Coal Finds Axis of Backers from Delhi to Canberra
Coal’s demise has been held off a bit longer after significant political endorsements from the southern hemisphere’s biggest exporter of the dirtiest fossil fuel, Australia, and south Asia’s biggest importer, India.
While India has cancelled plans for dozens of new coal-fired power plants in recent months, and forecasts no new additions to its fleet until at least 2027 after plants now being built are completed, its government planning institute says coal will “maintain its dominant share of [India’s] electricity production for decades to come.”
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Noting that more than 300 million of India’s 1.3 billion people still lack access to electricity, the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) asserted that “the reality is that around three-quarters of our power comes from coal-powered plants, and this scenario will not change significantly over the coming decades.”
To secure fuel for the plants generating that power, the agency urged aggressive action to boost India’s domestic coal production. Among its nine recommended actions: mandating state-owned Coal India to increase its production (despite its recent inability to sell existing stocks), and expanding the national inventory of proven coal reserves.
NITI also urged India to diversify its sources of imported coal, Climate Home reports, adding that “an Indian company with close ties to [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi, Adani Enterprises, has plans to build a massive new coal mine in Australia in order to feed India’s energy sector.”
The controversial Adani Mine is one of several hot potato issues related to coal that are dogging Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Whether to support new coal generation in Australia over increasingly competitive renewable energy is to that country’s politics what pipelines are to Canada.
RenewEconomy accuses Turnbull recently of “abject capitulation” to coal interests, after the PM told Parliament his government would ask AGL Energy, the country’s largest utility, to keep its Liddell coal-fired generating station open past its planned closure date of 2022, when it will be 50 years old.
Making the request conspicuously “absurd”, the outlet says, was that even AGL CEO Andy Vesey had “mocked” the idea of keeping Lidell open, declaring in a tweet: “Keeping old coal plants open won’t deliver the reliable, affordable energy our customers need.”
In a separate report, the same news outlet notes that the Australian Energy Market Operator, “whose job it is to keep the lights on,” had “made it clear [the Lidell plant] was not needed: there are smarter ways to achieve energy security.”
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that Australia’s minister for trade, Steve Ciobo, blamed “protesters and activist groups” for discouraging private banks from lending to “otherwise viable exporters in the coal sector”. He announced that the Canberra government will do so instead, through its Export Finance and Insurance Corporation.
Concluded RenewEconomy: “It is increasingly obvious—even to Turnbull—that the idea of building new coal-fired generators in Australia is about as stupid as it gets. But his political needs are to appease the right wing of his party, and to do that he has to play the role of string puppet to the fossil fuel lobby.”