Coal-fired power: politics before practicality?

April 04, 2018

Before last year’s local elections in Queensland, it was reported that a study outlining the viability of a new HELE coal-fired power plant was buried by the incumbent Labor government, because, the opposition party argued, it didn’t fit their political agenda.

The Australian Conservatives argue that furore highlights the political baggage now attached to anyone advocating new coal power in Australia. asks the question: "Could ideology hinder common-sense decision-making around the growing need to provide affordable and reliable energy?"

A few weeks before polling day in Queensland, in November last year, the LNP opposition accused the incumbent Labor Government of purposely withholding an Energy Department-commissioned report into the building of a new high-efficiency/low-emission (HELE) coal-fired power plant in that state.

The leaked report stated that the plant could provide a large-scale source of storable, reliable and diversified energy in Queensland.

Labor dismissed the report, saying it ‘lacked basic considerations and was not taken seriously’.

During the election campaign, which eventually saw the Queensland Labor Government re-elected, the LNP opposition vowed to champion a new 800 megawatt ultra-supercritical’ coal-fired power station to be built by private investors.

The party said it could help drive down electricity prices – Australia is currently plagued by high energy prices that rose by almost 11% during 2017 – and shore-up supply.

According to the government, Australia has the fourth-largest share of coal reserves in the world, which makes coal-fired power more economically viable here and why coal currently produces around 63% of total electricity generation nationally, with that figure reaching 80%-90% in some states. Last year, a similar situation to that in Queensland unravelled in New South Wales, with some political parties pushing the Premier to use public funds to build a new coal-fired power plant, which she opposed.

Furthermore, Australia has a critical gas shortage, with nearly all of its domestic gas locked in export contracts and a moratorium on shale exploration and production in Victoria and New South Wales. This limits the extent gas-fired power can be a replacement to coal to counteract the intermittency of renewables.

Any new gas projects that sold to the domestic market would likely demand export price-parity.

Despite the political furore around coal-fired gas, is it the only option for Australia, besides a major gas field find that could supply both domestic and export needs?

If reliability becomes a major issue, as it did in South Australia last year after several large-scale outages, that could cement the case for new coal-fired power stations.

To read Heidi Vella’s full article, click here.

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