The Gillard government has been accused of distorting its $10 billion clean energy fund to favour the Greens' pet projects after Bob Brown confirmed he insisted on the exclusion of carbon capture and storage from the fund.The International Energy Agency estimates CCS - the capture of carbon dioxide in smoke stacks and its storage underground - can deliver almost 20 per cent of the global greenhouse gas abatement needed by 2050.
However, the $10bn Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which Labor negotiated with the Greens as part of gaining their support for the carbon tax, excludes funding for CCS. The Rudd government had heavily backed CCS technology, helping to establish trials in Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland.
The Greens leader said yesterday his party had insisted on the exclusion of CCS from the fund. "We didn't want it in there because . . . the coal industry is making tens of millions of dollars each year and exporting most of that money overseas - its pockets are bulging," Senator Brown said. "So let the multi-billion-dollar coal industry pay for its own research and not pilfer the public purse over that, while we get on with supporting solar power and the alternatives we want to see grow here in Australia."
Former Queensland premier Peter Beattie said CCS was a crucial part of Australia's energy mix and the future of the coal industry depended on it. "I have always been a strong supporter of clean-coal technology and carbon capture and storage - I remain so," Mr Beattie told The Australian last night. "The increasing world demand for energy, particularly from China, means there will be no energy solutions without carbon capture and storage - it is that simple."
The Australian Coal Association accused the Gillard government of excluding CCS because of the Greens' hostility to the technology, which would allow coal-fired power plants and other industry to remain in operation. ACA executive director Ralph Hillman said Greens bias had made the $10bn corporation essentially "a handout" to the minor party to pursue its favoured technologies. "This part of the package is clearly a reward to the Greens for agreeing to industry assistance and other things they didn't like (in the carbon tax)," Mr Hillman said.
"CCS is an anathema to the Greens. They are trying to kill the coal industry here and everywhere else, and the gas industry and all fossil fuels." The government's clean energy plan envisages $100bn of investment in renewable power projects to help meet the new goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. Treasury modelling shows coal's share of the energy mix falling from 70 per cent to 10 per cent over the next 40 years.
Carbon capture and storage for coal is expected to provide about 15 per cent of energy.
Renewables will rise from 10 per cent today to 40 per cent.
The concentration of the $10bn Clean Energy Finance Corporation on Greens-favoured projects such as wind, solar and geothermal follows last month's finding by the Productivity Commission that government subsidies of renewable energy schemes - from commercial-sized wind farms to solar panels on houses - were an expensive and inefficient form of abatement that obstructed deeper cuts to emissions.
Senator Brown said CCS was at least two decades away from being of practical application.
"There is no CCS available," the Greens leader said. "We're told now that that's not going to be around in any meaningful way until two decades from now. "Well, let's get on with the things that are available - like geothermal, wind and solar."
His comments were contradicted by the Global CCS Institute in Canberra, which said the technology was already being successfully applied at eight major plants across the world.
The Greens leader also drew heavy fire from the coal sector, which said it was investing $1bn in CCS but believed the technology should not be excluded from the far larger clean energy finance fund.
Barry Jones, general manager of the Global CCS Institute, which was established by the Rudd government to push CCS investigations globally, said the technology did exist and was "in operation today around the world". "We track the status of large-scale, integrated projects capable of dealing with more than one million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year - and there are currently eight projects of that scale operating around the world," he said. "They are in the United States, Canada, Algeria, Norway and soon in places like Australia as well."
This view was supported by Herbert Huppert, the Australian-born foundation director of the Institute of Theoretical Geophysics at Cambridge University, who expressed disappointment that CCS was not included in the clean energy fund.
Professor Huppert said that despite positive research results, not enough was being done to promote CCS research. The IEA calculates that CCS can deliver 19 per cent of the global abatement of greenhouse gases needed by 2050. "Without CCS, overall costs to halve emissions by 2050 rise by 70 per cent," the agency says.
The Victorian government has also reacted angrily to the omission of CCS from the clean energy fund. "The antipathy of the Greens towards clean coal technologies such as CCS means that the Gillard government has excluded CCS from this package, in contrast to the Victorian Coalition government which has invested $30 million in this important technology," state Energy Minister Michael O'Brien said.
Authors | Source | Matthew Denholm, Siobhain Ryan | The Australian | July 13th 2011