Australian clean coal institute 'squandered' $300 million, has 'precious little' to show

The West Australian on Saturday published a scathing report on the country's Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute laying out how the organization that came into being in 2008 under the then PM Kevin Rudd (pictured) with $400 million in "seed money" (later scaled back to $300 million) has "precious little to show" four years later.

The since departed head of the institute which has staff of 78 was paid in excess of $500,000 per year and the organization racked up more than $54 million in "operational expenses" in the first two years including "conferencing in empire-style Parisian ballrooms" and being entertained by celebrity chefs in Tokyo.

While the organization has lavished $65 million on "partners' including $10 million for the Clinton Foundation, it has only spent $37 million on projects, mostly outside Australia of which "several have failed".

Most people in the industry are unsure of what exactly the institue is supposed to achieve, especially since a number of similar coal energy research organizations, also with millions in government and industry funding, already exist in Australia and the US.

Other governments where supposed to come to the party after "the grand idea was paraded on the international stage" at the 2009 G8 summit in Italy where Rudd shared the stage with US president Obama, but so far the US government has ponied up a mere $1 million and the European Union has only this year contributed $3.8 million for the institute "to take over work it had previously contracted elsewhere".

Outside Australia proponents of CCS technology – where CO2 emissions are sequestered underground – and the so-called 'clean coal' lobby have also suffered setbacks and bad press.

Was was supposed to be the world's biggest showcase for CCS – a new coal-fired power station in North Ayrshire in the UK – now appears to be doomed after unprecedented public opposition prompted a parliamentary enquiry and a nearby nuclear power station lodged a formal complaint to block the $4.8 billion Hunterston project on safety grounds.

In October the Longannet CCS project, the last one standing in the UK government’s long-running £1 billion ($1.6 billion) CCS demonstration programme also fell through.

Apart from a handful of "demonstration" projects only two small coal CSS pilot projects exist worldwide: Schwarze Pumpe in Germany and Mountaineer Power Plant in West Virginia.