Climate change impacts become more obvious every day, meaning that any government that cares about the future of the planet should be looking at ways to replace existing coal fired power stations with renewable energy sources as soon as possible. However Kristina Keneally’s NSW Labor Government has done the exact opposite of this by announcing concept approval for another two fossil fuel burning power stations to be built at Bayswater in the Hunter Valley and Mt Piper near Lithgow. I find it shocking that the government can even consider a project like this, let alone approve it. Building new pollution belching stacks is the last thing a government supposedly concerned about the future should be doing. The government’s actions are totally irresponsible, bordering on criminal negligence.
These two new plants, if powered by coal, will increase NSW greenhouse gas emissions by around 15% (the equivalent of doubling the number of cars on our roads), which means an increase in the emissions of Australia as a whole of just under 5%. At the same time, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd tells us he wants to decrease Australia’s Greenhouse gas emissions by 5%, a very weak target far below what the science tells us is necessary to avoid a climate catastrophe. However any small benefits that this pitiful target may have had will be completely wiped out by these two new power plants being built by Rudd’s mates in the NSW Labor party.
Planning Minister Tony Kelly has said that the plants may be powered by natural gas instead of coal. Natural gas burns cleaner than coal which means the negative impacts of the project would be a little less severe. However the Minister says the decision on whether to use coal or gas will be determined based on “the market”. Given the distance of the Mt Piper site from the nearest gas pipeline and the proximity of the Bayswater site to the Hunter Valley’s many coal mines, it seems highly unlikely that these plants will be powered with gas. In any event gas is a fossil fuel and therefore non renewable and should only be considered for refitting existing coal fired plants to achieve a short term improvement whilst renewable technology is developing.
The NSW Government claims that these plants will be needed over the next decade to “keep the lights from going out” – to meet the state’s increasing demand for electricity. However this claim comes from the Owen Report – commissioned by former Premier Morris Iemma to justify his plans to sell the state’s electricity assets to private companies – which exaggerated shortfalls in electricity supply in order to build support for Iemma’s ambitions. NSW is not running low on electricity generation capacity and if it was there are much better ways of solving the problem.
In his paper How to reduce CO2 emissions by 50% Dr Mark Diesendorf, lecturer in environmental studies at the University of NSW, explains how there are no technical or economic barriers to Australia adopting widespread renewable energy technology and that the only barrier is a lack of political will. He points out that a combination of improved energy efficiency and greater reliance on renewables could see Australia reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% in the next few decades, even with a population and an economy that continues to grow. It is to these measures, rather than ones that lock us into decades more of coal dependence, that governments should be looking for the answers to our energy needs.
It is a sad state of affairs that in 2010 governments are still so in the thrall of the fossil fuel industries that they ignore the needs of the planet and the demands of the people for clean energy and green jobs. My Greens colleagues and I will be doing all we can to make sure the government doesn’t get away with this, but we need your help. Write to your local MP, whether government, opposition or crossbencher and ask them where they stand on these new power plants. Tell them you won’t vote for anyone who is irresponsible enough to support new coal fired power stations, then spread the message to your community. If governments won’t make the right decisions on their own, it’s up to us to force them to.
For more information on solar energy, see my earlier post on this topic.