On Wednesday, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and CoalSwarm released the 2017 edition of Boom and Bust: Tracking the Global Coal Plant Pipeline, a publication that helpfully tallies up all of the coal-fired power stations in development over the globe.
Predictably, the report got a strong run in the Guardian under the headline “Coal in Freefall as New Power Plants Dive by Two-Thirds” with its authors claiming that a reduction in the rate of growth showed that the shift away from fossil fuels was ‘unstoppable.’
However contrary to Greenpeace spin and The Guardian’s gullibility, the report shows that ten times the amount of world coal-fired power stations were under construction in January 2017 (a total of 273 gigawatts) than were retired over the previous twelve months (27 gigawatts). Hundreds more are also in the planning and pre-construction stages.
Examination of the source documents on the related website also reveals that a total of 62 countries are planning or building a combined 841 gigawatts of new coal-fired power stations.
To put this into a domestic perspective, Australia’s total coal-fired capacity is currently around 26 gigawatts.
The report clearly demonstrates that while governments around Australia dither about the best way to keep the lights on and prices low, other countries in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America are still putting money into new coal-fired power plants while also pursuing renewable opportunities.
Based on the 77 gigawatts of new coal-fired capacity that was completed in the year 2016 alone, if the Greens were successful in closing all of Australia’s coal-fired power stations tomorrow, the rest of the world would make up for it in four months then keep on going.
The International Left just can’t get its head around the fact that for electricity, as with other commodities, it is demand that ultimately drives supply, not the edicts of government, well-funded NGOs or the United Nations.
The desire of people in the developing world for measurable improvements in heating, cooling, cooking, transport, refrigeration and industrial-scale construction can’t be met by intermittent wind or solar power, or by building batteries or interconnectors that don’t actually generate new electricity.
The extra 2.5 billion people that will inhabit the world’s cities by 2050 will not accept burning wood or dung to cook a meal or to keep warm.
Which is why the International Energy Agency in its November World Energy Outlook predicted that more oil, gas, coal and uranium will be consumed individually and cumulatively in 2040 than in 2014 to meet this demand.
Or that the anti-coal, ecological campaigning organisation BankTrack found in 2015 that global bank financing for coal mines and power stations was still worth $141 billion in 2014 virtually unchanged from the previous year.
The Left just can’t seem to get its story straight – is coal already done for and hence Australia needs to get out of the business before it is left stranded or is its use still growing exponentially hence the world needs to sign up for ever-more restrictive trade, emissions and financing rules?
If the Australian public really does support renewables, and renewables are already cheaper than alternatives, then reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher’s 1975 declaration that “no Western nation has to build a wall round itself to keep its people in” why does the federal parliament have to keep a law to compel electricity retailers to buy that product?
With its abundance of natural resources, Australia should have the lowest cost and most reliable energy in the world, for households and for businesses.
The federal government should be the guardian of competition in the energy sphere, allowing the private sector to figure out which sources of energy and which technologies will satisfy the most customers at the best price.
To this end, all available fuels including uranium, gas and coal should be on the table and any state or federal laws, rules or practices that prevent this should be repealed.
New technologies that burn less black or brown coal for the same reliable power output or that process nuclear waste into electricity are a better long-term option than the diesel generators the Weatherill Government has secured to prevent summer blackouts before next year’s state election or the Turnbull Government’s water-dependent ‘Snowy 2 idea.’
The rest of the world is getting on with it, and so should we.
Brett Hogan is director of research at the Institute of Public Affairs.
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