ROCKHAMPTON VISIT: Labor's Capricornia candidate Russell Robertson hosted Shadow Assistant Minister for Climate Change, Energy and Infrastructure Pat Conroy's in Rockhampton to discuss their approach towards energy policy.
ROCKHAMPTON VISIT: Labor's Capricornia candidate Russell Robertson hosted Shadow Assistant Minister for Climate Change, Energy and Infrastructure Pat Conroy's in Rockhampton to discuss their approach towards energy policy. Leighton Smith

LNP's push for a coal fired power station challenged

THE furnace of the great coal debate was stoked again yesterday after Labor claimed CQ's local LNP members would be foolish if they continued to push for a new coal-fired power station.

CQ's pro-coal LNP members including Resources Minister Senator Matt Canavan and Capricornia MP Michelle Landry seized on a report released on Monday from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) citing the need to retain Australia's fleet of coal fired power stations for as long as possible, at least the next 20 years, to maintain grid stability and keep energy prices down before being replaced by renewables.

Labor's Shadow Assistant Minister for Climate Change, Energy and Infrastructure Pat Conroy, joined by Labor's candidate for Capricornia Russell Robertson, said they believed coal still had a role to play in Australia's export market, especially steel making metallurgical coal, which was growing healthily with several new mines in the pipeline for CQ.

READ: CQ poised to reap the rewards of a boom in renewable energy

ROCKHAMPTON VISIT: Shadow Assistant Minister for Climate Change, Energy and Infrastructure and Labor's Capricornia candidate Russell Robertson
ROCKHAMPTON VISIT: Shadow Assistant Minister for Climate Change, Energy and Infrastructure Pat Conroy and Labor's Capricornia candidate Russell Robertson Leighton Smith

But Mr Conroy drew a distinction saying it was disingenuous of Senator Canavan to continue to push hard with his pro-thermal coal agenda when it was no longer regarded the cheapest option for investing in future energy generation.

"I just think what he's doing is fundamentally disrespectful because the easiest thing a politician can do is to lie to workers and say that nothing has to change when things are changing” Mr Conroy said.

"The real debate is not about coal mining, it's about power generation and what needs to happen in the power generation sector.

"It's not about existing coal fired power stations, they're going to keep chugging along and provide electricity for the term of their natural life, the key thing is what replaces them.”

Mr Conroy said the report didn't recommend the construction of a new coal-fired power station, something members of the Coalition Government had been strongly agitating for, saying instead that Australia's future power generation would be cheaper investing in transmission and incorporating an energy mix of renewables with storage, pumped hydro and flexible gas-powered generation (for base load power).

"Anyone who is arguing that we should spend $5b on a new coal-fired power station, is arguing for more expensive power,” he said.

"It's not based in reality, it's not going to deliver significant jobs for coal mining communities, even if you did this, because the vast majority of coal is exported.

"Only 10 per cent of Queensland coal is used in local power stations.”

Hailing from the coal mining electorate of Shortland, which takes in the Hunter Valley, Mr Conroy went to great lengths to emphasise that Labor wasn't "anti-coal”.

"Our region, like this region, was built on coal and we honour that, but we have to be honest about what's happening in the power sector, not export coal,” he said.

"Canavan is trying to combine those two pieces, he's being dishonest and quite frankly is trying to hoodwink voters.”

Australian Resource Minister Matt Canavan speaks during Question Time in the Senate chamber in Canberra, Monday, March 19, 2018. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING
Australian Resource Minister Matt Canavan wants to see all types of power harnessed. LUKAS COCH

Senator Canavan said while he wasn't "wedded to a particular fuel type”, the AEMO reported showed clearly that coal-fired power was currently the cheapest way to supply base load power and we needed to keep existing coal-fired power stations going.

"If we had cheaper gas supplies, gas could certainly play that role but the gas price at the moment is very expensive and there are risks of it going higher if other states don't belt their gas resources,” Senator Canavan said.

"So I wouldn't want to put my eggs in that basket either.”

He said it was hypocritical for us to refuse to build a coal- fired power station and use the product we were selling to others.

"If we're banning coal fired power stations here, how can we credibly go to other countries and sell the product overseas when we're not willing to stand behind the product ourselves?” Senator Canavan said.

"The demand for coal is sky-rocketing, countries in Asia are building hundreds of the latest coal-fired power stations.

"You cannot defend coal mining jobs unless you think there's a continuing role for coal-fired power in our region.”

Senator Canavan believed the technological developments that have occurred with regards to coal-fired power "were now cleaner and better”.

"We should be looking to potentially build some of those here too,” he said.

Now that things were turning around for the coal market in CQ, Senator Canavan warned of a potential Labor-Greens alliance with an ambitious emissions reduction target requiring a "carbon tax 2.0” which could potentially erase the gains of recent years.

"You should expect your local representatives to be supporting local industries, supporting local jobs, fighting for those jobs and not giving currency to the misinformation and mistruths that are spread about our coal industry,” he said.