29 June, 2017

Andrew Clennell

Courtesy of the Australian

 

NSW Nationals will push Premier Gladys Berejiklian to build a coal-fired power station in the Hunter region using proceeds from the $2.6 billion sale of the Land and Property Information service.

Ms Berejiklian announced on Friday that $2.3bn would be spent on Sydney stadiums — using the proceeds from the sale of the LPI service — but under the agreement on asset sales with the ­Nationals, one-third of sale proceeds needs to be spent in the bush.

The Restart NSW fund, topped up with money from the sale of the state’s electricity and port businesses, as well as NSW government windfall gains, is distributed two-thirds to the city and one-third to the bush. Deputy Premier John Barilaro is said to have raised the issue of a potential publicly funded coal-fired power station or a public-private partnership at a cabinet meeting this month.

Energy Minister Don Harwin and other Liberals are said to have spoken against the proposal.

At that meeting, the Premier pledged to hold a cabinet meeting specifically to address energy to discuss the proposal.

“The Nats want our share of the LPI funding to go to a coal-fired power station,” a senior NSW ­Nationals source said.

The push for a coal-fired power station follows a Queensland election that saw One Nation take conservative votes from the Liberal and National parties, and also follows two NSW state by-elections, in Cootamundra and Murray, in October at which the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers ran the Nationals close.

Queensland LNP leader Tim Nicholls flagged in September that a government led by him would consider diverting taxpayer funds from renewable energy into a new, privately owned coal-fired power station.

Conservative parties such as the Shooters promise to be a challenge for the Nationals in the 2019 NSW election. One Nation will be a challenge if it is registered in NSW by March next year.

The idea would be to build at the Liddell power station site — with the station due to reach the end of its life in 2022 — or another location in the seat of Upper Hunter. Nationals MP Michael Johnsen holds Upper Hunter by 2.2 per cent and is under threat from ­either Labor or the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party.

“From my perspective, I think we should be building two or three of them (coal-fired power stations) to increase capacity, increase supply and reduce prices,” Mr Johnsen said yesterday.

“I’m going to keep advocating for it and ‘Barra’ (Mr Barilaro) is as well. It would make sense to put a new station where existing infrastructure is. There may be some opposition (by the Liberals); not necessarily principled opposition but policy opposition … the state doesn’t own power stations but my comment to that is, so what?”

In an interview with The Australian during the Murray by-election campaign, Mr Barilaro confirmed he had discussed with Ms Berejiklian the NSW government building of a clean coal-fired power station rather than wait for private sector interest.

“I hope the federal government — or at a state level — someone builds a clean-coal power station and gives confidence to the sector that clean coal is palatable, that gas is palatable,” Mr Barilaro said at the time.

“Why can’t the government build it? We could always onsell it later but we need to disrupt the energy sector and I think Australian people and Australian industry are jack of governments not showing leadership.” The Premier declined to comment last night.