The coal power station business had a very bad year in 2019 – but not so much in Australia.
Carbon Brief, a website monitoring how climate and energy policies interact, said the 3 percent global drop in electricity generation by coal was the biggest on record. To put that in perspective, that’s the annual energy output from coal in Germany, Spain and the UK combined – adding up to a hefty 300 terawatt hours.
And the Global Coal Plant Tracker, which is basically a big online map detailing where coal is burned all over the world, said plenty of developed countries are giving up on the black stuff altogether. Places like Canada, Italy, France, New Zealand and many others have no current plans to build any more coal-fired units. The United States, meanwhile, not only has no plans in the works, there are none currently in construction either.
Australia, though, is an outlier. The tracker claims that although 11 coal projects were shelved in our country in the last decade, there are currently plans to build three new coal power stations.
To some, those plans are not controversial. Writing in The Australian, Matt Canavan claims that “Without new coal-fired power stations, thousands of manufacturing jobs across Australia will be lost”. Crucially, Prime Minister Scott Morrison agrees with that, saying it would be “reckless” to endanger the jobs of the more than 50,000 people employed by the coal industry.
Germany, though, which closed its last black coal mine two years ago and wants to close all brown coal mines and coal power plants altogether by 2038, is apparently doing so without shedding a single job.
“(The government) asked us how much time you need to do that without any problems, not to bring the people off the working market,” Christophe Beike, spokesman for the German coal giant RAG, told Foreign Correspondent.
The coal industry is also on the slide in other developed countries, like South Korea and those in the European Union. Even in India, a place not normally associated with kicking the coal habit, is set to record a reduced coal output for the first time in 30 years, and coal power generation in China is flattening out.
“We are something of an anomaly in the developed world,” Simon Nicholas, an analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, told SBS News. “Among developed nations, Australia is almost on its own in terms of wanting to build new coal-fired power stations,” he added.
Nicholas says the main problem in Australia is politics, as our coal industry – one of the biggest net exporters in the world – has a lot of influence on “both major sides of politics”.
“Overseas, in places like the US and UK, there’s less pressure on governments to keep the industry alive,” he explained.
Of course, Australia is not the world’s worst offender in terms of pushing ahead with plans for more coal power stations. India is planning 27 new projects, Indonesia 52 (with 24 others in construction), Turkey 28, and China a whopping 206 either in pre-construction or construction.
But Australia is among only four other fully developed economies still pushing ahead with coal power projects, like the one the Australian government is spending $4 million on for a feasibility study in Collinsville, north Queensland. Japan, Poland, South Korea and Germany are the other offending developed countries still considering new coal power.