of power. By contrast, if you were to build a new solar or wind farm today, you would be locking in electricity prices at $60 or less, per megawatt hour. And these renewable prices are getting cheaper every day.

People will have their own views on many elements of electricity generation and climate, but can we all just agree that $60/h is a much better deal than $100/h?