Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s suggestion the taxpayer could subsidise new coal power plants has been slammed by experts amid fears it could in fact push up electricity prices.
Mr Turnbull was also rebuffed by industry, with the electricity sector’s peak body saying it had no plans to start building new coal-fired plants.
As the government pursues what it calls a “technology agnostic” approach to energy policy, Mr Turnbull said a coal project that “had the effect of reducing emissions” could be subsidised by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.
“But whether it stacked up, whether it had the appropriate private sector backing is another matter,” he said on Thursday.
Critics hit out
However, experts warned coal plants could be more expensive for consumers as the costs of renewables continues to fall.
Dylan McConnell, from Melbourne University’s Climate and Energy College, told The New Daily prioritising new coal-fired plants would “absolutely” push up power prices.
“The equivalent energy from renewable energy is just cheaper,” said Mr McConnell, whose research has found replacing Australia’s coal plants with new ultra-supercritical technology would cost up to $62 billion.
“How that difference is made up would depend on what sort of subsidy is thrown at the technology.
“If it’s like the Renewable Energy Target and there’s a levy on consumers, then that levy would be more than the equivalent amount of renewable energy.”
Meanwhile, the Australian Energy Council, which represents 21 major electricity and downstream natural gas businesses, said the industry had no plans to start building new coal-fired power stations.
“While lower emissions coal-fired power stations could be considered theoretically, in practice there is no current investment appetite to develop new coal-fired power in Australia,” said chief executive Matthew Warren.
“The industry’s investment focus has shifted to a combination of firm lower emissions gas generation, renewables and enabling technologies like storage.”
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has previously said it was “morally prudent” for Australia to pursue coal power stations.
“We own one of the biggest sections of the resource and we are the biggest exporter of coal. It’s morally prudent upon us to be at the forefront of the technology,” he told the ABC.
Mr Turnbull, meanwhile, has pledged to make energy policy a priority this year with the aim of achieving affordable, secure and reliable power.
“We’ve got to strip Labor’s left-wing ideology away from this issue and focus on outcomes,” the Prime Minister said.
The government had invested $590 million in clean-coal technology since 2009, he told the Press Club on Wednesday.
“We will need more synchronous baseload power and as Australia is a big exporter we need to show we are using state-of-the-art, clean, coal-fired technology,” he said.
“The next incarnation of our national energy policy should be technology-agnostic.”
A ‘retrograde step’
Mr McConnell said the “high-efficiency low emissions” technology was only “marginally better” than new conventional coal plants, and would struggle to meet the CEFC’s definition of low emissions.
Gerard Ledwich, of Queensland University of Technology, said investing in “a slight improvement of an older technology” could “lock us into as undesirable route”.
“Financing new coal-fired power stations would seem to me to be a retrograde step,” Professor Ledwich told The New Daily.
“At the moment the price of solar is becoming much more attractive such that there isn’t the same need for government subsidies.
“Financing coal-fired power stations that have got only a 20 or 30 per cent improvement of the CO2 performance would seem to be a backward step, particularly if it was done at the expense of a stronger step towards renewables such as wind or solar.”
Opposition climate change and energy spokesman Mark Butler would not be drawn on whether Labor would ever support taxpayer funds for new coal-fired power stations when asked by The New Daily.
But Mr Butler said the evidence suggested new coal-fired power stations were “simply too expensive”, and “too dirty” to meet targets in cutting pollution.
“This is a grossly irresponsible proposal, economically and environmentally,” he said.
“In addition these are investment decisions that need to be taken by private businesses, and there is no indication any private energy company or bank is willing to invest in new coal power.”