I Can't Believe It's Not Coal!


Step right up folks, and witness the amazing energy-producing properties of Chocolate-Coloured Fossilised Carbon! See how this ancient substance magically turns black and vanishes under increased temperature! Marvel as a beautiful Dioxide Mist materialises before your very eyes!

What will the Victorian Government come up with next to describe the process of burning brown coal? Recently, Energy and Resources Minister Peter Bachelor spruiked a "$750 million Dual Gas power plant for Morwell", which, upon closer inspection turns out to be a brown coal-fired power plant whose construction stalled last year
due to coal supply issues and community opposition. If "Dual Gas" seems plausible, what other names can we use?

The proposed power plant was first announced in 2002. HRL, the company overseeing the project, said the plant could be in operation by 2008. The Victorian Government pledged $50 million to the project in 2006; the Howard Government offered to chip in $100 million in 2007. But the site was never finalised and the project lost momentum. Now the starting date isn’t till 2013, if at all.

The Victorian Government has mobilised every conceivable untruth to convince the public that the power plant is clean and green. In a 2008 media release, Energy and Resources Minister Peter Batchelor claimed the proposed power plant could "reduce emissions of CO2 from brown coal-fired power generation by 30 per cent". That’s 30 per cent off, folks — step right up!

But it turns out that brown coal-fired power generation is more polluting than black coal-fired generation. How much more? Oh, about 37 per cent, according to a 2002 paper produced by the Institute for Sustainable futures at the University of Technology, Sydney. So the proposed HRL power plant would have reduced CO2 emissions to the level of … a power plant in NSW or Queensland. Yes folks, some genuine CO2 savings there.

The Government knew the proposed HRL power plant would be no better for the environment than its black coal cousins. A 2004 report to the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment stated that the emissions intensity of the technology in the proposed HRL power plant would be "not materially lower than that of current technology black coal generation". Yet the Energy and Resources Minister labelled the plant "clean coal" anyway.

This was a big mistake. For not only was the proposed HRL power plant no cleaner than a black coal power plant, it didn’t even fit the definition of "clean coal". When scientists use this phrase, they’re usually talking about achieving near-zero emissions, which is only feasible through capturing carbon dioxide and storing it underground. But once built, the proposed HRL power plant would have achieved emissions reductions by drying brown coal, not by capturing and storing carbon dioxide. The power plant would still have produced an estimated 2.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gases each year.

Greenpeace put a case to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission arguing that HRL’s use of the term "clean coal" was misleading and in breach of the Trade Practices Act. But the complaint was rejected on a technicality — the media releases containing the term were promotional, not commercial, so the Trade Practices Act did not apply.

Now HRL has thought of another way to give this tarnished project a new, innocuous-sounding name. A separate company, Dual Gas, has been set up to oversee the project. This cunning ploy allows HRL and the Victorian Government to promote the power plant as "Dual Gas" despite the fact it would use brown coal. In reality, the power plant would be twice as polluting as a genuine gas-fired power station, according to a media release from Environment Victoria.

So why has the Victorian Government spent the last seven years brainstorming increasingly ludicrous names for a brown coal-fired power plant? Because Victoria has copious brown coal reserves, and if the Government doesn’t make this dirty fuel seem clean and viable, then the state loses an important economic asset. We’re sitting on an underground warehouse full of dodgy product, but the managers in charge are trying to sell it as a planet-saving solution.

The long-term plan, however, is to offload the stuff to some sucker overseas. According to Government sources, Peter Bachelor is supporting a bid to sell 12 million tonnes of brown coal to India every year, for the next 40 years. Australia hasn’t exported brown coal in the past because it has a high water content and is flammable. The Government hopes to dry out the coal so it’s safe for travel.

That’s right folks, our Chocolate-Coloured Fossilised Carbon is not only Emissions Reduced and actually ‘Dual Gas’, it’s also H2O-free so you can enjoy it on the go! Step right up, my Indian friend, and take some home for yourself. And while you’re in our fine country, can I interest you in some Quality International Education…?

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.