Federal government refuses FOI request for coal plant feasibility findings | RenewEconomy

Federal government refuses FOI request for coal plant feasibility findings

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Morrison government refuses to publicly release “phase one findings” of feasibility studies into new Queensland power stations, including a coal plant.

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The Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources has refused to release “phase one” findings of feasibility studies into proposals for new Queensland power stations, including a proposal for a new coal-fired power station, saying the documents’ release was not in the public interest.

RenewEconomy sought the release of the feasibility study findings through a Freedom of Information request lodged with the department, requesting the findings of studies funded under the Morrison government’s Supporting Reliable Energy Infrastructure program.

The Morrison government has allocated up to $10 million of taxpayer funding to support the completion of “detailed evaluation and feasibility of projects in Central and North Queensland under the Underwriting New Generation Investments program”, including a proposed new coal-fired power station in the town of Collinsville.

This included the allocation of up to $4 million in funding for the completion of a feasibility study into a potential new “high efficiency, low emissions” coal-fired power station in the central Queensland town of Collinsville.

In responding to the freedom of information request, the department confirmed that the Morrison government had, at the very least, received the “phase one findings” of feasibility studies or detailed evaluations into potential new projects in North Queensland.

The department, however, refused to provide these findings under the FOI request, saying that it believed there was an insufficient public interest to justify their public release.

The department gave three reasons for denying the release of modelling of new coal-fired generators in Northern Queensland, saying that the findings had been provided to the department “in confidence” and their release would amount to a breach of confidence.

The department also said that the release of the findings would “reveal deliberative processes involved in the functions of the agency” and would prejudice the effectiveness of procedures of the department.

Each of the reasons cited allow for the department to refuse the release of documents under the Freedom of Information Act, provided that they outweigh a public interest test. The department concluded that there was insufficient public interest in the release of the documents.

The proposal to build a new coal-fired power station in Queensland has been highly controversial for the Morrison government, with the proposal being seeing as both unnecessary, and inconsistent with global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Queensland state energy minister, Anthony Lynham, recently wrote to the federal energy minister Angus Taylor, saying that he was “deeply concerned” about proposals to build a new coal-fired power station in Queensland, telling his federal counterpart that he was worried about the potential impacts on the state’s existing generators.

However, the Morrison government has faced significant pressure from within its own ranks to progress plans for a new coal-fired power station, particularly by backbench Nationals MPs.

This includes the Michelle Landry, who serves as the member for Capricornia, the electorate that would be host to any Collinsville power station.

“I have fought hard to see these projects come to fruition, and I’m glad to see the money to support job-creating projects will start to flow for the benefit of people in Capricornia,” Landry said when the feasibility study funding was announced.

Department officials told a recent Senate estimates hearing that the department had not yet finalised a decision to provide funds to Shine Energy to undertake a feasibility study into the proposed Collinsville coal-fired power station, saying that it was still waiting to receive a formal response to funding guidelines from the company.

Questions have been raised about the ability of the Collinsville project’s lead proponent, Shine Energy, to ultimately deliver such a large project. An examination of the company’s senior management shows little experience in the delivery and operation of large-scale energy projects and appears to have significant political ties to the Katter Australia Party.

The department official told Senate estimates that they had yet to undertake a due-diligence assessment of Shine Energy, but this would be undertaken before a final decision to award the feasibility study funding was made.

The funding for the feasibility studies was announced as part of a package of funding under the “Supporting Renewable Energy Infrastructure” program contained within the 2019 federal budget.

An additional $2 million in funding has been set aside to support the completion of a “pre-feasibility study” into a 1.5GW pumped-hydro energy storage plant, to be added to the Urannah Water Scheme, which is also located near Collinsville in Queensland.

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