by Livia Cullen
There is a bittersweet irony to Michael O’Brien’s comments last week that the actions of anti-coal protestors who scaled Yallourn power station were idiotic, threatened power supplies and showed no regard for Victorians.
The two Quit Coal activists were protesting the federal government’s $5.5 billion handouts to the country’s dirtiest coal-fired power stations. Their actions may have put themselves at risk but when it comes to being idiotic the government wins the title by a landslide.
Putting a price on carbon in an effort to retire the country’s dirtiest coal-fired power stations, then handing over billions of dollars without conditions to those very same power stations, allowing them to continue polluting without penalty is mind-numbingly asinine.
In September this year, Martin Ferguson abandoned negotiations for the closure of these fossil-fuel dinosaurs because they were demanding too much money. Perhaps if the government had held back its $5.5 billion of compensation, these power stations wouldn’t have been in a position to do so.
Yallourn power station was given $257 million in cash compensation for the carbon price for 2012. Even though plans to close the power station by 2020 have been abandoned, it still stands to inherit a further $257 million over the next five years, in free carbon permits.
Regardless of the fact that Yallourn has shut down one of its generators, the compensation price is fixed and Yallourn will still receive compensation for pollution from all four generators.
Not only will they escape paying their dues for the carbon tax and be given money to continue polluting long past the planned retirement date; they are set to receive windfall gains given lower forecasts of carbon prices and energy demand.
None of the $257 million compensation, paid to Yallourn for 2012, has been directed to the workers or the local community. All of it has gone directly into the pockets of the foreign-owned company that owns Yallourn – China Light and Power.
Yallourn power station emits approximately 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year contributing a massive amount to dangerous climate change.
Mounting evidence, including this week’s leaked IPCC draft report, shows that we can no longer deny the direct link between coal-fired emissions and increases in extreme weather including floods, bushfires and drought.
So, who is it that cares more about Victorians – the government that continues to directly fund the cause of devastating bushfires, floods and drought, or the activists who defend the rights of Victorians to clean air and water and to a safe climate and future?
It is not however just the massive amounts of pollution that Yallourn produces that makes the government handout so obscene. The power station has also been plagued with problems for years.
Yallourn’s open-cut coalmine has flooded twice in the last five years including in June this year forcing closure on both occasions without affecting Victorian’s power supply.
The mine remains flooded and is currently pumping billions of litres of contaminated water in to the Latrobe River. Farmers downstream have complained that as a result huge portions of their land is flooded and untenable.
In June this year, two workers were nearly killed at Yallourn’s open cut coal mine during the demolition of crippled mine infrastructure.
Surely a power station in such disrepair is more of a threat to Victoria’s power supply than two activists scaling a disabled cooling tower.
It’s time the government faces the facts – these dinosaurs are nearing extinction and have no place in our energy future.
The government should withdraw the remaining $257 million of funding for Yallourn and let the carbon price get on with its job of cleaning up Australia’s electricity supply.
These funds should instead be used to compensate workers and invest in a strong and sustainable renewables manufacturing industry in the Gippsland region.
The government should stop spouting rhetoric about reducing emissions, while continuing to fund the country’s worst polluters.
As Quit Coal demonstrated last week, actions speak louder than words.