CALLING FOR COAL
IT seems most intelligent people are in furious agreement that securing cheap, reliable power is a crisis requiring urgent action. There are many arguments for this, not least of which is reversing the crushing toll of spiralling household overheads.
But apart from pensioners and our disadvantaged dreading the coming summer months and the massive bills should they switch on an airconditioner, there are even greater economic reasons for reining in power prices.
The Coalition’s White Paper on Developing Northern Australia – celebrated universally when it was released in June 2015 – marked the land mass above the Tropic of Capricorn as the centre of the nation’s growth for the coming decades.
It set out a plan to capture the potential of the forgotten 40 per cent of our continent and turn it into an economic powerhouse.
“We will drive down the costs of operating in the North for business; making it a more attractive place to invest and work. By making the right regulations and infrastructure investments, we can encourage jobs and tackle the costs of living far from major cities,” the report reads.
Of course in 2015 no one was predicting the disastrous energy security situation Australia finds itself in now.
Who would have thought South Australia’s rush to renewables would plunge the national grid into crisis, deliver that state the dearest electricity on the planet and play a major part in crippling hikes in Queensland bills?
This is where the political fight starts. On one side you have conservatives arguing that rushing to a renewable future has put us in this situation, with generous subsidies and other incentives driving growth in wind, solar and hydro.
They say this is threatening cheap, reliable coal- fired power generation, forcing investors out and driving up household and commercial power costs, which is a disaster.
On the other side you have greentinged progressives, who argue renewables are more reliable, will create more jobs and bring power prices down by virtue of the fact solar and wind are cheap.
They say investors are getting out of coal because the world is moving on and they see no future in fossil fuels.
Here in Queensland, we are blessed with healthy levels of power generation and the cheapest power in the country, as it stands today.
But the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is now looking into the pricing structures of power generators amid claims they are “gaming” the system to maximise prices paid for our power.
There’s a great little app you can get on your phone called PocketNEM, which gives you a real time look at the flow of power from each state into the national grid.
At the time of writing, Queensland’s power was $ 64.78/ MWh, compared to Victoria’s $ 109.07/ MWh.
Conservative pollies have attracted the usual howls of outrage in pointing to statistics that show increased mortality among aged and frail Australians during the winter months, which is attributed to inadequate heating of homes.
They draw a line from this statistic to increasing power prices and argue the frail in our southern states are shivering in their homes, too afraid to turn on the heater for fear of their next bill.
It may seem like a cheap shot at political points but is it such a crazy idea? For Queensland voters looking for answers, our politicians have taken clear sides on this debate.
Annastacia Palaszczuk’s Labor State Government is arguing renewables will drive down power bills and has committed to our state being carbon neutral by 2050.
Tim Nicholls and the LNP have committed to commissioning the building of a new high- efficiency, low- emission ( HELE) coal- fired power plant within 100 days of being elected.
Opposite ends of the spectrum and a clear choice for voters at the ballot box.
It will probably not surprise regular readers but my view is South Australia is a cautionary tale for Queensland and we should accept the reality that coal- fired power generation – especially building a new plant in North Queensland – is the only way to bring bills down and set up our region for the future.
Forget “downward pressure”, which is Labor’s code for slower growth in prices, not cuts. North Queensland needs prices to come down, ASAP.
Coal- fired power plants have developed to the point that new plants are much cleaner than ever and, combined with carbon capture technology, could lead to a very unpalatable outcome for the oneeyed renewables crowd: more reliable power, lower bills, more capacity in the national grid and – wait for it – lower emissions.
Yes, phasing in new HELE coalfired power plants will actually help Australia deliver its carbon reduction commitments under the Paris Accord while increasing the security of our grid.
The perhaps uncomfortable truth is even with Queensland’s 50 per cent renewable power generation target, the other 50 per cent will be dirty, filthy, stinking, reliable, cheap coal.
So let’s get over trying to kill off coal and get on with accepting a mix of power generation that delivers responsible protections for the environment but doesn’t hobble the North as we look towards a prosperous and vital period of development and economic growth in Northern Australia.