31 March, 2017

Nathan Vass

Courtesy of the Newcastle Herald

You aren’t alone if you suffered a case of deja vu when watching Sunday’s demolition of the Munmorah Power Station’s two chimney stacks.

That’s because footage of a similar chimney demolition at the Port Augusta Power Station has screened on television and online recently as part of the explanation of South Australia’s electricity blackouts.

The story of SA’s rush to become a world leader in renewable energy is one the Hunter must take note of. While sticking to his 50 per cent renewable energy target, SA Premier Jay Weatherill has since been forced to fund a $550 million rescue plan that includes building a gas-fired power station. SA decided to shut its coal-fired power stations. The Hunter, all be it for reasons that are to do with power stations reaching their end of life, is headed down the same path.

Muswellbrook’s Liddell Power Station will close in 2022 and the remaining three local coal-fired power stations all within 15 years after that. To date, no government, state or federal, has identified how the Hunter will overcome this loss of 9000 megawatt hours of energy.

Member for the Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon has acknowledged the looming loss and has proposed LNG be shipped to the Port of Newcastle. His justification for abandoning coal is that “clean coal technology is not there”.

But clean coal has been operating successfully around the world for more than 20 years. There are more than 1000 coal-fired power stations internationally using high efficiency low emission (HELE) technology. This energy generation burns coal at incredibly high temperatures to produce reliable power, but with carbon emissions between 30 and 40 per cent lower than those emitted by Hunter power stations.

The Japanese built their first HELE power station in 1993. Since then Japan has continued to invest in clean coal technology. Last year the Japanese Government committed to build a further 45 HELE power plants. That’s in addition to the more than 1150 HELE power stations planned or being built elsewhere internationally.

Much of the coal that fuels Japan’s HELE power plants originates in the Hunter. The Port of Newcastle last year exported almost 80 million tonnes of coal to Japan. Fair to say we are helping Japan enjoy reliable electricity while accepting an inferior supply as evidenced by the recent temporary shutdown of the Tomago Aluminium smelter.

Rather than throw the towel in on coal, I call on our local Federal MPs to join me in promoting the Hunter as the ideal location for a federally funded HELE power plant similar to those driving the economies of Japan, China, India and Europe.

The Federal Government has already revealed Japanese companies are looking at investing in a clean coal power station in North Queensland. Townsville has been fast out of the gate, producing a report finding that a clean coal power station would benefit the local economy to the tune of $836 million and boost national income by $2.2 billion. It would create about 9000 jobs, 8349 of them during construction and 547 during the operation of the power plant. Both Queensland and Victoria have campaigns under way to secure a HELE power plant.

With 9000 jobs on offer, the Hunter cannot let this opportunity go. Instead the region must use its suitability as the coal capital of Australia to secure Federal support for a clean coal power station to ensure its economic prosperity and energy security.

Nathan Vass is CEO of Australian Power Project