CANBERRA, AAP – Barnaby Joyce says it would have been remarkable if he hadn’t joined a backbench push to see coal part of any national energy guarantee.
Malcolm Turnbull is staring down the latest pro-coal campaign from some coalition MPs as the self-described ‘Monash Forum’ promises to keep up the fight.
The informal group of backbenchers released a letter on Tuesday calling for taxpayers to fund a new $4 billion coal-fired power station.
The former deputy prime minister, Mr Joyce confirmed he is a member of the forum, arguing he wanted to make ‘absolutely certain’ that Mr Turnbull’s national energy guarantee delivers coal-fired power stations.
‘I was aware of it and I signed it; it would have been remarkable if I hadn’t,’ he told The Australian on Wednesday.
‘HELE (high-efficiency, low-emissions) coal-fired power plants are not the Dickensian dark satanic mills of many a year ago.’
The prime minister on Tuesday played down the group’s push, saying his policy put a premium on immediately usable power which could be delivered by coal, gas, pumped hydro or other technologies.
‘I can only say to you that our national energy guarantee has been endorsed by the whole coalition party room,’ he told reporters in Brisbane.
‘It’s got strong support from industry and state jurisdictions … it’s vitally important that it be adopted, because what we need is a technology-agnostic energy policy that encourages investment.’
Subsidies for renewable energy are due to end in 2020, but backbench Senator Eric Abetz wants taxpayers to subsidise new coal plants instead.
‘We’re talking about investing taxpayers’ dollars of about $4 billion so government is involved in this space,’ Senator Abetz told 2GB.
‘The market is distorted because of policy positions, especially by state Labor governments.
‘I am a free marketeer, everybody knows that – but every now and again you need to have a look at what is the potential for the government to assist in a space where the market has failed.’
Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg spoke to members of the so-called Monash Forum after reports emerged of the group’s plans.
‘What they want to see and what we want to see is exactly the same thing, which is lower prices and a more reliable system,’ Mr Frydenberg told reporters.
‘Coal has an important part to play in that role.’
Energy ministers will meet in Melbourne on April 20 to discuss the policy.
Alinta open to buying Liddell
Meanwhile Alinta Energy has confirmed it’s been approached to buy AGL’s ageing Liddell coal-fired power plant, believing it can survive a little longer.
The Turnbull government is keen to keep the station in the NSW Hunter Valley open beyond its 2022 closure, with Alinta Energy willing to discuss the possibility of extending its life by up to seven years.
‘We are open to that proposal; it fits with our strong desire to maintain reliability and affordability for customers as we transition to a lower emissions energy sector,’ Alinta Energy CEO Jeff Dimery told AAP on Wednesday.
Manufacturing Australia has raised concerns with the company about the impact on energy prices of the closure of the Northern and Hazelwood stations.
Mr Dimery says businesses are therefore anxious about the impact of a bigger station like Liddell closing and his company is sympathetic.
‘While it is an ageing facility, and we would need to do due diligence, we think it could survive a little longer in the marketplace,’ he said.