Archive for April, 2010

I bet the Vatican runs on coal

The cost of producing power by burning coal is currently the cheapest of any fuel if you look strictly at material cost per heat unit.

But unfortunately, it needs to be examined more holistically, based on recent evidence in combination with my previous research. Currently, coal burners for power production are not required to internalise the costs of things such as:

HSE Performance and possible criminal prosecution
Our Australian coal companies have nothing to do with the recent coal mining disaster in the USA. But keep in mind that our coal producers have to compete with the likes of Massey Energy Company, and we know they all compete on keeping “operating” costs low. In the case of Massey, the deaths of 29 workers in early April were likely the result of the cost containment efforts of Massey in the areas of installing necessary HSE controls and even in paying fines in full and on time. The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has issued more than $900,000 in fines for the Upper Big Branch mine in the past year, according to federal data compiled by Bloomberg News. Massey is appealing more than $250,000 of the largest fines, among them one in January for ventilation systems that are supposed to prevent the buildup of methane gas and coal dust that can cause explosions, like the one in the current incident. Massey has a history of disputing U.S. findings of safety violations at its mines, including one in Virginia in where 25 people were killed in 1970, records show. Of $1.77 million in safety-related fines that the Mine Safety and Health Administration lodged against the Upper Big Branch mine since 2006, Massey has paid $364,886, or 20 percent, according to agency data.

Note that someone does pay theses cost avoided by Massey at present however, the government and families of those killed.

Great Barrier Reef grounding
This month in Australia, we also have another unintended impact of the coal sales, with the grounding of the coal ship, Shen Neng 1. Whatever the outcome of the court case, the evidence this far is damning. This boat was off course in a no-go zone, and had no responsible pilot on board to guide it on a correct path through a part of one of the great wonders of the world. In the period it was stuck and hung up on the reef, dragging in the current, then anchored and moving in the current on the reef until it could be refloated. It spilled only a few tons of its 900 tons of oil on board, but it also left behind a large amount of its anti-fouling paint on the reef as it went. And anti fouling paint is one of nature’s quiet killers. I won’t go into great detail, but please look into these yourself through your favourite scientific search engine. This paint contains chemicals that can kill instantly, and are also what are called endocrine disruptors when exposed to chronically, so they also leave behind negative mutations.

Financial damages include all emergency response costs, damage protection and clean-up costs, as well as log-term monitoring and repair of environmental damage from the direct impacts of the ship, and the poisons it left behind. Coal traffic out of the Rockhampton loader that this ship departed from are projected to increase 67% this year, all of which should be directed by competent pilots from AMSA, in my opinion.

I wonder if the cost of coal fully incorporates these types of charges, as well as the cost of the court case itself, as I don’t see wind or solar generators ever being in a similar circumstance, product liability-wise.

Health issues in the Hunter Valley
Then, as of Monday, the drumbeat continued, as the ABC’s Four Corners program began an examination of the health effects of the open cut coal mining in the Hunter Valley. The program detailed a number of acute and chronic cases of asthma and related respiratory ailments suffered by residents in and around Singleton, as well as possibly identifying a cancer cluster. But we will know more about that as the government completes a study, that it refused to do until the day after the Four Corners story broke. Up until now, it has been one GP doing a study on his own.

Whether a full study reveals an acute or chronic health problem from the mining activity or not, who pays? The government and communities currently assume all health costs, as far as I can see.

Energy efficiency and greenhouse implications
The very important issues above are possibly reasons alone for discontinuing the burning of the magic dirt from making electricity. But then let’s not forget last week’s “dead” issues, energy efficiency and greenhouse emissions. The public may be tired of hearing about it and want to move on, but the facts remain. Burning coal for fuel is the most inefficient means of making power with respect to waste emissions and thermodynamic power losses.

Just because we can dig it out of the ground for what appears near to free, doesn’t mean it is. If you also agree that the costs of doing the changeover from all or part of our coal burning is not as expensive as predicted by doomsayers, then the arguments for not getting off coal ourselves, and slapping a great big carbon excise tax on any that we do sell overseas, start to make a lot of sense. Just as big rich countries have the right to tie their financial aid to poor countries efforts to adopt climate change goals, so should we cause heavy users of our coal to internalise the full costs of using the product in order to advance their economies.

Not Dead Yet

Well, I noticed yesterday how easy it is to miss a month of writing anything for the blog. Yeah, not one rant for a full month. Sure, I did get a bit busy with work and that is one good way to shut me up, but in reality there really wasn’t anything to have a rant about that I had not either covered already, or was significant enough to talk about. Sure, a few minor things have occurred, and yesterday I found out about a couple things which are significant, but probably not in a good way.

The first is that the full report of the review of the scientists of the University of East Anglia is out. And surprise surprise, it shows exactly what I stated in my article on the subject in the week after the issue came to light. But you have to look pretty hard to find the story, and you almost certainly didn’t hear about the death of that conspiracy theory on your evening news.

The second item came last night when I found out that Malcolm Turnbull has decided to quit politics and won’t stand for re-election at the next election. So, climate change is sliding into obscurity and becoming a non-issue in the public forum. Those who stand for science and reason lose support, and lies once exposed go unnoticed, as is true in so much of politics these days.

But I don’t intend to go quiet, and will still write on matters of fact with respect to the issue, although my writing will become more sporadic on the subject of climate change, as apparently it isn’t happening. I will just bide my time and try to come up with better zombie plans and stock up on things to sell people that forgot to develop a good zombie plan so that I can personally do better as things turn to shit. Because apparently, that is what it is all about, right?