Coal Kills. That’s For Certain

Coal fired power generation and pollution

Coal kills – it’s a well established fact | Image : Mriya, CC BY-SA 4.0

Liberal MP Craig Kelly’s concerns about people dying as a result of high energy prices raises another issue he didn’t mention – the incredibly high death toll from coal.

Yesterday, Mr. Kelly raised eyebrows when he warned vulnerable Australians would die this winter due to increasing electricity costs and linked these deaths to renewable energy.

As mentioned yesterday, policy uncertainty and high gas prices have been major drivers of recent electricity price hikes, not renewables. RenewEconomy’s Giles Parkinson also pointed out :

“.. numerous reports, including those commissioned by the Abbott government, found that renewable energy policies had minimal impact on consumer bills, and significantly reduced wholesale prices.”

The very good news is renewables and storage will keep getting cheaper and the technology better.

Mr. Kelly is a supporter of coal. In a radio interview last month, he said one of the options to ensure affordable energy security in this country was “standard, old-fashioned coal fired power stations that served this nation well for decades”. Mr. Kelly  lamented the loss of Northern and Hazelwood power stations, which he said were run out of town by respective state governments without despatchable capacity installed to replace them.

He stated if renewables could provide what these stations were able to for the cheapest price, “good luck to them”, but the only possibility he could see was a “good old-fashioned coal fired power plant”.

Even the high-tech low-emission power plants favoured by the interviewer but not mentioned by Mr. Kelly during the 11 minute exchange are expensive, and low emissions means lower, not zero – unlike renewables such wind and solar power.

The Human Toll Of Coal

Greens climate and energy spokesperson Adam Bandt lashed out at the comments made by Mr. Kelly yesterday concerning renewable energy.

 “Craig Kelly is just another ideologue, hell-bent on hastening dangerous global warming. This latest foray isn’t unexpected, but it is certainly unfounded, he said.”

“If Craig Kelly and the Trumps in the government have their way, more people will die from bushfires, heatwaves, floods and famine as dangerous global warming accelerates.”

The current and future impacts of climate change and its contribution to any death toll aside, coal is already doing very well at knocking off humanity in other ways. According to EndCoal, burning the little black (or brown) rock is responsible for more than 800,000 premature deaths annually around the world – just through air pollution.

  • In China – approximately 670,000 people die prematurely per year.
  • In India – estimated 80,000 to 115,000 premature deaths annually.
  • In the USA – approximately 13,000 people a year.
  • In Europe – 23,300 deaths annually.

Added to this toll are the millions of coal-related illnesses that create misery and impact on economies heavily.

A 2014 report from the Climate Council stated the adverse impacts from pollutants produced from coal-fired electricity generation in Australia cost this nation an estimated A$2.6 billion annually. Those figures related to a period when coal was still pretty much an unchallenged king in this country.

In addition to all this are the impacts of pulling coal out of the ground and transporting it that occur regardless of how its burned. As for “clean coal”, the Climate Council states there is no such thing.

“Good old-fashioned coal fired plants” or new-fangled ones aren’t so good – or cheap when factoring in the value of human life and the environment that supports it. In relation to the latter, a recent Deloitte report provided 56 billion reasons why the Adani coal mine in Queensland shouldn’t go ahead.

While the real cost of coal (including subsidies) doesn’t appear on our electricity bills, it doesn’t mean the piper isn’t and won’t be ultimately paid – in dollars and lives.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.


  1. People voted for Kelly. Pull out of the Paris accords build a few coal fired stations ,Australia’s energy crisis solved. Lets not invest any money in renewable energy what for it all be good according to this idiot’s idiot yes even idiots have people that are more stupid than they are .

  2. I’m a Liberal and I think Craig Kelly usually talks sense. I’m not so sure this time around though and it does sadden me that the government, opposition and state leaders appear to be incapable of ditching sensationalism and having a grown-up debate about this.

    Craig is correct to say that higher power prices correlate with more people dying. I doubt any one will dispute that. He’s also partially correct to say that Renewables can push up the price of power. The intermittency of Renewables, specifically wind and solar, means that there is a need for either back up generation or storage. I get the argument that the rising price of gas is driving up wholesale electricity prices, but there wouldn’t be a need for gas generation if either Renewable power generation was 100% reliable, or large scale storage was cost effective.

    Yes, there is a cost to burning coal which is external to the price of the power generated by it, but effectively the cost of gas generation is external to the price of the power generated from wind and solar. I don’t think you can argue one without accepting the other, at least to some degree.

    At the end of the day, Australians want two things: A reliable power supply at a reasonable price. Many will care about how this is generated, most will not (at least, not sufficiently to overcome their desire for power that is reliable and cheap).

    • Robyn Pogmore says

      I don’t know how anyone can get upset about not being able to work in a mine. Terrible accidents, terrible illnesses.

    • It is the role of leaders to show “leadership”, we know coal is killing people through disease. We know Global warming is a threat. Leaders cannot just bash renewables because “most will not care”. Cheap power is a lie if we include the coat of deaths and illnesses. We have been effectively subsidising the Coal industry by not charging them the real cost to our health. Whilst historically we had excuses this is no longer the case. Power using FF has always been falsely kept low by not paying for the damage. I want leaders who lead and stop sticking there heads in the past.

  3. Robyn Pogmore says

    Hi, folks, I just moved to a house with a big solar array on the roof, and got my first electricity bill (from Origin) $220. Well, they are buying my electricity at between 6-9 c per KWh, and selling it back to me at 29c per KWh. So I went on the phone, (4 holds, 4 transfers, ) and they can change things to a plan where I use the electricity before it goes to the grid, but first I have to have a digital thingummywhat installed, and they are happy to do it for free, but there is a 6-12 months waiting time. If I get the whatsit installed by an electrician, they can “talk me through” the change. So they say. Well, I think the writing is on the wall for these big companies, and they should just die quietly, or get into renewables themselves, quickly. I looked up Origin Energy on the Facebook page, and found some other passionate complaints about them
    Just sharing that with you………..

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Hello Robyn.

      I take it you are in NSW and you have a gross meter that still hasn’t been replaced. The good news is, in NSW feed-in tariffs are now as high as 17 cents a kilowatt-hour, according to our comparison tool:

      Once you get a net meter you will be able to pick a plan with a feed-in tariff that suits you. Unfortunately, plans with the highest feed-in tariffs aren’t always the best overall, so you have to be careful.

      One thing I will mention to look out for are retailers who offer to install new meters for free but then charge a monthly rental fee. That is not what the word “free” means in my opinion and I think they would be on thin ice as far as Australian consumer law is concerned.

      • Robyn Pogmore says

        Thankyou,that is meaningful,I mean,I understand what you told me,and I didn’t know it.
        What do you think of solar lights inside a dark room? I have a small I….. Setup(not sure if I can name things),and it is a neat little white light,but I am not sure it does much. I am wondering about an R……. Setup,with a big panel and up to eight lights,which would probably set me back about $4000 altogether. I hope you don’t mind me enquiring. I am between two extremes of opinions,some are wildly enthusiastic,others say it is all a load of rot,and I don’t think I know anyone who would really know.

        • Ronald Brakels says

          Hello Robyn.

          I’m afraid $4,000 for 8 lights sounds like a bad deal to me. This is because modern lights use so little electricity this would only reduce your electricity bill by an tiny amount. For $4,000 you could increase the size of your existing solar system, or if it is already as large as it can reasonably be, you could look at spending the money on energy efficiency measures that would have a much larger effect on your electricity bills or gas bills. For example, insulation, replacing an old an inefficient refrigerator, installing LED bulbs, getting a heat pump hot water system, or using a solar diverter with an existing standard electric hot water system so it will only charge with solar electricity or having it put on a timer so it will mostly charge with solar electricity. You could even consider putting the money towards a more efficient car. (Someone I know just bought a Prius, while I’m planning to get an electric car at some point.)

Speak Your Mind

Please keep the SolarQuotes blog constructive and useful with these 5 rules:

1. Real names are preferred - you should be happy to put your name to your comments.
2. Put down your weapons.
3. Assume positive intention.
4. If you are in the solar industry - try to get to the truth, not the sale.
5. Please stay on topic.

Please solve: 16 + 4 

Get The SolarQuotes Weekly Newsletter