Coal has a role in underpinning the grid

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THE announcement the Turnbull government will underwrite the construction of new coal-fired power stations in regions such as the Hunter Valley to keep industry thriving and power prices affordable for families is overdue, but welcome.
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The Australian Power Project has been calling for this development for the past two years, and the government’s announcement follows the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) report released last month which recommended government support for new baseload generators.Australia has abundant natural resources that can be used to generate clean energy in high efficiency low emissions (HELE) power stations that utilise the very latest technology.

Over 1000 HELE power stations are already planned, under construction, or in use around the world – but Australia has none.Technology is making wind and solar more viable. But it is also true that when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, these technologies contribute nothing to the electricity grid.When your family is home, you still need the lights on and the stove to be hot and the fridge to be cold and the air conditioning to be working. Life doesn’t wait for renewables.

That’s why Australia still needs reliable and affordable sources of baseload energy supply. If we don’t have that, we have blackouts, brown outs and power bills that force families and pensioners to cut back on essentials.The closure of the Liddell power station in 2022, without any like-for-like replacement, will have a disastrous impact on power prices.

We have already witnessed what happens to power prices in South Australia and Victoria when cheap and reliable power stations are closed without new baseload generation built.The shift to more expensive green energy and gas-fired generators has pushed family budgets to breaking point, and even resulted in businesses shutting their doors.

So far the only winners in the energy debate have been the big electricity retailers. Major employers like Tomago wait to see what governments will do to help them ensurelong-term viability.

All sides of politics should heed the spirit of the ACCC report and put affordability at the heart of energy policy.To ignore the reality of what is occurring around the world with the uptake of new HELE power stations is to condemn Australia to uncompetitive high power prices for the next decade.

The Turnbull government must be supported on this initiative.

Nathan Vass is founder of advocacy group the Australian Power Project.

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