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Editorial comment

Australia is grappling with unaffordable and unreliable energy as state governments set ambitious renewable targets for, sometimes, ideological reasons.

South Australia, a state that relies heavily on renewable energy, has recently experienced several blackouts. It currently has the nation’s highest electricity prices and, recently, three manufacturers closed their doors. This has been a political failure by the South Australian government, which is now pointing the finger at everyone but itself.

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The time for inaction has passed; bringing new baseload power to market is needed to secure a reliable flow of energy to homes and industry. Embracing technology across all energy sources is the responsible action to take and building new high-efficiency, low-emission (HELE) power plants must be part of the mix.

The technology is available today and is being used in Asia and Europe to secure their lower emission energy needs at an affordable rate. Essentially these countries are manufacturing goods with lower electricity prices and exporting them to Australia, where we pay higher prices.

Baseload power is vital to provide electricity for households and businesses when the sun stops shining (in the case of solar) and the wind stops blowing the turbines. Building HELE coal technology would reduce emissions by up to 40% when compared to older plants. HELE is a great partner for renewables as part of a balanced portfolio of generation options.

Reliable and affordable energy are critical for the industry to remain competitive in a global market and electricity is an unavoidable cost for business. Business can’t control sale prices overseas but it should be able to control its costs domestically.

Delivering a baseload power will make power for businesses more affordable and reliable and it will free up capital, enabling them to remain competitive and hire more staff. Jumps of 50% and more in a 12-month period for energy costs is just untenable. Harnessed with HELE, coal is an important driver of affordable, reliable energy to support economic development and competitiveness.

As Chief Executive of the Queensland Resources Council, I recently called on the Australian government to invest up to AUS$2 billion, from a fund set up to stimulate infrastructure investment in northern Australia (Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility), into a HELE coal-fired power plant in North Queensland. The balance of the total build costs would be funded from investors and large commercial electricity consumers.

If one of the largest costs for business is electricity, you would certainly see an interest from companies (both here and overseas) to invest in a project that will drive down costs and provide energy security over decades. A HELE plant has the potential to create thousands of jobs during construction and will deliver ongoing jobs once complete.

Australia’s largest solar farm covering 250 ha. at Nyngan delivers 102 MW and employs four people; in comparison, Gladstone’s coal fired-power plant delivers 1680 MW on 80 ha. and employs 240 people. The difference in energy density means we should consider land use, jobs and output in the business case for any new power supply.

If Queenslanders are concerned about creating more jobs, they need to speak up against the activists that are preventing those vital jobs and allow cutting-edge technology to be applied to all energy sources.

In particular, activists are prolonging the assessment process by years, preventing projects from creating jobs for regional Queensland, economic benefits for the state to maintain infrastructure and services, as well as energy security both home and abroad. This has to stop.