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.
When Hazelwood stops generating electricity this week, it will be the first Australian power station to close, at least in part, because of climate change. Hazelwood's owner, French energy giant Engie, has said it is "making climate a priority" and has committed to retiring its most outdated coal plants worldwide. Hazelwood's closure will bring the total to nine coal power stations in Australia that have retired in the last five years – including the Port Augusta power stations in South Australia, the Munmorah and Wallerawang power stations in New South Wales and the smaller Energy Brix and Anglesea power stations in Victoria. It's a clear indication the global industrial transition from coal to renewable energy across the world has reached our shores. Like all such transitions, this one will involve a big upheaval for the affected workers, but never before has an industrial transition had so much else at stake.
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.
Green groups say Australia's biggest coal producer Glencore should commit to withdrawing from new coalmining projects if it is serious about aligning its business with the goals of the Paris agreement. The company has moved to cap its output of thermal and coking coal at current production levels of 145m tonnes a year after pressure from investors who want companies to take stronger action and factor in the financial risks of climate change. Glencore says the decision to cap coal production and focus investment on commodities including nickel, copper and cobalt used in the renewables industry does not mean it intends to drop greenfield coal projects in Australia, such as its Wandoan coal project in Queensland's Surat Basin. The project has been on hold for several years for economic reasons because it would require investment for both the mine and associated new infrastructure. In New South Wales, the company's proposal for the expanded United Wambo Project in the Hunter Valley is being assessed by the NSW Independent Planning Commission and the forecast tonnes of that project are already contained within the 145MT cap.