Federal treasurer Scott Morrison has described new cheap coal power as “a bit of a myth,” pouring cold water on the Queensland Coalition’s push for a new coal plant in the state’s north, and suggesting a major rift in the LNP over the prospects for coal power in Australia.
“Let’s not think that there’s cheap new coal, there’s not,” Morrison said, according to the AFR, adding that a “[High Efficiency Low Emission coal-fired power station] takes seven years to turn up, so if we that is all of a sudden going to make your power bills cheap next month, it won’t.”
The comments, coming from the same man who brandished a lump of coal in Australia’s parliament, have been seized upon by the Labor party, as a sign of division in the LNP, both between the states and Canberra, and within Turnbull government ranks.
Among those who might disagree with Morrison are deputy PM Barnaby Joyce, who earlier this year said he would support a Clean Energy Target if it resulted in new coal plants. Recently removed Queensland senator and minister for resources, Matt Canavan, is another.
Adding to the confusion, federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg was busy affirming coal’s continued role in Australia’s energy mix – although he remains vague about what exactly that might be.
“We have written to the Australian Energy Market Operator to actually tell us what is needed in terms of dispatchable power, so that has been our clear position for some time,” Frydenberg said.
“Let’s wait and see what the advice of the market operator is as to what type of generation we need in the system. A (new coal) HELE plant does need to be considered, just as thermal gas generation does, just as renewables with storage does.”
But Frydenberg added that the government was keen “to ensure the best possible outcomes in the marketplace if the market itself can’t deliver that.”
Shadow energy minister, Mark Butler, was quick to respond to the apparent “internal divisions and confusion on energy policy” of the LNP.
“Turnbull government ministers can’t agree whether to listen to the market when it comes to new coal power or if they will ignore all advice and choose to invest in new coal themselves,” he said.
“We know the energy industry has repeatedly said they will not build new coal power plants, calling them ‘uninvestable’, a message once again delivered to the government just last week.
“Yet Minister Frydenberg told SKY News yesterday that the new coal-fired power does have a role to play in Australia’s future energy mix … in spite of the fact a month ago he told ABC, ‘We don’t have a plan on the table to build a new coal-fired power station’,” Butler said.
“The division and confusion around the government’s plans for Australia’s energy future are adding to already crippling investment uncertainty and are driving investment away and prices and pollution up.
“Australia desperately needs and deserves a clear energy policy to secure affordable, reliable and clean energy,” he said.
Queensland Labor’s treasurer and acting energy minister Curtis Pitt also got in on the action, acknowledging Morrison’s honesty and generously agreeing that “the LNP’s expensive coal-fired power station would provide no short-term solution to federal government failures in the National Electricity Market.”
Pitt also noted that the Australian Industry Group had predicted electricity bills would need to double to sustain a coal fired power station in North Queensland.
“The LNP and Tim Nicholls don’t care about electricity prices paid by Queenslanders. That’s why power bills increased by 43 per cent under the LNP’s time in office, compared to an average of 1.9 per cent per year under Labor,” he said.
“Renewables are now the cheapest form of new generation to build and there are currently 17 large scale renewable projects financially committed in Queensland, 15 under construction right now – an investment of more than $2 billion supporting jobs in our regions.
“Once operational these projects will increase competition and put downward pressure on prices,” Pitt said.