The Morrison government has kept the door open to a new coal-fired power station in North Queensland, but no decision will be made until after next year’s federal election.
While the Coalition’s revised climate policy was mostly about spruiking renewable energy and new low-emissions technology to reach net zero emissions by 2050, the cold hard reality of dealing with the Nationals in Queensland soon emerged.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the details of the agreement with the Nationals to back the net zero pledge would emerge over the next few months, but the ongoing commitment to a new coal-fired power station in North Queensland – or at least a pledge not to block one – looks like it has remained part of the deal.
Nationals MPs, including former resources minister Matt Canavan, have consistently called for a new coal-fired power station in North Queensland, wanting the federal government to underwrite it.
Mr Morrison on Tuesday revealed a feasibility study into the Collinsville coal-fired power station would be due by June next year, but it would be up to the private proponent, Shine Energy, to get it across the line.
“Any investments that people wish to make, well, they have to meet the necessary planning and other regulatory approvals for them to go ahead,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
“They have to make sense to them commercially and if they stack up, they stack up.”
He said the plant would need to meet environmental and other approvals.
“Legal investments in this country are still legal,” he said.
The Morrison government committed $4 million to a coal-fired power station in North Queensland as part of its 2019 election commitments.
In August last year, Shine Energy was awarded a $3.6 million grant to undertake a feasibility study into a 1-gigawatt high-efficiency, low-emissions power station in Collinsville in the northern Bowen Basin.
Critics slammed the decision, saying it was crazy to allocate taxpayer money to a fossil fuel project while Australia was transitioning to a low-emissions economy.
The fact no private investors have invested in any new coal mines in Australia in recent years was another indicator that coal was on the way out, they said.
Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the government’s long-term climate plan was not about “shutting down coal or gas production”.
“Australia’s coal and gas export industries will continue through to 2050 and beyond, supporting jobs and regional communities,” the 129-page planning document said.
However, the plan said it was expected “sectors like thermal coal and natural gas ... will be affected by falling global demand and the shifting choices of international consumers”.
“Coal production will remain flat or decline slightly, by around 6 per cent (to 2030),” it said.