​Fact Check: “Clean Coal” & Turnbull’s Energy Speech

10.02.17 By
This article is more than 7 years old

Yesterday Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull addressed the National Press Club, describing energy as a “defining debate of this parliament”.

The speech set out Turnbull’s vision for Australia’s energy future – covering renewable energy, “clean” coal, gas, power prices and electricity security. Here’s a snippet:

CLEAN COAL??? Yep, it seems to be back on the agenda. And that’s not the only spanner in the works – below we breakdown Turnbull’s statements on energy, pointing out the right and the wrong.

What Turnbull got wrong

Clean Coal Forever

Turnbull: “Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal… Old, high emissions coal-fired power stations are closing down as they age, reducing baseload capacity… as Australia is a big exporter we need to show we are using state-of-the-art clean coal-fired technologyCoal will have a role to play for many decades into the future.”

When Turnbull talks “clean” coal, it is unclear whether he means coal plants that are more efficient than Australia’s ageing clunkers, or whether he means coal with carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Whichever the case, let’s be clear: clean coal is NOT A THING.

Both of these “clean” coal technologies are expensive (much more so than renewable alternatives) and still emit greenhouse gases. Large-scale wind and solar plants are already cheaper than new “more efficient” coal plants, and waaaay cheaper than coal plants with CCS.

Pump Up The Gas

Turnbull: “Increasing gas supply in Australia is vital for our energy future and vital for industries and jobs, but State bans on onshore gas development will result in more expensive and less reliable energy.”

Investing in more gas will not result in cheaper energy and reduced emissions. Gas is actually becoming more and more expensive due to Australia’s LNG export industry sending most of our gas offshore. And in states like SA, gas power companies are using their market power to maximise profits, driving power price spikes at opportune times.

Lastly: gas, like coal, is a fossil fuel – producing significant greenhouse gas emissions when produced, transported and burnt. Gas is not the solution.

Cheap Energy

Turnbull: “The battlelines have been drawn – it’s clear that the Coalition stands for cheaper energy. We are approaching this issue clear-eyed, pragmatic and objective.”

This statement directly contradicts Turnbull’s plans for new gas and coal power plants in Australia – which will not deliver cheaper electricity to Australians.

Wind and solar plants are already cheaper than new coal, gas and nuclear plants. So if the Coalition really stands for cheaper energy, they’d be backing renewables all the way.

Renewables = Power Price Hikes

Turnbull states: “Our energy is among the most expensive in the OECD… South Australia, now with the most expensive and least secure energy has had its wake-up call – one storm blacked out the entire state. But Labor snores on… continue their mindless rush into renewables.”

It’s true that Australia has some of the most expensive power in the OECD. But the main cause of household power price hikes has been network investments, retail charges and – in some places – the increasing price of gas.

Renewable energy is unfairly scapegoated. It’s already reduced the wholesale cost of power, and is helping homeowners and business owners control their energy bills with rooftop solar.

Just so we’re clear: Building expensive new coal or gas plants will do nothing to alleviate power prices.

States’ “mindless rush into renewables”

Turnbull: “States are setting huge renewable targets far beyond that of the national RET, with no consideration given to the baseload power and storage needed for viability… But Labor snores on, heedless of what awaits the rest of the country if Labor governments and would-be governments continue their mindless rush into renewables.”

Renewable energy targets set by state and territory governments have played a crucial role in keeping the renewable energy industry alive in Australia, as federal government support has wavered in the past three years.


If we waste more time arguing the merits of a renewable energy future, then investors, innovation and jobs in clean energy will simply go elsewhere. Our States’ targets are much closer to the level of action needed on climate change, as modelling for the Climate Change Authority has shown.


Turnbull: “Bill Shorten’s energy plan, whether it is a 50 per cent RET by 2030 or double our Paris emissions reduction target by 2030, is a sure recipe to deliver much more expensive and much less reliable power… Labor’s approach is driven simply by ideology, heedless of cost or the thousands of jobs that it will destroy.

Renewable energy doesn’t destroy jobs. Renewable energy creates jobs – from plant development, construction and operation, to producing and installing solar panels.

Detailed modelling from Ernst and Young showed that 50% renewable electricity by 2030 would create more than 28,000 jobs nationwide – nearly 50% more than a business as usual scenario.

There are now more jobs in renewable energy than in coal in Australia. And worldwide, there are now more than 8 million people employed in renewable energy. So if jobs are the main game, renewable energy is a winner.

What Turnbull got right

Ok, so that’s it for the bad stuff. Fortunately, there were a few glimmers of hope in the speech as well:

Power Policy Trifecta

Turnbull states: “Australia should be able to achieve the policy trifecta of energy that is affordable, reliable and secure, and that meets our substantial global emissions reduction commitments as agreed in the Paris climate change treaty.”

These three principles of clean (low pollution), affordable and reliable power are appropriate. They are the driving principles of the Finkel Review currently underway by Australia’s Chief Scientist.

Energy Storage

Turnbull states: “Energy storage, long neglected in Australia, will also be a priority this year… Large-scale storage will support variable renewables like wind and solar… and it will enhance grid stability.”

It’s great to see energy storage highlighted as a priority. It’s crucial that Australia makes the right investments now to support low emissions electricity, because the energy infrastructure we build will lock-in Australia’s future emissions for decades.

A range of technologies, including large-scale energy storage, are available to make our existing grids stronger. Examples include:

And one more thing…

Taxpayer funds spent on clean coal were wasted

Turnbull: “We’ve invested $590 million since 2009 in clean coal technology research and demonstration and yet we do not have one modern high-efficiency low-emissions coal-fired power station, let alone one with carbon capture and storage”.

Surely, if anything, this is a stunning admission of wasted government spending? That we would invest almost $600 million in clean coal technology, and have nothing to show for it?!

And yet Turnbull continues to plug the virtues of “clean” coal, while renewable power such as wind and solar is already cheaper than new coal, and getting cheaper by the minute.

Keen to catch the full speech? Watch it here on ABC iView, or read the full transcript here.