New federal resources minister Keith Pitt has added to the calls for a new coal fired power station in Australia, advocating for a “clean coal” power station, despite the fact it would likely be more than triple the cost of new firmed wind and solar projects.
In an interview with the ABC News Breakfast program, Pitt claimed that it was important to be “technology agnostic” and that he would wait for the results of a feasibility study into new coal-fired power station, but then went on to advocate for an expensive high efficiency, low emissions coal fired power station paired with carbon capture and storage.
“[The feasibility study] was an election commitment. We deliver on our election commitments and feasibility studies determine feasibility, that’s what they’re for. As an engineer, I’ll wait to see the results,” Pitt told ABC News Breakfast.
“I want to say very clearly – if you are technology agnostic in terms of the fuel, if you look at HELE coal, so supercritical boilers combine with CCS, that is a 90 per cent reduction on emissions on some legacy brown coal power stations around the country.”
“So if you want to take up every opportunity, you need to look at this with open eyes and a mind and I think there are opportunities for building further power stations right around the country and we need them,” Pitt added.
Pitt was appointed as the federal resources minister following the resignation of Senator Matt Canavan, the self-described “Mr Coal” who stepped down from the position to support a Barnaby Joyce challenge for the leadership of the National Party.
Pitt had previously served as the Assistant Minister for Trade, Investment and Tourism, but resigned from that position in 2017, following Scott Morrison’s assentation to the prime ministership in protest of the Coalition’s recommitment to the Paris Agreement, saying he “will always put reducing power prices before Paris.”
However, it appears Pitt will not be putting lowering power prices before coal, advocating for a new and unproven “clean coal” power station to be built in Australia.
There is just one example of an operating carbon capture and storage project in Australia, the Gorgon capture project which is storing emissions from Chevron’s natural gas extraction off the Western Australian coast. That project commenced operation late last year, three years behind schedule.
There are no operating carbon capture and storage projects working with an Australian power station.
The reason for this is primarily because it is uneconomical. As numerous studies have shown, including the most recent update to the CSIRO’s GenCost assessment, wind and solar provide lower cost forms of new generation capacity compared to any form of coal generation even before the costs of carbon capture and storage are accounted for.
Former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Turnbull agreed that new coal power stations were uneconomical in a speech to an Informa conference in Sydney.
“The reality is the cheapest form of new generation in Australia right now is solar supported by firming – by pumped hydro or other forms of firming depending on the location,” Turnbull said.
“There is no economic case for building a new coal-fired power station in Australia anymore, regardless of what you think about carbon policy – and everyone in the energy sector knows that.”
“But if you read the News Limited newspapers and listen to debates in Canberra, it’s a parallel universe.”
BloombergNEF has estimated the levelised cost of a new HELE coal-fired power station paired with carbon capture and storage at above $350 per MWh, seeing a new “clean coal” power station being ranked as the most expensive source of new electricity generation capacity.
Pitt’s proposal would seriously undermine efforts to reduce wholesale electricity prices, including the Morrison government’s own ambition to see wholesale electricity prices fall below a target of $70 per MWh.
Labor climate change and energy spokesperson Mark Butler was emphatic in Labor’s rejection of the prospects of a new coal fired power station, labelling Pitt has “delusional”.
“Scott Morrison is willing to spend billions of taxpayers’ dollars on a new coal-fired power station to appease the hard-right of his deeply divided Party room and he has refused to rule out providing a taxpayer-funded indemnity sought by the proponents of the Collinsville coal-fired power station, which the Australian Industry Group says could cost taxpayers $17 billion,” Butler said.
“Keith Pitt’s latest idea about Collinsville would cause power prices in Queensland to skyrocket.”
“There’s no place for new coal-fired power stations in Australia,” Butler added.