Push for new coal-fired power station in Queensland 'nonsense' – state minister

Idea championed by federal Nationals ‘one of the most irresponsible policy propositions I’ve heard’, Mark Bailey says

Queensland’s energy minister, Mark Bailey, says the state does not need a new coal-fired power station, branding the idea championed by federal Nationals “one of the most irresponsible policy propositions I’ve heard”.

Before new talks on Friday between energy ministers in the wake of the Finkel review of the national electricity market, Bailey also criticised the federal energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, for delaying consideration of a new clean energy target.

Frydenberg telephoned his state counterparts last week to inform them they would not consider the clean energy target this Friday because the Turnbull government was yet to make a decision about the central recommendation of the Finkel review.

Bailey said this was unacceptable. “The clean energy target is considered normal policy by most other countries in the world but the Turnbull government is in absolute contortions over this,” he told Guardian Australia on Tuesday.

“Industry just wants a decent integrated climate and energy policy and that’s what we want to see, but I don’t think we are going to get it from Josh Frydenberg this week.”

The Queensland government on Tuesday committed to a target for the state of zero net emissions by 2050, and Bailey said Queensland also intended to keep its state-based renewable energy scheme, despite regular pressure from Canberra to scrap it.

The deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, and the resources minister, Matt Canavan, are pushing for the federal government to fund or indemnify a new coal-fired power station in the state as part of the reworking of energy policy prompted by the Finkel review.

But Bailey called a new coal-fired power station for Queensland “nonsense”.

“We’ve got eight huge generators in Queensland,” he said. “We are the powerhouse of the nation. We put a gigawatt of power across our interconnector to prop up New South Wales during the heatwave.

“We have oodles of traditional base-load power in Queensland. To propose we need a ninth station is just absolute nonsense.

“What we need is clean energy. Locking in high-carbon emissions for a generation and a half is one of the most irresponsible policy propositions I’ve heard.”

Bailey said any sensible analysis of trends in the energy market would conclude that the price of renewable technologies was dropping, and battery technology was coming on at pace.

He said the chief scientist, Alan Finkel, had told a Senate estimates hearing that it would be much more expensive to build a coal-fired power station than invest in large-scale renewables.

“The Australian Industry Group has said a new coal-fired power station – you’d need to double electricity prices to sustain it,” Bailey said.

“This is basic economics, but the federal government doesn’t want to know about real-world economics or what’s going on in the energy market right now, which is rapidly transforming and changing.”

Despite the ongoing pressure from federal Nationals to invest in new coal-fired power, the Liberal frontbencher Craig Laundy told Sky News on Tuesday the Turnbull government wasn’t interested in going down that path.

Laundy said: “We are not considering new coal-fired power stations”.

He said the Turnbull government was interested in options to retrofit existing assets not build new power stations.

Energy ministers will meet on Friday to consider the Finkel review and a host of energy policy issues – but not the clean energy target, because the Turnbull government remains divided about how to proceed.

Before Friday’s meeting, Frydenberg has publicly demanded state governments do more of the heavy lifting to take pressure off power prices.

The federal minister has accused the Queensland government of allowing generators to game the system to boost dividends to the state government.

Bailey rejects that argument. He says high wholesale power prices in Queensland reflected “a nationwide price spike” connected to the heatwaves last summer.

“For [Frydenberg] to be blaming a price spike under his own national electricity rules on the Queensland government is just ludicrous, and it shows what a low-grade energy minister he is.

Asked whether Queensland would support changes to the five-minute rule, which some experts say gives generators capacity to game the system, Bailey said: “We are keen for the best possible outcome for consumers.

“What Queensland wants to see is a coherent national energy policy, which is integrated, based in the real world, and based on working with industry to get new investment going.”

Asked whether Queensland would support changing the limited merits review, a legal process which has pushed up power prices, Bailey said: “We support it being reformed, we don’t support it being abolished.”

He said Queensland would like to see NSW and Victoria do more to increase the supply of gas, which would be positive for consumers.


Katharine Murphy Political editor

The GuardianTramp

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