The federal Coalition has moved to cement its support of “clean coal” power generation, with two senior ministers confirming the party was considering using Australia’s green bank, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, to back the controversial technology.
In separate interviews on Thursday morning, Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison and energy minister Josh Frydenberg both said they would not rule out using money from the CEFC – a body designed largely to help finance large-scale renewable energy development and which the Coalition still intended to axe as recently as one year ago – to develop high efficiency, low emissions coal plants in Australia.
Talking to ABC Radio from South Australia, Frydenberg said the government was looking at all options on the matter of where to direct CEFC funds.
“But I do point out it’s called the Clean Energy Finance Corporation not the Renewable Energy Finance Corporation,” he added. “That’s an important distinction.”
Similarly, Morrison told the ABC on Thursday that coal was “a big part of the future under a Coalition government,” adding that this was “clearly …. not the case under the alternative.”
“It’s the Clean Energy Finance Corporation — it’s not the wind energy finance corporation,” Morrison said.
The comments follow the lead of the Prime Minister, who in his address to the National Press Club on Wednesday stressed that his party’s “technology agnostic” energy policy would include “state of the art clean coal-fired technology.”
“You’d think if anyone had a vested interest in doing smart things with clean coal it would be us wouldn’t it?” Turnbull said. “We really need to strip the ideology out of the debate.”
Of course, not everyone is picking up what the Coalition is putting down.
“Several authorities’ projections, including from the CSIRO, put the price of new coal at $80 a megawatt hour, and new wind and solar around the same level — but we are seeing lower prices achieved day by day [for wind and solar],” the Australian Industry Group’s principle national advisor Tennant Reed told ABC TV’s The Business.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance, meanwhile, has put the cost of a new coal power generator at closer to twice the above number – $160/MWh.
“The price of $80 a megawatt hour for clean coal power assumes a uniform cost of funding between wind, solar and coal and that’s simply not the case,” Bloomberg’s Kobad Bhavnagri said.
Interestingly, Labor’s shadow treasurer Chris Bowen, did not rule out supporting new coal power, but called for more detail on the proposed developments first.
“Cleaner coal can play a role but we need to see if there’s going to be a policy proposal to change the mandate of the CEFC or anything like that — we’d need to see a proposal,” he told Sky News.
Climate and energy spokesperson Mark Butler did, however, argue that a preference for coal over renewables would be both economically and environmentally more costly than going with renewables.
“While coal will remain part of our energy mix for the foreseeable future, everyone knows new investment in coal is ridiculously expensive and will push up power prices and push up pollution.”
South Australia’s state energy minister, Tom Koutsantonis, was less diplomatic, calling clean coal a “fairy tale” with no basis in reality.
“Clean coal is a myth being perpetrated by a Prime Minister who is clearly owned by the coal industry,” Koutsantonis said. “If clean coal was viable, then it would already be operating in the market – the fact is that it is not. Companies are not going to make a 50-year investment decision to build new coal-fired power stations when gas and renewable energy is cheaper and cheaper,” he said.