Environment and Sustainability, Freight Rail

States don’t support Turnbull’s view for coal in future

State governments have voiced their concern over Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s determination to continue Australia’s heavy reliance on coal in energy generation.

The Queensland and Victorian Governments have both moved to discourage new coal investment, after Turnbull addressed the National Press Club on February 1.

As old coal power stations were being shut down around the nation, more modern coal stations should be built to replace their supply capacity, the PM said.

Coal is, of course, the only major form of energy generation that creates volume for bulk rail operators in Australia.

“We’ve invested $590 million since 2009 in clean coal technology research and demonstration,” Turnbull said.

“Yet we do not have one modern high-efficiency low-emissions coal-fired power station, let alone one with carbon capture and storage.”

Turnbull does not think gas can replace the capacity being lost through coal plant closures, “because it’s too expensive”.

Likewise, he said renewables like wind and solar can’t be relied on “because they are intermittent”.

One solution to the intermittent nature of renewables is better storage technology, and the PM said the Coalition planned to invest in that area.

But he was adamant coal is the way to go in the near future.

“The next incarnation of our national energy policy should be technology agnostic,” he said.

“It’s security and cost that matters most, not how you deliver it.“This issue is particularly relevant for NSW as we consider how the state’s future energy needs will be met, as well as because our high quality coal is NSW’s largest export commodity by value,” NSW Minerals Council boss Stephen Galilee said.

“Coal will continue to play a critical role in the delivery of reliable and inexpensive electricity in Australia,” Minerals Council of Australia coal director Greg Evans said.

“Australia’s energy policy must reflect the reality that we need a genuine mix of electricity generation options that deliver affordable and reliable power.”

State energy ministers from both Queensland and Victoria were not convinced, however.

Queensland energy minister Mark Bailey ruled out building a new coal plant in the state, saying there was already enough capacity in the pipeline.

“With the start of a large scale renewable industry under the Palaszczuk Government, North Queensland is getting its own power stations, with 21st century technology producing affordable, clean energy,” Bailey said.

“The [Coalition] are advocating unachievable projects because they don’t understand the modern energy market of 2017 and Queensland’s existing energy mix.”

Bailey also said he believes energy prices will go up if new coal plants are built.

Meanwhile, Victoria’s minister for energy, environment and climate change Lily D’Ambrosio said the Victorian Coalition’s proposed staged closure of the Hazelwood coal plant would see Victorians paying 25% more for their electricity.

“Today is yet another example that the Coalition have no idea when it comes to keeping power prices down for Victorian families, alongside their complete contempt for the Latrobe Valley during these tough times,” she said.


  1. I tend to agree with the state governments, that Malcolm Turnbull’s coal future is not in the best interest of Australia. . Whilst the usage for power in Australia has grown 1% the last year (after 2 years of decline), and the majority of this growth has been through the use of coal powered power stations, rather than renewables, (most likely as the amount of hydro power in this period has declined due to reduction in water storage levels).. The power distribution model, of a big power station, supplying power for large population centers is old, not efficient due to power distribution line losses, and not in accordance with current trends of distributed power. Whilst this is not the forum for a debate on the alternatives to coal, let me state that there are more options than just hydro, wind, and solar. For instance, we have all heard about battery technology improving, but this is not very cost effective today. Storage of surplus solar/wind power is possible by hydro pumping uphill during the day, and the water driving turbines at night in a closed loop. And the Latrobe Valley is geologically suited to hot rock power generation technology, as the hot rocks are within 500 metres of the surface. And as for gas powered turbines being expensive, gas powered power stations do not take a long time to fire up, and can fill the energy gap (provided the BOM provided advance notice of calm, or cloudy conditions) The federal government is missing great opportunities to position this country for a new energy future, and to encouage large coal fired power stations to be built, locks us into 30 or more years of inefficiency, and high prices. If the future of cheap electricity is coal (as Malcolm insists), why is the current price so darn high, when coal accounts for 90% of the power currently being generated?

  2. Rob Nesbit’s last sentence is the most important one: ” If the future of cheap electricity is coal (as Malcolm insists), why is the current price so darn high, when coal accounts for 90% of the power currently being generated?”

    The answer is the Renewable Energy Target (RET) and the manner in which it is being forced on us. Suppliers of ‘renewable energy’ as defined by the Act can create ‘renewable energy certificates’ in proportion to the energy released to the grid. Suppliers of ‘non-renewable energy’ are forced to purchase these, again in proportion to the energy they supply. This amounts to a massive transfer of finance, largely hidden from the public, making coal very expensive and making ‘renewables’ comparatively cheap.

    The subsidy to renewables at the cost of coal fired power stations is the reason that South Australia’s two coal fired power stations were closed by their owner. It is also the reason Hazlewood – the second cheapest energy producer in Victoria – will shortly close.

    Non-renewable energy providers are fined massive amounts if they do not buy sufficient renewable energy certificates to cover the energy they produce. Nevertheless, some, including one major supplier, recently opted to pay the fine as it was cheaper than buying the certificates.

    Keep the RET by all means, but get rid of this massive money laundeering – which is all it really is.

  3. A further reason is that suppliers of renewable energy are given preference. When they produce, their energy must be used. So baseload stations at that time are required to reduce generation. That is a mad way to run a coal or nuclear fired power station. As the name implies, the baseload stations should run with a constant power output, with peaks being provided by other means – solar, wind, hydro or gas whatever. Unfortunately, hydro is the only one that can be opened at a moment’s notice, and do so automatically. As noted in the article, a gas fired station can be brought on line fairly quickly given notice, gas/steam perhaps an hour to heat the water in the boilers to working temperature, gas turbine a few seconds. However, gas turbines at low level are very inefficient – which is why gas turbine cars, lorries and railway engines have not prospered. A big marine diesel is really big and expensive, but is very efficient – 30 000 hp = 22.37 MW. Perhaps SA and Victoria should buy up large tankers and bulkers bound for scrap – the big marine diesels are normally in better condition that the rest of the ship (not being exposed to salt water) and could be readily installed on a decent concrete pad.