14 Feb 2012

Double Standards For Solar And Coal

By Julien Vincent
The rules have been bent to keep HRL's dirty coal plant in play - just as a major solar project lost federal funding. It's another sign the Gillard Government isn't serious about clean energy, writes Julien Vincent

If a major solar project loses its government grant because its owners didn't meet the grant's milestones, most people would expect a proposed coal-fired power station in the same situation to be treated the same way, right?

Not with Energy Minister Martin Ferguson in charge.

On 7 February Ferguson announced that the Moree Solar Farm — one of the Solar Flagships program's shortlisted projects — was to lose its $306.5 million Commonwealth grant. After eight months, the project had failed to secure a power purchase agreement for its proposed 150 Megawatt solar power station.

Although this was disappointing news, many environmentalists became hopeful there would now be no way out for HRL, a company that failed to meet the conditions of its $100 million Commonwealth grant for a coal-fired power station by the 31 December 2011 deadline set by the Gillard Government.

The Energy Department was expected to make a decision on how to treat HRL's grant and several weeks ago I discussed why the grant should be withdrawn in New Matilda.

However on 10 February Minister Ferguson and his Victorian Government counterpart Michael O'Brien announced that HRL would be given another six months to satisfy their grant preconditions.

HRL is not trying to build a solar farm. Its proposal is for a new 600 Megawatt brown coal power station at Morwell in Victoria's Latrobe Valley, using a technology that reduces the plant's carbon pollution intensity to that of a standard black coal power station. If that sort of modification and meagre carbon pollution reduction sounds a little "yesterday", that's because it is.

It is now five years since HRL was awarded its grant by the Howard government, over seven times as long as the Moree solar project got to meet its grant preconditions. Over that period HRL have stumbled their way through their list of milestones requiring — as the Energy Department revealed in Senate Estimates last year — at least three extensions directly from the Minister.

Ferguson's decision to extend HRL's deadline in the same week as giving solar the chop was more than plain hypocrisy. It clarifies his loyalties and interests, which clearly do not align with those of the community. Last year polling showed that 67 per cent of Victorians would support HRL's grant being removed and given to renewable energy instead.

But it is the Gillard Government who should be most concerned about Ferguson's special treatment for HRL. After the political pain endured as it brought in a carbon price, the last thing they need now is the clean energy future commencing with a new dirty coal-fired power station. In fact, when Gillard said "there will be no more dirty coal-fired power stations built in this country", she effectively laid down the key test of a carbon price.

Fortunately, the fact that HRL still are unable to meet their grant milestones is down to the community standing up to Martin Ferguson's dirty energy agenda. The reason HRL have failed to secure finance for their project is that no investor in their right mind has been prepared to touch HRL's project. With the big four domestic banks and a host of major international banks all declaring themselves out of HRL's project, finding a financial backer is looking increasingly difficult.

Community opposition to HRL has also kept them from securing their legal approvals. When the EPA gave HRL works approval for the first half of their project, it contradicted nearly 4000 Victorians who lodged their opposition. The approval was also immediately taken to court by Victorian environmental groups, where it remains today.

The community will be working hard over the next six months to make sure HRL's dirty project never goes ahead. In large part our success will rest on one critical question: how far will this government let Martin Ferguson go to destroy its climate change credentials?

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Posted Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - 14:17

Who says dirty money doesn't buy what you want?

Posted Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - 15:00

This from Latrobe Valley Express, by Louis Nelson

"The Latrobe Valley welcomed its "best employment news in a long time" on Friday, with the announcement of $100 million in State and Federal funding for Victoria's first Carbon Capture and Storage program.

In a joint announcement by federal and state energy and resource ministers Martin Ferguson and Michael O'Brien at Latrobe City headquarters, the joint 'CarbonNet' project funds will enable feasibility studies in the Valley to investigate potential CCS sites and transmission methods.

On his third visit to the region since the announcement of the Federal Government's carbon pricing policy, Minister Ferguson said CarbonNet, if successful, would secure the region's use of brown coal well into the future.

"If we get CarbonNet right, it opens up a whole opportunity for future generations," Mr Ferguson said.

He said the technology would retain existing and emerging power industry jobs while expanding its "viable skill" base, as well as meeting national carbon emission reduction targets.

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union mining and energy division's Graeme Middlemiss said Friday's announcement was a game changer for the region's future prosperity.

"It is the first tangible announcement of future employment in the Valley since the carbon tax announcement, and $100 million buys a lot of research," Mr Middlemiss said.

The funding, comprising $30 million and $70 million in state and federal funding respectively, comes under the Commonwealth $1.68 billion Carbon Capture and Storage Flagship Program, as part of its $5 billion Clean Energy Initiative.

It represents the first stage of the Valley program's funding, to which Latrobe City mayor Ed Vermeulen said he had "no doubt" further funding would be allocated in future stages.

When applied to power stations, carbon capture and storage would collect carbon dioxide emissions for storage deep underground, however while the technology has only been proven in the chemical and petroleum industries, successful implementation for coal-fired power generation remains elusive."

So you see, why invest in solar power when you're investing in CCS? And this shows why we will get another coal fired power station - they're gonna milk this for all its worth and then the shit will hit the fan on someone else's watch, not theirs!! The Latrobe Valley will be a big loser if we end fossil fuel sources, that's thousands and thousands of jobs, families, apprentices, tradies and their entire communities.

Posted Friday, February 17, 2012 - 10:29

We were very optimistic when we recently heard Julien Vincent and other climate activists argue for the cessation of Government subsidy for HRL's dirty energy proposal (we were there on the steps of the Victorian Parliament with our big Yarra Valley Climate Action Group banner).

We were angered but not surprised by the Gillard Government's further betrayal of the environment by continuing the offer of subsidy for HRL's dirty energy plan. Unfortunately this is exactly what one expects from this pro-oil wars, pro-coal, pro-gas, fossil fuel burning-subsidizing, pro-logging, pro-uranium exports, neocon Labor Government.

Apart from the fact that Labor violated a clear election promise, the Carbon Tax is a massive deception. Treasury modelling in its 2011 "Strong Growth, Low Pollution" Report estimated that under the Carbon Tax-ETS Australia's Domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution would rise from 578 million tonnes CO2-e in 2010 to 621 million tonnes CO2-e in 2020 (see: http://cache.treasury.gov.au/treasury/carbonpricemodelling/content/repor... ).

Indeed Australia's Domestic plus Exported GHG pollution in millions of tonnes of CO2-e will rise under the Carbon Tax-ETS from 1,077 in 2000 to 1,799 in 2020 (a 1.7-fold increase over that in 2000) and to 4,490 in 2050 (a 4.2-fold increase over that in 2000) (see "2011 Climate Change Course": https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/2011-climate-change-course ).

Tackling climate change means decreasing not increasing GHG pollution but.the pro-coal, pro-gas, carbon burning-subsidizing Gillard Labor Government is deceiving the public yet again - it has every intention of INCREASING Australia's already huge greenhouse gas pollution.

The Coalition (the Libs) are as equally appalling as Labor (the Labs) but at least one can say that (a) they wear their pro-war, pro-coal, pro-gas, pro-logging awfulness on their sleeve and (b) they haven't actually betrayed Labor voters - unlike the Australian Labor Party which has become an Alternative Liberal Party, Another Liberal Party, an Apartheid Labor Party and the Australian Lying Party.

The only effective voter strategy for defeating the de facto climate change denialist Lib-Labs is "punish the incumbent". Just as pro-coal, pro-gas, pro-logging Brumby Labor had to go in Victoria so must the pro-coal, pro-gas, pro-logging Baillieu Libs for sabotaging solar, sabotaging wind, cattle in the Alpine National Park and support for more dirty energy.

A more precise suggestion Federally is to vote 1 Green and put Labor last until it reverts to decent pro-peace, pro-environment, pro-equity , pro-human rights policies. The ALP's stance as Another Liberal Party is a betrayal of decent Labor voters.

Peace is the only way but Silence kills and Silence is complicity.

Posted Friday, February 17, 2012 - 16:12

Dr GP, you usually have something interesting to say, but I lose sight of it through all your "pro this" and "anti that" lists. I wish you would just say your interesting thoughtful, insightful bits which you usually DO have, cos the rest distracts and detracts my thinking, reading, analysing.

Posted Sunday, February 19, 2012 - 12:45

We really do need to end the political career of Gillard's Resources, Energy and Tourism Minister, one Martin Ferguson.
Not that it would worry him one iota, he must already have a lot of very well paid jobs lined up with the Mlning, Minerals and Nuclear Industries. He has been helping them assiduously for many years. NOT the Australian Public.
Wish we could take him to Court somehow, and keep him in 'durance vile' for many years. Long past his 'use by' date, anyway. A traitor? Taking Public Monies under false pretenses?