Intensive negotiations to determine the final shape of the government’s carbon tax are underway. But it is already clear that the fight to stop new coal power stations and to demand renewable energy will be just as necessary after a carbon tax comes into force.

In May, Victoria’s Environmental Protection Agency granted approval for a new brown coal power station, owned by private company HRL. Three hundred protesters rallied against the approval at short notice a few days after the announcement.

HRL has only gained approval to build a plant of 300 MW, half the size it requested. It is attempting to commercialise “dual gas” technology, that combines brown coal with gas to produce emissions at the level of the black coal used in power stations in the rest of the country. The aim is to prolong the use of Victoria’s brown coal reserves for decades into the future.

HRL is not scared of a carbon tax—they’ve already worked the cost into their business plan.HRL has gained approval for a new coal power plant in Victoria, and the prospect of a carbon tax is not stopping them

No shift to renewables
Leaked research prepared by accounting firm Deloittes for Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson estimates a carbon price would need to be $40 a tonne even to drive a shift from coal power to gas-fired power. But Climate Change Minister Greg Combet has made it clear the government’s plan is for a price “well south” of $40 a tonne.

This means it will do nothing to encourage renewable energy, like wind and solar power, which would need a far higher price to get a look in. It will not close a single coal fired power station.

In fact even the dirtiest coal power stations expect to continue operating for decades. The company that runs Victoria’s Loy Yang A coal power station, which provides a third of the state’s electricity, said last month it would be operating until “at least 2048”. Its chief executive explained that it would have a long life under a carbon tax, providing the government throws it some compensation.

And this is a brown coal power station, using the dirtiest form of coal, which produces about 40 per cent more emissions than the coal burnt in the rest of the country’s power plants.

The government’s climate advisers agree. Roger Beale, a member of its Climate Commission, said recently that the use of coal for the next 30 years is “unavoidable”.

This is the consequence of Labor’s concern to shape the carbon tax in the interests of big business. But this has just given the polluters confidence to push for more concessions.

The Business Council of Australia announced in May they want a tax set at $10 a tonne, along with a “third tier” of compensation for industry in addition to the billions already expected.

The useless carbon tax we are about to get will do nothing but help Tony Abbott and his band of climate deniers.

It will push up power prices, but not lead to any shift to renewable energy. This will undermine the support for taking any action on climate change.

The plan is political suicide for Labor. The climate movement needs to avoid being dragged down with them, by making it clear that a carbon tax won’t solve the problem of climate change. We need government spending to build large-scale solar power plants and wind turbines and to provide hundreds of thousands of new green jobs.

The support of The Greens and independent MPs for Labor’s Multiparty Climate Change Committee, which is negotiating the details of the carbon tax, makes its introduction all but inevitable. But the push for real climate action is in our hands.

By James Supple

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