This week’s Oxfam Australia report “More Coal Equals More Poverty,” covered in the Guardian, repeated many of the environmental movement’s usual claims that coal-fired electricity hurts the poor, contributes to global warming and is just about to be eclipsed by renewables anyway.
Here is a quick response to some of its major points:
1) Electricity Capacity and Generation Are Not the Same
Like most pro-renewables reports, the report talks about the large increase in installed ‘renewable energy capacity’ and equates this to coal and other fossil-fuel power. Capacity to deliver is not the same as ability to deliver. Solar and wind power typically operate at 25% to 33% of their potential and of course at night or in still conditions deliver 0%. Coal, gas and nuclear machines can generate electricity 24/7.
2) The Cost of Renewables Is Not In Freefall
Renewables don’t operate in a real market where the prices are set by a buyer and seller coming to an agreement. In the renewables ‘market’ governments step in, subsidise or even directly pay to build new wind and solar, guarantee to buy their output or use ‘emissions policy’ to force cheaper energy sources like coal to close. If they are so cheap then why is electricity getting more expensive all over the world?
3) India is Not Ditching Coal for Renewables
Around 240 million people in India currently don’t have access to electricity and 840 million people burn oil, crop waste or other materials in open household ovens to cook their food. While the Government is doing everything it can to fix this problem including supporting new solar, wind and hydroelectric power, it also has 50 gigawatts of new coal (equal to about 33 Hazelwood’s) currently planned or under construction.
4) India is Not Ending Coal Imports
The Indian Government has promised to end coal imports only for its government-owned stations by 2018 (though this target keeps getting moved back). Its Energy Minister has openly acknowledged that this does not affect privately owned coal power stations like Adani’s.
5) Village Renewables Will Never Power a Modern Industrial Economy Like Coal, Gas and Nuclear
In October 2015, Scientific American published an article that exposed the truth behind the environmentalist fantasy of solar panels powering villages in poor communities. After living through it, villagers demanded “We want real electricity, not fake electricity.” If solar and wind don’t generate enough electricity to power a small rural village in a poor part of India, how can they fuel a modern industrial economy?
6) Banning Australian Coal Exports Will Just Hand Money to Someone Else
While Australia has one of the world’s largest coal reserves, there is plenty of coal in the USA, Russia, South Africa, China, Indonesia and many other countries. If the environmental movement successfully closes the Australian coal export industry, someone else will just take our place.
7) The Paris Climate Change Agreement Doesn’t Actually Reduce Global CO2 emissions
The dirty little secret of the environmental movement is that the 2015 Paris climate change agreement isn’t legally binding and doesn’t actually reduce carbon dioxide emissions. If all countries actually implemented what they promised (which is itself unlikely) carbon dioxide levels will still rise. Reducing ‘per capita emissions intensity’ is not actually reducing emissions!
8) Weather Is Always Changing and Will Continue to Do So
The world’s temperatures have been going up and down for millennia. In fact, some studies have found that ice coverage in the Arctic and Antarctic has been increasing, hurricanes in the US are declining and increased atmospheric CO2 is actually helping to green the planet. Pointing to occasional extreme events and blaming them all on CO2 is not objective.
9) The Solution to Land Availability Problems is Not Renewables
One coal-fired power station can deliver cheap and reliable power to millions of people for decades and takes up a lot less land than the thousands of wind turbines or solar panels needed to match its output. The national wealth created by cheap and reliable electricity will help locals, especially those in poorer nations, to improve their local environment.
10) The World Is Not Dropping Coal
Greenpeace found in early 2017 that a total of 62 countries are planning over 800 gigawatts of new coal-fired power stations, equal to over 30 times Australia’s current coal-fired capacity. Bloomberg New Energy Finance last year found that global investment in new coal power would be worth $1.2 trillion between 2016 and 2040 and the International Energy Agency predicted last year that more coal would be consumed for electricity in 2040 than today.
If coal is so harmful and already on the way out, then why are so many countries investing their money in it? Unleashing the natural stored energy in coal, gas and uranium gives billions of people their best chance to get out of poverty.
Brett Hogan is Director of Research at the Institute of Public Affairs