Coal industry thriving, but at what social and health cost?

Coal mining in NSW’s Hunter region co-exists with wine growing, racehorse breeding, dairy and other pastoral industries. Jo Schmaltz

By Ruth Colagiuri and Emily Morrice. Source: The Conversation

If you believe industry propaganda, coal mining is a panacea not only for economic ills but also for smoothing troubled social waters. But a lack of local evidence about the health impact of the coal industry should give us all cause for thought.

With the highest density of coal mining activity close to towns and farms in Australia (well over 30 operating mines and six active coal-fired power stations, and the largest black coal exporting port in the world), many Hunter Valley residents remain unconvinced. Less than a two-hour drive north of Sydney, in one of the largest, most fertile, beautiful river valley systems in Australia, the Hunter region’s long tradition of coal mining has co-existed for many decades in balance with wine growing, racehorse breeding, dairy and other pastoral industries.

But the seemingly indiscriminate granting of mining licences by the previous state government (and little abatement likely under the current government) has put a major strain on relations between the mining industry, other local industries and the citizenry.

This is unsurprising considering inequities such as water rights favouring the coal industry over local farmers, the removal of local government input from the coal mine licensing process, and concerns about the transgenerational effects of irreparable environmental damage.

And then there’s health. Ongoing concerns and myriad anecdotal reports of serious health impacts have been expressed by both local communities and health professionals, and echoed by organisations such as Doctors for the Environment. But there’s virtually no hard evidence in the peer-reviewed literature to confirm or deny the negative health impacts on communities near coal mines or coal-fired power stations in Australia.

Mine dust danger warning

By Matthew Kelly, Oct. 29. Source: Newcastle Herald

THE health effects of coalmining on Upper Hunter communities has been significantly under-represented, probably due to a lack of research, a new study says.

The study, commissioned by the Zero Emissions Group, coincides with an unprecedented number of pollution alerts from the Upper Hunter Air Quality Network.

The Health and Social Harms of Coalmining in Local Communities report: Spotlight on the Hunter Region report analysed 50 peer-reviewed papers about the health impacts of mining in 10 countries.

Lead author Associate Professor Ruth Colagiuri, from the University of Sydney's Health and Sustainability Unit, said that while several studies examined the social harms of coalmining in the Hunter, relatively little research had been done into the health effects of mining and coal-fired power stations in the region.

Chairman of the NSW Health Expert Advisory Committee, Professor Guy Marks, defended the steps the government had taken to protect the health of Upper Hunter residents.

He said the committee regularly provided expert advice and made formal submissions to minimise the potential health impacts of mining.

"These include the report on respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and cancer among residents in the Hunter, the Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health study and Singleton Cancer Cluster investigation," he said.

Research needed into Hunter’s coalmines

By Ian Olver. Source: Newcastle Herald

I DID not expect the lecture room at the University of Sydney to be overflowing for the release of a report on the impact of coalmining. But it was.

The group Beyond Zero Emissions had commissioned Ruth Colaguiri’s group at the university to review all the research in Australia and overseas on the effect of coalmining on local communities.

They were particularly worried about the Hunter Valley – and with reason. The population of 700,000 lives in a region that has more than 30 open-cut coalmines and six coal-fired power stations.

As I left the launch of the report I fell into step with a person from the area. He told me his village was next to go. An open-cut mine was coming.

I asked about compensation, but, more resigned than angry, he told me that he was to receive none. He couldn’t sell, because who would buy with the mine approaching?

A mine worker for years, he would have to stick it out on his few acres growing grapes with an open-cut mine for a neighbour, located within a few kilometres.

The University of Sydney researchers reviewed 38 studies. Data from Appalachian coalmining counties in the United States or areas in Nova Scotia, Canada, most nearly paralleled local conditions.

Adults living in coalmining communities had higher rates of lung, heart and kidney disease and lung cancer. Hospitalisations for chronic lung disease increased with the amount of coal mined.

Wind farms lowering electricity bills in SA

Wind farms are making a major contribution to lower electricity prices in South Australia, with bills set to fall $160/year on average.

The Essential Services Commission of South Australia has lowered standing contract electricity prices by 8.1% from January – around $160 per year savings on a typical bill. This was because wholesale prices are lower than previously expected. 

Climate and energy think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) says a common misconception has been thoroughly disproven: wind farms are actually lowering electricity bills.

“Unfortunately, the myth persists, judging by comments from GoSwitch’s Ben Freund reported in the Weekly Times (Oct 30).

“To conclude that wind farms are driving up prices shows an ignorance of the facts. South Australians should be thanking the wind industry for the savings,” says Matthew Wright, Executive Director of BZE.

 “Wind turbines have no fuel costs once built,” Mr Wright said. “In the electricity market, they out-compete fossil fuel generators and cause a lowering of prices. This is known as the “merit order effect” and is an accepted phenomenon in energy market analysis.”

Snowtown wind farm. Photo by David Clarke.

Health analysts want study near NSW mines

AAP October 29, 2012 10:05AM

A HEALTH impact study is urgently needed in the NSW Hunter Valley to find out if communities near coal mines are more prone to illness and disease, health analysts say.

The call follows a study of international evidence showing increased rates of cancer, heart, lung and kidney disease and birth defects in communities near coal mines and power plants.

That study analysed research papers from 10 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom and China.

Lead author, Associate Professor Ruth Colagiuri from the University of Sydney, said similar studies in Australia's largest coal mining region in the Hunter Valley were needed.

Her report emphasised the likelihood that Hunter Valley communities would have similar increased rates of illness and disease.

Prof Colagiuri said the research was needed so governments and communities could develop policies to minimise health harms.

Her study was commissioned by Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE).

"With plans for 30 new or bigger coal mines, an independent authority is urgently needed to monitor emissions in the region and for an in-depth health study to take place," BZE's Mark Ogge said in a statement on Monday.

He said that until proper studies were completed there should be precautionary 10km buffer zones around any new coal mines or port facilities.

Parliament supports motion for solar

                              

Today the South Australian Parliament committed to looking seriously at building solar thermal in Port Augusta.

The House of Assembly voted to support a motion to set up a select committee to investigate Beyond Zero Emission’s proposal to replace the coal plants in Port Augusta with solar thermal.

“It is encouraging to see bipartisan support for proposal that will create 1800 jobs, support regional development, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Beyond Zero Emissions spokesperson Hannah Aulby said today.

“Port Augusta has the sun, the workforce, the transmission lines, and the community support to make this project a real success.”

The alternative for South Australia is to rely on a gas power plant to meet future electricity demand. This would cause electricity prices to rise significantly as an expanding gas export market causes gas prices to double.

“Gas is a false choice for South Australia. Gas prices will double in coming years, putting significant pressure on domestic industries and households. Solar thermal can provide energy security and employment opportunities for Australian industries.”

For comment or interview
Hannah Aulby
Ph 0427 079 729
Hannah@beyondzeroemissions.org

Rising prices show we must get off gas

                          

Australian households are to be hit by another rise in energy bills, this time due to rising gas prices, as highlighted by a report released today.

“This just confirms what we were already saying: It’s time to get off gas energy,” Beyond Zero Emissions’ Executive Director, Matthew Wright says.
“Whether it’s householders replacing gas appliances with efficient modern electric ones, or governments introducing policy for the building of renewable wind and solar power instead of gas power stations, the writing is on the wall: If you want stable prices and energy security then get off gas.”

A report released today, commissioned by the Australian Industry Group, finds gas prices are rising as they are being tied to international prices due to the development of an export industry.
A doubling of domestic gas prices is expected, as a result of the booming LNG export market. This will threaten the supply to domestic industries such as manufacturing. It will make electricity from gas power stations dearer, and household gas appliances much more expensive to run.

The report explains that domestic industries currently receive gas supply at $4-6 per gigajoule. While energy companies will profit from international prices that are above $10 per gigajoule, domestic consumers and industry face a nightmare scenario.

The AIG report shows that the gas export expansion will cause a $7 billion loss to the economy – coupled with increased greenhouse gas emissions, water contamination, damaged farm land and broken communities.

“Gas is getting dirtier and dirtier as conventional supplies run out and we go into coal seam and shale gas. It’s also more expensive. Rising prices are not the only reason to get off gas," Mr Wright said.

“Modern electric household appliances are far more energy-efficient than gas equivalents, with less carbon emissions, and increasingly, much cheaper to run.

“Renewable energy has been lowering electricity prices. In South Australia the Essential Services Commission has lowered the prices for households by some $160 off the back of their falling wholesale prices.”

Sydney, NSW: Health and Social Harms of Coal Mining in Local Communities: Spotlight on the Hunter

When: Monday 29 October 2012

Time: 5:30pm-7pm

Location: Medical Foundation Auditorium - The University of Sydney,
92-94 Parramatta Road Camperdown NSW 2050
See map below for directions

Cost: Free but RSVP is essential to kerry.jenson@sydney.edu.au (02) 9036 3075

Rapid expansion of the Australian coal mining sector has highlighted tensions over conflicting needs and priorities of the industry and local communities. Anecdotal reports of disease clusters and social and environmental injustices abound – notably in the Hunter Region which has the highest concentration of coal mining and combustion in Australia, all in close proximity to population centres and farmland. With a massive expansion of coal mining underway, there is an urgent need to better understand these impacts.

Against this backdrop, Beyond Zero Emissions commissioned the Health and Sustainability Unit to explore and report on the local and international evidence about the health and social impacts of coal extraction and combustion on people living in nearby communities. A panel of experts will discuss the findings of the report and their implications for health and public policy.

Professor Stephen Simpson, Director of the Charles Perkins Centre, will open proceedings. The report will be launched by Professor Ian Olver AM, CEO of the Australian Cancer Council who will join Associate Professor Ruth Colagiuri, principal author of the report, Professor Linda Connor, Mr Phil Laird (community) and Dr Tiho Ancev, for a panel discussion and Q&A moderated by Mark Ogge, Beyond Zero Emissions.

BZE submission to Sydney Trigeneration plan available

Download full submission here: Trigen_master_plan_BZEsubmission.pdf
Download accompanying spreadsheet here: BeyondZeroEmissions_Trigen_master_plan_data.xls

(NOTE: Some people have trouble downloading files from our website, with some downloads stopping before completion. If you have this problem then right-click on the link and "save link as" to save the file onto your computer)

Trigen: Energy efficiency plus renewables can do it better

The city of Sydney’s Trigeneration Master Plan, to supply city buildings with electricity, heating and cooling from a decentralised generation network, asks the right questions, but comes up with the wrong answer.

That’s the conclusion of Beyond Zero Emissions in their submission to the Master Plan.

Trigeneration uses waste heat from decentralised gas-fired electricity generators in city buildings to drive building heating, and heat-driven absorption chiller building cooling systems.

In recent years, the energy efficiency attained by electric (heat-pump based) building chillers has risen to a level where trigeneration cannot compete for efficiency in any likely scenario.

Modern electric-powered systems are also cost-competitive with the absorption chillers used in trigeneration.

Image: example trigen plant

Biogas no saviour for Sydney’s trigen plan

By

The City of Sydney plans to build a network of gas burners, each of which would simultaneously provide power, heating and cooling to public and private buildings.

The City believes that this approach – known as trigeneration – would reduce the carbon emissions of connected buildings by 40 to 60 per cent.

Unfortunately, rolling out a trigeneration network would have the highly undesirable consequences of fostering coal-seam gas production – which has dire environmental side-effects – and reducing the amount of biogas available to chemical and industrial processes.

It would also be a missed opportunity to build a grid powered by wind and solar. We have already covered this in our earlier article at Renew Economy.

Talking biogas, using coal-seam gas

Building the trigeneration network would result in greater demand for gas in NSW. This is because it would displace grid electricity that is currently largely drawn from non-gas sources (ie coal).

The future of gas supply in NSW is clouded with doubt. As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald in April, the NSW state government has warned that ”Bass Strait and Cooper Basin gas supplies are dwindling at a time when the gas export industry is growing at an extraordinary rate.”

This means that, for the foreseeable future, the demand for extra gas will stimulate growth in the dirty, unconventional gas sector – shale gas in SA, and coal-seam gas in QLD and NSW.

Image: Lemvig biogas plant in Denmark

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