Hazelwood Power Station. Photo: Justin McManusThe Hazelwood brown coal power plant is a survivor. As one of Victoria’s largest emitters of greenhouse gas, it has been the focus of a decade-long campaign to shut it by environmentalists, and the target of two unsuccessful government attempts to pay for its closure.
It has outlasted carbon price laws supposed to shorten its life. While last year’s mine fire at the plant generated fresh discussion about its future, 44-year old Hazelwood continues to generate electricity and has a licence to keep going until at least 2026.
Backers of coal power, from Prime Minister Tony Abbott down, say it is a cheap and reliable power source. But opponents argue this ignores hidden costs of burning coal on the planet and human health.
Now, an analysis by two Harvard fellows has attempted to cost the unseen impact of the plant’s emissions. Adapting work by the US National Academy of Science, they estimated it is about $900 million a year.
While this may seem high, Environment Victoria, which has released the paper by researchers Jordan Ward and Mick Power, says the formula for calculating the social cost of emissions is widely accepted.
It produces estimates of the projected damage from global warming on agriculture and property, and the cost of health problems caused by air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide and tiny particulate matter.
Environment Victoria climate campaigner Nick Aberle says it was the basis for carbon pricing, introduced in Australia in 2012 and abolished in 2014. He says it is not dissimilar to the principle that you had to pay to have rubbish removed from the kerb outside your house.
“The whole idea of cheap coal is a furphy really. There are all these other costs that are being [incurred] by the producer, and instead are being born by the community as a whole,” he says.
The technique of measuring the social cost of emissions has broad support among economists, though some differ over the scale of the cost.
Ross Garnaut, who conducted government climate change reviews in 2008 and 2011 and is now economics professor at the University of Melbourne, said the technique was a rigorous measure of the external cost of emissions borne by the wider society. Those who have promoted and developed it include Steven Chu, US President Barack Obama’s first secretary of energy and a winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics. It had become central to Mr Obama’s climate change policies.
“The US Department of Energy and other agencies have been using this technique for some years to guide their development of regulations for emissions,” Professor Garnaut said.
Danny Price, the managing director of Frontier Economics, said techniques that recognised pollution had a cost were valuable, but he believed results should be interpreted with caution, as ascribing exact costs to environmental damage was notoriously difficult.
Hazelwood’s owner, GDF Suez Australian Energy, rejected the report outright. Its spokesman said it believed the authors made no attempt to verify any information with the company, and it did not accept many of the assumptions they had made.
“Unfortunately, the report ignores the very significant economic benefit attributable to Hazelwood, which generates up to 25 per cent of Victoria’s electricity needs, which in turn is a major benefit for the Victorian and national economics economies,” the spokesman said.
“It is important that any debate on the future of the Australian electricity industry is properly informed and balanced and based on factual information.”
While the report focuses on Hazelwood, it also calculates the social cost of pollution from other Victorian plants. It found another Latrobe Valley generator, Loy Yang A, had a higher hidden social cost than Hazelwood – it generates more electricity and has greater annual emissions.
The Harvard-produced report
found if Hazelwood’s owners were forced to account for the total social impact of producing power with coal, then cleaner energy sources would become financially competitive by comparison.
With Australia currently experiencing a surplus of electricity generation across the national grid, talk of closing coal power plants has been revived, .
with some large energy players discussing what role the government might play in encouraging plants to close.
The recent federal government energy white paper explicitly ruled out any payments to shut power plants. In Victoria, a spokeswoman for Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the state government would support more renewable energy technologies, but also recognised coal currently provided 85 per cent of state power and employed thousands of people.
Professor Garnaut said the best policy response was to set a carbon price equal to the social cost of emissions, but with a price not in place the Abbott government should keep the national renewable energy target at its current level, abandoning its plans to reduce it.
“That would bring down the price of wholesale power and that would place pressure on unprofitable coal-based generators to close,” he said. “If they took some time to do that it would lower electricity prices, and be of benefit to consumers until then.
“The RET is inferior to carbon pricing because it only covers electricity and does not favour less over more carbon-intensive fossil fuels, but it can provide strong support to adjustment in the electricity sector pending a general carbon price”.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on 苏州美甲美睫培训学校.