The Victorian government’s plan to turn brown coal into hydrogen in line with long-term plan by Japanese interests will make it harder for the state to meet its climate commitment of keeping global warming under the two degree threshold, environmental critics say.
The Statement on Future Uses of Brown Coal proposes exploiting Victoria’s brown coal deposits for “less polluting” uses such as converting coal to hydrogen for energy, or manufacturing fertilisers. The state government said it would support projects that create highly-skilled jobs and boost investment in areas like the Latrobe Valley and Gippsland.
Coal projects will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and will need to demonstrate an interim emissions standard equivalent to existing efficient gas-fired power stations.
Victorian minister for resources Wade Noonan said any new proposals for alternative uses of coal will be carefully examined to ensure they support local communities, the environment and the economy.
“We want to create new jobs with a forward-thinking approach to climate change and a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050,” he said.
Discussions to use brown coal for hydrogen have been underway for several years with Japan at the forefront. In November last year The Australian in association with The Wall Street Journal reported that Japan was seriously interested in using Victoria’s brown coal to produce and export hydrogen in a program called the Kawasaki Hydrogen Road.
“If a trial is successful, and backed by the Victorian government, the project could provide a boost to the Latrobe Valley region, which is bracing for the closure of the Hazelwood power station,” the report said.
Environment Victoria acting chief executive Dr Nicholas Aberle said that while the organisation welcomed the fact the government had recognised the uses of coal need to change, it remained concerned about “leaving the door open” for new coal mines.
“The Andrews government recently committed to clean energy upgrades for a thousand homes in the Latrobe Valley – this will cut pollution, save people money on their power bills and create a range of jobs in the region. These are the types of projects we’d like to see more of,” Dr Aberle said.
“For too long the Latrobe Valley has been seen as little more than a coal mine. The focus on coal has proved a distraction from the necessary task of transitioning the Latrobe Valley to a more sustainable and regenerative economy.”
Any new project that increases Victoria’s climate pollution “knocks us off the path of urgent emissions reductions that we need to be on”, he said.
“While the standards proposed in this coal policy effectively rule out new coal-fired power stations, we need to be cutting emissions from the three coal power stations we still have.
“Despite reforms to the Climate Change Act and the EPA, there is still no limit on how much carbon dioxide Yallourn and the Loy Yang power stations can produce.”
He said that ”even new ideas like coal-to-hydrogen were likely to be surpassed by cleaner and cheaper sources of hydrogen, which can now be produced directly from renewable energy with no climate pollution”.
– With Tina Perinotto