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Discussion paper

Money for nothing

30 May 2017

Over the past two decades, successive federal and state Australian governments from both major parties have held up carbon capture and storage (CCS) as the future for the coal industry in a world that is tackling climate change. In CCS, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from an industrial source, such as a power plant, are captured and stored indefinitely, typically underground. Government promises about CCS have been backed with substantial government funding. The coal industry has been similarly enthusiastic, although it has provided a much smaller share of the funding. Despite the promises and the large amount of money spent, CCS is still far from commercial viability and uptake. There are very few large-scale CCS projects in operation worldwide (capturing hundreds of thousands or millions of tonnes of CO2 per annum),9 fewer still are capturing emissions from coalfired power plants, and none of these are in Australia.10 The Turnbull government is now proposing support for CCS and other coal technologies via the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC). This government-owned corporation invests in renewables and other clean energy projects. This paper enumerates federal government and industry spending on CCS since 2003, especially coal with CCS, and puts it in the context of spending from comparable countries. It compares this spending against the record of CCS projects in Australia and worldwide. The poor track record for CCS projects provides little support for the government’s proposal to divert money from commercially-viable renewables towards coal with CCS. Despite two decades of promises, there are few CCS projects in operation and the technology remains very expensive. By contrast, renewables are booming and costs are falling rapidly.

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