OPINION: Securing Our Future

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The current and ongoing debate on energy is good to see. The fact is, energy costs relate directly to the cost of living for rural and regional families and the cost of doing business. Small, medium or large, those same businesses provide jobs, therefore income to pay for our chosen lifestyles.

Many people have views that are polarising in the energy debate. That is, coal vs renewables rather than taking what I would consider is a more productive, pragmatic approach to ensuring energy generation is as cheap as possible and practical in its delivery for families and businesses.

Renewable energy sources provide practical and relatively cheap energy on a domestic or small scale and can work very well in that scenario.

Coal fired power stations provide the base load power that is required for the wider community on a reliable and relatively cheap basis. 

We need baseload power to run the electric trains, keep the street lights going, the hospitals, the schools and all the public services we generally ignore until we need them. Those large-scale energy users, that are not specific to the public services alone, require secure and cheap energy or they will simply not operate.

Renewable energy sources require huge taxpayer subsidies to make them competitive with coal. In 2015/16 around $2.9billion of taxpayers’ funds were given to the renewable energy sector and this is ongoing each year.

At the same time, governments and the private sector are either closing or planning to close coal fired power stations which, to be fair, are at or reaching their practical life and really need too much money spent on them to keep them going, which will have a direct impact on electricity costs for families, businesses and primary producers.

We have an alternative that can provide secure, cheap energy for decades to come, that is a High Efficiency Low Emissions (HELE) coal fired power station.

For what is currently the annual renewable energy sector subsidy cost, ($2.9b), we could build one HELE coal fired power station that would have a life of 50 years or more and secure cheap, reliable energy, allowing us all to put the kettle on, make the toast, keep the lights on, keep the air conditioners going, without breaking the family or business budget.

I can hear some now saying ‘what about reducing emissions and climate change?’, well a HELE coal fired power station reduces emissions by around 25-30% compared to current older generators and that reduction in emissions meets all climate change emission reduction targets, signed up to by Australia.

There is no reason why Australia cannot meet is climate change targets and still build new HELE coal fired power stations.

Also, if you think that just building wind turbines and solar panels will stop coal from being mined, think again. The amount of coal required to build one wind turbine is huge. I’ve seen the amounts range from 80 tonnes to 200 tonnes of coal per wind turbine. Regards of what the amount is, a totally renewable energy generation sector does not stop mining at all and they (wind turbines and solar panels) will be required to be replaced at least once during the same life cycle of a HELE coal fired power station.

It’s time the energy debate became less ideological and more pragmatic and that we all remember this; in the Upper Hunter we have the skills, the resources, the infrastructure and the need for building a HELE coal fired power station that will replace lost capacity with the closure of Liddell and secure cheap, reliable energy for many decades to come. This can be done with just one year’s worth of renewable energy rebates.

Michael Johnsen, MP, Member for Upper Hunter 

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