Last week Whitehaven Coal’s Vickery Mine extension took another critical step towards approval. That’s good news. If finally approved, we can expect Whitehaven will be extracting 10 million tonnes or thermal and semi-soft coking coal for the next thirty years. It’s a clear sign international demand for our quality coal will remain strong for decades to come.
Like all industries in this COVID-19 environment, the coal sector is not without its challenges. But record high prices and strong demand puts pay to the views of those who continue to predict coal’s imminent death. That’s more good news for the Hunter region and its workforce.
It’s been a slow burn – excuse the pun – but many of the naysayers are coming to realise that the fossil fuel industry remains crucial to the living standards of people in developed and developing countries alike. Indeed, in this 21st Century, we rely on fossil fuels for 80 per cent of our energy needs. I wonder how many of the anti-fossil fuels campaigners understand that. Not many I suspect. Or is it worse: they know it but choose to ignore it!
Activists surely understand too, that nowhere in the world is there an electricity system which is capable of running on renewable energy alone. Not yet anyway. The day will come for sure, but it’s a long, long way off.
The sad thing is Australia could reduce its emissions from electricity generation more rapidly if we embraced nuclear power but for most, the politics is too hard to even have the conversation. We continue to ship our uranium to others for electricity generation but refuse to even consider using it here. It’s too hard know whether to describe that as confused, weird or hypocritical, but any of the above will suffice. But we can’t blame the politicians only, I’ll bet London to a brick that no matter where a safe Generation 4 generator were proposed in Australia, it would meet with strong local opposition.
So, thank goodness we have coal and gas to keep our electricity grid in balance and reliable. Thank goodness we have coal and gas to keep downward pressure on power prices. Without them the price would hit unaffordable peaks when renewable energy is not available.
The stakes are higher for developing countries. Highly populated developing nations like China and India need all the coal, gas, nuclear, wind, solar and hydro power they can muster. For them, it’s not one or the other. Without all of those sources of electricity, they cannot continue to lift millions of people out of poverty. They also need our metallurgical coal to build their new cities, rail lines, roads, wind generators, electricity transmission lines and more.
So, it’s a good thing some common sense seems to be creeping back into the public debate. It’s good news for our local economy and local jobs, good news for our national economy, and good news for those in the Indo-Pacific region who have not yet enjoyed the benefits of modernisation that we’ve been blessed to enjoy.
It’s a good thing for carbon output too, because every tonne of relatively efficient Australian coal burned displaces a tonne of less efficient coal. That means more energy for less carbon output. That’s good news for the world!
Hon Joel Fitzgibbon MP
Federal Member for Hunter