COAL FIRED: It is unclear whether a business case would determine whether underwriting a coal fired power station like this at Callide would be the best option for lowering for power bills.
COAL FIRED: It is unclear whether a business case would determine whether underwriting a coal fired power station like this at Callide would be the best option for lowering for power bills. Andrew Thorpe

Labor accuses Coalition of disunity over coal-fired power

THE gulf is widening between latte sipping urban Liberal MPs and coal-loving regional National MPs over the construction of a coal-fired power station according to the Labor Party.

Labor's candidate for Capricornia Russell Robertson seized on a Sky News interview on Sunday in which Melbourne-based Treasurer Josh Frydenberg admitted climate change was an issue in his seat before talking down the possibility of a future Liberal government underwriting a coal-fired power station.

This development comes after Prime Minister Scott Morrison offered the carrot of a feasibility study into the power network of North and Central Queensland in late March, seeking to get angry Nationals MPs on side before the federal election was called in April.

Part of this study was assessing the viability of constructing a new, ultra-critical coal-fired power station at Collinsville, next to the longest-running coal mine in the Bowen Basin.

Mr Frydenberg said this study was not a "review into a coal fired power station".

"It's actually a review into what [are] the baseload power needs in that part of Queensland, it's looking at the whole suite of options," Mr Frydenberg said.

He said they would have to see what the business case shows before making a decision on a coal-fired power station.

"But the reality is this, with energy and climate, those two major issues, there is a transition under way in our energy sector and what we won't do as a Coalition is compromise people's energy bills," he said.

Resources Minister Matt Canavan couldn't fault his Treasurer's comments, asserting the study aimed to look at all of the region's power needs.

Where as, Mr Robertson took Mr Frydenberg's comments to mean he was ruling out bank rolling a coal fired power station in another sign of coalition disunity over energy policy.

Mr Robertson pointed to Senator Canavan saying coal was key to "cheap base-load power" and Capricornia MP Michelle Landry saying a new coal plant was something they had been "working on for a long time", contrasting it with Coalition MP comments from Mr Frydenberg, Peter Dutton and Trevor Evans.

According to Mr Dutton, "the question is whether the Federal Government should be building a coal-fired power station. I don't agree with that. I don't think we should be."

Mr Evans described his northern proponents of a coal fired power station as "a very small and lonely minority whistling Dixie."

"When it comes to energy policy, the LNP doesn't know whether it is Arthur or Martha. It has one line for voters in the southern capitals and another for those of us in the regions," Mr Robertson said.

"Labor's position has been crystal clear from day one. We will back any project that stacks up on its own terms and brings jobs and investment to the region, but we will not leave taxpayers on the hook for billion of dollars of subsidies.

"By ensuring we have affordable, reliable electricity, and plenty of it, we can ensure our businesses can grow, creating more jobs, and we can ensure households aren't stung by ever-increasing power bills."

Senator Canavan dismissed Labor's attack saying their $10 million study to develop the business case for baseload power options, including in Collinsville and Gladstone would include a role for all power sources in the energy mix, including coal, gas, hydro and renewables.

"It will look at a whole range of issues including network infrastructure, industry needs and jobs, wages and investment impacts from affordable and reliable energy options," Senator Canavan said.

"But the simple fact is jobs in aluminium smelting, mineral refining and processing and in manufacturing need stable, around the clock power. And at the moment that comes primarily from coal-fired power stations.

"As the Prime Minister said in Rockhampton, we are focussed on the best way to achieve reliable and sustainable power to support industries in Central and North Queensland."