Resources Minister Matt Canavan has opened the $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund to fund new so-called clean-coal power stations.
Senator Canavan’s comments come days after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Australian industry had an obligation to be at the forefront of coal technology.
Treasurer Scott Morrison has also not ruled out using money set aside in the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to pay for new generation power stations.
Mr Canavan said he had received interest from energy generators to tap into the billion-dollar investment fund and explore North Queensland.
“I’ve received some interest over the past week associated with our commitment to build base load power stations, including to support clean coal options,” he told ABC AM.
Mr Canavan would not say which companies had expressed interest but said there were viable options near the Galilee Basin and other parts of the state’s north.
The Federal Government has invested close to $590 million in clean-coal technology since 2009 but Australia does not have a high-efficiency, low-emission power station.
The Resources Minister cited a 2012 report by industry consultants GHD, which indicated clean-coal power stations could be commercially viable in Australia’s north.
“Some people might not realise that in North Queensland there is no base-load power station north of Rockhampton and industrial consumers in north Queensland pay often up to double the prices in southern Queensland,” he said.
“There is certainly and option there and a market there for supply.”
Mr Turnbull announced the push for more clean-coal technology earlier this week, which he vowed to make electricity prices and energy security a defining political debate of the year.
But energy experts have also warned power prices for consumers could double, not fall, if new coal power stations are built.
Mr Canavan dismissed comments by some Australia’s energy generators — including AGL and Energy Australia — saying new power stations would be expensive to build and require significant public funds.
“With all respect to those very eminent companies, we wouldn’t take advice from Coles or Woolworths on whether we should allow Costco for example to come into the Australian market,” Mr Canavan said.
“I am not surprised that existing generators don’t want another large-scale base load power station to come into the market, part in an area like North Queensland where they are clearly making good money selling electricity at very high prices.
“Good luck to them and good luck to them in the market. ”
The renewed focus on clean-coal has drawn criticism from Labor and the Greens, who have accused the Government of trying to protect “the coal club”.
Opposition spokesman for climate change and energy Mark Butler said a preference for coal over renewables would mean higher power bills for Australians.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale said the cleanest form of electricity would remain wind and solar, while raising concerns about the cost of new base-load coal plants.