Investment in the coal industry is no more risky than investment in the renewable energy sector, a review commissioned by the Queensland Resources Council says.
The review rejected recent research by the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI) that says the coal industry is a risky investment as demand from China slows and supplies exceeds requirements.
Ahead of a major UN climate summit in New York this week, CTI said its analysis showed that some of the world’s biggest greenfield coal projects in western Queensland’s Galilee Basin were already “out of the money” under a low-demand scenario.
But the QRC review, by consultants HDR Salva, poured cold water on CTI’s claims.
“We are seeing on a regular basis articles promoted by green groups which are conveying the dangers of investment in the coal industry which could become `stranded assets’,” the review said.
“Investors familiar with the (coal) industry are well aware of the pitfalls associated with investing in such assets.
“Interestingly, it is no different for the renewable energy industry.”
But support for renewable energy does appear to be growing, with nearly 200 institutions in the US backing a campaign to stop investing in companies behind fossil fuels such as coal.
The heirs to the famous Rockefeller family oil fortune were among the latest to sign up to the campaign this week as world leaders gathered in New York for the UN climate change summit.
But the QRC-commissioned review argues there is a great danger of the renewable energy industry producing low returns because most projects could not survive without inflated feed-in tariffs and government subsidies.
If governments withdrew the subsidies, companies went out of business and the renewable energy projects could become stranded assets.
The review said the market value of coal companies had fallen in recent years, but so too had those in certain renewables industries.
Furthermore, renewable energy sources were expensive when compared to coal.
Coal-fired power stations being built now could last for 50 years whereas solar power stations had a lifespan of 25 years and could only produce electricity 50 per cent of the time.
The review rejected CTI’s claim that global demand for coal was falling, saying it was still on the rise, albeit at a slower rate than in the past few years.
Also, China was still building new thermal coal-fired power stations.
HDR Salva’s report downplayed CTI’s claims that coal demand in China would peak by 2016, saying its own analysis showed it would be more likely around 2035.
The QRC-initiated response to the CTI research came a day after 700 jobs were axed at BHP Billiton’s joint-venture BMA coal mines in Queensland.