Tuesday, 13 February 2018
Deep down, even the Greens understand that solar and wind are not the answer for lowering emissions if you want reliable power. When unreliable power blacks out vast parts of the country, or a whole state in the case of South Australia, even the Greens, huddled around their little candles, weaving hemp baskets and singing Kumbaya in the dark, would lament the intermittency of their solar and wind power. But they also unequivocally rule out the mature industry power source that offers both reliability and zero emissions. They have a morbid fear of nuclear power, even though it's a mainstay of energy in many developed countries, and they want to shut down coal-fired power as well. In time, another alternative will be developed—no doubt. That's if we don't cripple the economy first and rob the private funding that goes to scientists in the resources and energy sector—the money they need to conduct research and innovation into new and developing energy forms.
The reality is that an efficient and more reliable form of energy with fewer or zero emissions may well overtake coal one day. But that day is not here yet. And it won't arrive any quicker by taxing something you don't like or throwing tantrums or conducting criminal protests against coal and the workers in the coalmining industry. Ironically, it is coal technology that currently provides the best combination of baseload power, baseload reliability and lower emissions. It is clean coal technology—in the words of President Trump, 'beautiful clean coal technology'—that will keep business costs down, grow the economy and enable the research and innovation that will develop the next big thing in energy. It is clean coal technology that we desperately need in North Queensland right now to create jobs and to drive down the cost of energy.
Businesses in North Queensland are forced to pay more for their electricity than their competitors in Brisbane. That's because electricity is lost through transmission. The further electricity has to be pushed down the line, the more of that power is lost. North Queensland businesses have to pay for what they receive and also for what was lost along the way in transmission. The further away from a power generator that your business is located, the more you pay for power. That's why there's been a push for an affordable and reliable baseload power generator in the north. At this point, even the Greens should be in agreement. They would insist on putting up some solar panels on their lean-to or a windmill on their Kombi van. What they can't seem to get their head around is the fact that putting a solar panel on a roof won't provide the power that an industrial business actually needs. I know that, because even putting a million solar panels on a roof won't power industrial business. We have one major industrial business in North Queensland, Sun Metals, a zinc refinery, which is spending $200 million to install its own solar farm, covering 120 hectares of land with a million solar panels. And, for all the money, all the land and all time and energy it is going to take, it will supply just 30 per cent of the refinery's power needs. The problem now is trying to find a balance at an affordable price. That won't be easy, because Queensland's power prices are rising roughly in line with the increased dependence on renewables—or unreliables.
The cost of electricity in Queensland did not rise for 26 years. From 1980-81 to 2006-07 there was no significant rise. That is according to the Queensland Productivity Commission, which released a report on that back in 2016. But in the nine years from 2007 to 2016 the cost of electricity increased by 87 per cent. Why? Think of the billions of dollars thrown at clean energy programs: the large-scale RET; the small-scale RET; the feed-in tariffs of 44c per kilowatt hour, which is more than double the domestic use tariff of 21.3c per kilowatt hour; a billion dollars of free money through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency; solar panel rebates; $1.6 billion on the Solar Flagships Program; the Clean Energy Initiative; the Clean Energy Trade and Investment Strategy, the Solar Homes and Communities Plan; and, for too long, the carbon tax. It's time we stopped placing all of these burdens on consumers and taxpayers, because it forces power costs up.
In Central and North Queensland affordability of energy supply is already a threat to industry and it's killing jobs. The largest aluminium smelter in Australia—Rio Tinto's Boyne smelter in Gladstone—was forced to slash more than 100 jobs and about 80,000 tonnes of annual production worth about $200 million because it could not source affordable power from state providers. The inner-city greenies were patting themselves on the back for pulling off this trifecta in Gladstone, Central Queensland: cutting down a big business, reducing industry and killing productive jobs in a place where it doesn't affect them. Imagine how stoked they would be if they got their wish and actually closed down the Queensland coal industry.
In North Queensland and Central Queensland, we are blessed with many natural resources, including coal, beautiful clean coal, in the Bowen Basin and the Galilee Basin. The coal industry directly employs 44,000 people and it pays more than $5.7 billion in real wages. Even more people would be employed, more wages would go into the economy and electricity would be cheaper for industry in North Queensland if a coal-fired generator was built somewhere in the Bowen Basin or in the Galilee Basin. If we want power to be cheap and emissions to be lower, we would build a high-efficiency, low-emissions generator. Around the world there are 780 supercritical plants and 235 ultra-supercritical plants already in operation, mostly in China, Japan and India. There are a further 781 supercritical and a further 450 ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plants—planned or under construction—around the world. Clean coal delivers reliable and affordable power, with up to 50 per cent lower emissions than some of the outdated technology currently used for base-load generation. So, if we want to meet emission reduction targets without killing jobs or crippling the economy, this clean coal technology would be a logical answer.
I visited one of these power stations when I went to the port of Mundra in India. I saw firsthand the large number of people that were employed at that site—by the largest coal-importing port in the world, the nearby generators and the surrounding support infrastructure. More importantly, the reliable and affordable base-load electricity that's being generated is bringing the Indian people out of energy poverty and creating industries that generate employment—ongoing employment.
Central and North Queensland are home to some of the largest and best-quality coal reserves in the world. That coal is currently being exported to other countries around the world for making steel and also for generating electricity with this HELE technology. North Queensland is a perfect location for our nation to build its first ultra-supercritical power plant, and, if it were built at the mouth of a coalmine, it would cut transport costs for the generator and reduce losses from the long-distance transmission that I mentioned earlier. It would also deliver jobs in construction and even more jobs in the industries that flourish as a result, with affordable and reliable power in the north.
Some years ago, Townsville Enterprise Limited commissioned a report called Base Load Power in North Queensland and the Dalrymple Agricultural Scheme, and it noted the need for additional capacity. It found that a major coal-fired power station would put downward pressure on electricity prices, with a potential $838 million social cost benefit gain. That was commissioned by the Labor Party, a previous Labor government. Support for such a power station is high—certainly in North Queensland and the regions affected by high electricity costs and the need for jobs. The Townsville Bulletin, a newspaper up there, conducted a small informal poll last year. It showed that 79 per cent of respondents supported the idea of building a high-efficiency, low-emissions power plant in North Queensland. This was backed up by a similar poll conducted by the New South Wales Minerals Council, which found that 64 per cent of 1,000 respondents were in favour of Australia building a HELE coal-fired station.
I started my own Power to the North campaign last year, laying out the facts about clean coal power generation—what it would mean for jobs and industry and asking people to show their support. We've had thousands of North Queenslanders responding through signing a petition, providing positive feedback. That strong support indicates that North Queenslanders understand the importance of industry and jobs. They also understand the need to keep electricity prices down, both for households and for businesses and farms. Job creators in the north want to know they can pay the bills to keep the lights on, keep the air con running and keep business and industry doors open—open for jobs. People in North Queensland are more interested in 'affordables' than renewables. That's why I've been fighting for a clean coal fired power station in the north for more than a year. And, I tell you, I will continue to fight for one until government listens and takes note of what the people want. More jobs, clean coal—get it going.