Despite the recommendations of climate scientists, the dangerous health impacts and the cost to the state government, the Victorian government continues to pursue investment in fossil fuels including brown coal and unconventional gas like coal seam gas (CSG).
Victoria’s brown coal is widely known to be dirty, wet and inefficient. Emitting 37% more than the black coal found in the north of the country, it has previously been relatively undesirable for energy companies, and the idea of an export industry was almost laughable (particularly as brown coal is prone to spontaneous combustion).
However in the last decade the State and Federal governments have together committed $90 million to support new coal projects in Victoria. And after some sparkly promises from industry about coal-drying technology, the State Government is hungrily planning the development of a brand new coal export industry from Victoria. Up to 33 billion tonnes of brown coal could be allocated to prospective miners.
A brown coal export industry is a long process with damage and destruction at every stage.
A lot of the coal that would be used is buried beneath the fertile farmland of Gippsland, where there is a dairy industry worth $2.1 billion a year that generates 22% of Australia’s milk product. Under the government’s plan, farmers in the area would be forced to leave their land as this productive food bowl is dug up for brown coal.
The coal would then be hauled across the state, along brand new truck and train routes that would have to be built specifically. Coal dust from open trains has been an ongoing issue in Queensland and Newcastle, and major Victorian cities and towns would also be blanketed with toxins and particulate pollution.
There needs to be a port which is large enough to ship off the billions of tonnes of coal overseas, which would involve a massive expansion of existing ports. Coal companies have listed Western Port at Hastings, the Port of Melbourne, the Port of Geelong and even McGaurans Beach, in the middle of Ninety Mile Beach, on their list of potential port developments. Corner Inlet, a protected marine zone beside Wilsons Promontory could be dug up and dredged for major new coal freighters. Already the state government has handed over $2 million to port developers at Corner Inlet to begin stage one of their plans, and $110 million was allocated in the 2013-14 state budget for development at Western Port.
The final stage of this export industry would the burning of those potential 33 billion tonnes of brown coal. This would have a devastating impact on the world’s climate, completely blowing out Australia’s carbon budget and practically laughing in the face of our chance to limit global warming to 2 degrees. According to Environment Victoria, if that amount of coal was burnt in conventional power stations, it would produce emissions equivalent to:
268 years’ worth of Victoria’s emissions
59 years’ worth of Australia’s annual emissions
20 years’ worth of India’s emissions
6 years’ worth of the US’s emissions
4 years’ worth of China’s emissions
What happens to Victoria’s coal reserve will have a serious impact on global emissions and climate change. That’s why we need to keep it in the ground.