Coalition loses the plot as window closes on fantasy coal plans

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You would have to be crazy, or a Coalition MP, to think that a new coal plant in NSW was in any way viable, or even a good idea.

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Craig Kelly hasn’t been very noisy of late – too preoccupied, it seems, on filling his Facebook page with some of the biggest nonsense you will find anywhere about climate hoaxes, renewables and batteries.

This week, however, he couldn’t help himself, when it was revealed that a consortium comprising a couple of two-bit companies from western Sydney and the Cayman Islands and a Chinese backer had agreed to explore a plan to build some new coal-fired generators in the Hunter Valley.

Never mind that this could never happen – the proposed site is too close to a hospital and homes, and it has not even filed a DA, yet alone considered a business plan or a market opportunity.

Two of three companies included in the “memorandum of understanding” might struggle to fund the building of a road to a coal plant, let alone the plant itself. Yet Kelly applied his normal analytical brain and declared it to be “fantastic” news.

“This is exactly what the market needs,” he enthused. “If the government needs to underwrite it, if it needs a little bit of help, then that’s what we should be doing.”

He wasn’t the only one. Resources minister Matt Canavan also said it sounded like a good idea, and was all for taxpayers funds to help the project along. “Now is the time for new coal,” he said.

And six of Canavan’s Coalition buddies from his home state of Queensland – including the noisy coal supporter George Christensen, Ken Down, Michelle Landry – told the LNP leadership that they wanted the government to commit to funding a new coal-fired power station in Queensland. Or else!

Yes, you read that right. The MPs want the Coalition government, presumably over the next four weeks before the care-taker period, to lock in a contract to a project that has likely not proposed any DA, environmental approvals, costing or business case. And they are loudly supported by the former energy minister and now coal mining lobbyist Ian Macfarlane.

Well, why not. Prime minister Scott Morrison last week promised a contract to a Hydro Tasmania project that had not yet been identified, located, sized, priced or even dreamed of. It’s that kind of election campaign.

And, of course, they’ve got the backing of Liberal Party donor Trevor St Baker, who just happens to be the same person briefing the Coalition MPs about the “perils” of wind and solar, and wants to build his own new coal-fired power stations in the Latrobe Valley and in NSW, where he operates the ageing Vales Point coal generator he picked up for a song from the NSW government.

“Australia needs these no matter what government comes in to power at the next election and into the future,” St Baker told The Australian.

Actually, no. There is no case for a new coal-fired generator on economic, engineering or environmental grounds. New coal generators are not, as their marketing term implies, “low emissions, high efficiency”. They are the opposite.

They are expensive to maintain, as AGL has highlighted, and expensive to build anew. Even the CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator came to that conclusion, saying the cheapest option for Australia for new generation is wind and solar and battery and pumped hydro storage. No contest.

And there’s no place for new coal plants in the grid. As Paul McArdle notes, the NEM is already transitioning rapidly away from the decades-old paradigm of coal baseload and gas peak-load, and is becoming more dynamic, where flexibility and dispatchability are king. Every grid operator and network owner agrees.

No, all the conservatives see is a rapidly diminishing window of opportunity. Assuming they do lose the upcoming federal election – which all the polls suggest, although no one would ever bet their house on Bill Shorten – there is just a matter of weeks to try and lock in some sort of absurd deal.

For what purpose? Well, if it’s not on economic, environmental or engineering grounds, then it must just be about politics and ideology.

If Labor does win the federal election, then we should expect some serious thinking about a proper transition plan – as per AEMO Integrated System Plan – and not just to reach the advertised 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030, but to go beyond that, and probably sooner.

All the states are now on board. Victoria and Queensland have their 50 per cent targets, NSW knows it has no choice but to prepare for the inevitable closure of its ageing power stations, and even Western Australia is preparing for the shift from coal to renewables.

Only in South Australia and Tasmania will there be conservative governments, and neither of those states has coal or wants it.

The Marshall government in South Australia, for all its pre-election bluster, is perfectly comfortable with what’s happening in the state, where the share of wind and solar is already beyond 50 per cent of demand and will be up between 70 and 75 per cent within five years.

Its only sense of urgency is to build a new interconnector to NSW, and more batteries in its own state. Along with a pumped hydro plant and the delayed but still planned solar thermal plant near Port Augusta, that will mean the reduction of gas to a very small supporting role within a decade, and the virtual elimination of fossil fuels from the grid. Next stop, manufacturing and transport.

And in Tasmania, they are already effectively at 100 per cent renewables, and busting to build a new link to Victoria which they say only makes sense if it can facilitate and accelerate the exit of the big brown coal generators in Victoria.

And consumers, both household and business, are turning to rooftop solar in ever increasing numbers, and will also pick up battery storage and electric vehicles as rebates kick in with the former, and more models and cheaper prices become available for the latter. Within decades, this “distributed generation” will account for half of all capacity on the grid.

The federal Coalition, sadly, is destroyed by right wing ideologues who are locked in the past and refuse to listen to the experts, be it the scientists on climate change, or the engineers in the energy transition.

Kelly is running wild on Facebook, with daily posts such as “the imaginary climate crisis”, “cooling is the enemy”, and a series of articles about “climate alarmism” and the failure of renewables and batteries.

It’s bat-shit crazy stuff, but the really scary part is that these people are actually influencing and in some cases directing policy. Enough!

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