Airborne mercury pollution from coal-fired power stations in Victoria's Latrobe valley increased 37% in just 12 months, according to an annual national survey of toxic emissions. The mercury output from Loy Yang B power station alone more than doubled to 831kg in 2016-2017, an increase of 123% over five years. The brown coal burning power station produced more than 640 times the airborne mercury pollution of Eraring power station near Newcastle, New South Wales. Eraring, Australia's largest coal-fired power station, produces three times the energy of Loy Yang B power station but reported just 1.3kg of airborne mercury pollution in 2016-17, a reduction of 97% over the past five years. The pollution gap between the two power stations is an example of the failure of state-based regulators to properly and consistently control air pollution, Environmental Justice Australia researcher Dr James Whelan said.
The Australian coal export industry has peaked and entered a "terminal long-term decline", says a new report that argues high prices have pushed global energy markets more quickly towards cheaper and cleaner alternatives. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis report, which focuses on the outlook for the New South Wales coal industry, argues record export profits for coalminers do not indicate a strong and growing industry. The report said export volumes from the port of Newcastle, the world's largest coal export harbour, peaked in 2016 and have begun a permanent decline. The conclusion is based on long-term trade forecasts for thermal coal and an analysis of Asian energy markets, where investment in coal-fired power is slowing. Australia's four biggest export markets for coal, Japan, South Korea, China and Taiwan, have scaled back their planned pipeline for new coal-fired projects and actively closed some power plants.
The health implications of coal-fired power should be a main concern in Australia's debate over energy generation, doctors have argued. Speaking on the ABC's Q&A program, the chair of Doctors for the Environment New South Wales, Dr John Van Der Kallen, asked panellists why health was not a primary consideration in the discussion over the closure of coal-fired power stations such as the Liddell plant in the Hunter Valley "when we know that the pollution from these coal-fired power stations contributes to respiratory and cardiovascular illness, as well as premature death?" Doctors for the Environment also oppose the proposed Adani coalmine in Queensland, which if built, will be the largest in Australia, and one of the largest in the world. "It will significantly increase Australia's contribution to international carbon emissions and threaten the health of millions of people in Australia and around the world." Emma Herd, chief executive of the Investor Group on Climate Change, said health concerns over coal-fired power were driving movement to renewables in other parts of the world.
A pumped hydro project that reuses an old goldmine in north Queensland is close to securing federal funding. The combined solar and pumped hydro generator is set to provide a quarter of the power needed to cover the shortfall from the closure of the Liddell coal-fired power station in New South Wales and can do it before 2021. Experts have also identified more than 22,000 prime sites around Australia where additional pumped hydro storage could be quickly built. The Kidston mine project, being built by Genex Power with some assistance from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, starts with a solar farm that will be ready to send power to households during the coming summer. The Genex executive director, Simon Kidston, says the first electricity will be generated in the first week of December and it will be brought up to the full 50 megawatt capacity by early February.
Australia's deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, has warned of a summer of blackouts unless politicians embrace coal power solutions. Energy policy was front and centre at the Nationals federal conference in Canberra, which Joyce addressed on Saturday. "Somewhere between floor 13 and 14 the lift will stop with you in it – an uncomfortable experience if you need to go to the bathroom," the Nationals leader said. Ensuring baseload power supply meant seeking coal-fired power solutions – including extending the life of the Liddell power station in New South Wales, Joyce said. He contrasted negotiations over Liddell to the closure of Victoria's Hazelwood power station this year.