CALL­ING FOR COAL

Townsville Bulletin - - OPINION -

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.

STUNG: Michael Burge from Lam­berts is one of the busi­ness own­ers hit by ris­ing elec­tric­ity prices. Pic­ture: ZAK SIMMONDS

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