The Advertiser oped: Port Augusta power station must remain closed for the health of local community

The Advertiser oped: Port Augusta power station must remain closed for the health of local community

THE Federal Government and state Liberals are demanding that Jay Weatherill’s Government should reopen the Port Augusta coal-fired power station.

What are they thinking of?

Re-starting a coal-fired power station adds to global warming which increases the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, which bring more challenges to human infrastructure, which in turn is what underlies the questions now being asked about our power system in the first place!

Coal-fired power stations put people at risk of illness and death, risks that are not borne by investors or executives of the power generator.

The community of Port Augusta, business, unions and medical organisations supported closure because of damage to health from pollution.

People in the vicinity of coal-fired stations suffer from a cocktail of noxious gases and particulates which are inhaled, absorbed through the lungs and harm many organs.

They get worse asthma, worse chronic lung disease, more cancer, more heart disease, more strokes and faster degenerative brain disease. The financial benefit goes to distant owners, safe from coal-pollution exposure.

It is self-destructive human behaviour to add, unnecessarily, more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and so contribute to our climate challenge and the emerging and worsening misery it brings to people everywhere.

Renewable energy has virtually no health risks and contributes minimally to atmospheric greenhouse gases.

More startlingly, renewables are getting cheaper so that rusted-on, hard-nosed economic rationalists themselves recognise that coal-fired power generation will never get off the ground again — and this they recognise even while they ignore the huge costs that society pays for disease caused by coal burning.

In a study from Harvard University on the full cost to the community of mining and burning coal in the USA, it was found that these “externalities” would approximately double the cost of electricity.

Fortunately, the power station at Port Augusta is already in the throes of being dismantled. It’s a pity chaotic ideas aren’t so easily put to rest.

Rather than waste time revisiting the expired Port Augusta coal-fired power station, we should focus our energies to resolving challenges to make renewable energy workable.

In a 100 per cent renewable world, power networks will still need a strong synchronising AC signal for grid stability.

Solar panels are DC so an inverter is needed to make it AC. Because there are so many solar panels, it is hard to make sure all AC signals work together. If these power sources are not synchronous, we experience power instability.

Hydro-electricity or solar thermal electricity are just two of many renewable sources that could provide this ongoing strong synchronising signal.

Port Augusta has already been identified as an ideal site for solar-thermal power generation and we, in SA, should get on with it.


Neurologist Dr John Willoughby is Professor Emeritus at Flinders University and a member of Doctors for the Environment Australia.

First published in The Advertiser on 18 October 2016

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