Peter Ker and Adam Morton
CONTROVERSIAL "clean coal" technologies could dramatically increase the amount of water used to produce electricity in Australia.
Amid dire water shortages across southern Australia and plans for significant cuts in Australia's greenhouse gas emissions, a report by the National Water Commission has warned that water consumption would soar further if carbon capture and storage methods were built into coal-fired power stations.
"Coal-fired power plants incorporating carbon capture and storage (CCS) could be one-quarter to one-third more water intensive," the report said. "It is unlikely that past arrangements for supplying water to generators will be appropriate for the future in all circumstances."
Power stations consume large amounts of fresh water, with the equivalent of more than a quarter of Melbourne's annual water consumption used to operate the five Latrobe Valley power stations.
Environment Victoria director Mark Wakeham said the coal industry's water consumption remained an "elephant in the room" for those working towards energy reform.
But Peter Cook from the Co-operative Research Centre for Greenhouse Technologies said it was unlikely that future coal-fired power stations would continue to use water in a similar way to the existing coal generators. The generators would be replaced once carbon capture and storage was fully operational.