Basic carbon price makes Narrabri coal mine uneconomic: research

New research reveals the economic benefits of the proposed Narrabri Whitehaven Coal Mine would be reduced to zero in the event a basic carbon price was included in its assessment. In a submission to the NSW Independent Planning Commission, the Australia Institute details how Whitehaven corporation have overstated the economic benefits of the proposed mine, while understating the climate damage.

The proposed expansion is particularly emissions-intensive and would increase direct greenhouse emissions by 22 million tonnes, while burning the coal would result in 250 million tonnes, almost half of Australia’s annual emissions.

Key points:

  • The NSW Department of Planning and Environment recommended approval of the project based on Whitehaven’s estimate of economic benefits, but noted that these benefits reduce “significantly” if climate change is properly accounted for.
  • The Department did not estimate how much benefits would reduce with a different approach to climate impacts.
  • Applying a carbon price of between $24.50/t and $73/t to the direct emissions of the mine reduces the value of the project to zero.
  • Governments such as the USA and UK already use carbon values higher than this range, suggesting that the climate impacts of the project outweigh any financial benefits.

“Yet again the financial benefits of a coal mine have been overstated, while the costs have been understated,” said Rod Campbell Research Director at The Australia Institute.

“Tax payments forecast by Whitehaven for this project sum to an astonishing $1.6 billion, while in reality the entire company pays zero tax in most years.

“It is strange that a government department would identify a significantly understated cost in the economic assessment of a major project, but not bother to quantify it.

“So we did it for them. We find that at modest carbon prices, the climate impacts of this mine outweigh any financial benefits.

“The Independent Planning Commission should refuse this project based on its climate impacts and limited economic benefit.

“The Commission should also urge independent review of economic claims commissioned by project proponents.”

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