Every coal-fired plant comes with this huge unknown risk. Causation of poor health outcomes might seem hard to prove, but with cadmium, dioxins, formaldehyde, lead, mercury, arsenic, and particulate matter, it’s not far-fetched.
The big lie: coal as subsidised more than alternatives
The coal industry’s mouthpiece, the Minerals Council of Australia, recently released a report into the viability of ‘low emission’ coal generation and how it could fit into Australia's energy market. While the report itself is riddled with assumptions that favour the Council’s intended outcome – many of which have been extensively covered – one particular point is so deceitful, it lays bare the bold-faced, white-knuckled lies of an industry struggling to cope with its impending obsolescence.
One of the report’s key findings was that $3 billion in Government subsidies were paid to Australia’s renewable energy industry in 2015-2016. The suggestion was made that this was a bad investment and the funds would be better spent on ‘low emission’ coal generation. Nowhere in the report did it mention the subsidies currently keeping the coal industry sputtering along. Exact figures of the total subsidies flowing to the mining industry are notoriously difficult to find (and the mining industry has extremely creative definitions of what does and does not constitute a subsidy) although recent estimates place the taxpayer-funded umbilical cord feeding the coal industry at, conservatively, AU$7.7 billion.
No more politics
So if coal is dead, what’s next? Well, first, we need to make energy apolitical. We need to recognise we don’t do alternative energy to save the planet, we do it because it will save individuals, businesses and taxpayers a lot of money and help the economy grow. The energy wars are essentially over. Renewables should be anointed the clear winner and Australia needs to embrace the future full (non-coal-powered) steam ahead, assuming its rightful place as a world leader in renewables. When Australia’s largest energy provider, AGL, begs the government to scrap coal from its Clean Energy Target, isn’t it time to listen?
Let renewable energy growth go free, let it go nuts. Prices will plummet. Imagine an Australia where off-peak energy costs nothing and businesses thrive because energy —now strangling enterprise— is so cheap it becomes little more than detail on the bottom line. We’re not too far from this reality; but if we’re going to get there, we need to start travelling in the same direction.
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