The grassroots National Party membership will use its federal conference this weekend to pressure politicians to finalise energy policy and build more coal-fired power stations in regional areas.
There is a broad push for the Federal Government to support the development of the coal industry, while the Young Nationals want Victoria’s decommissioned Hazelwood coal power station to be replaced by another, more efficient coal plant.
The looming problem for the Government is the clean energy target, a rule that would force energy companies to provide a percentage of their power from low emissions technology such as renewables or gas.
That proposal is being fiercely contested by some in the Coalition’s right wing but Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is expected to deal with the issue by the end of the year.
None of the Nationals’ motions to be moved this weekend advocate in support of a clean energy target.
Instead, the Young Nationals, together with those from Victoria and South Australia, will argue that the Government should “urgently adopt a comprehensive energy supply policy” that draws on coal and renewables as well as clean coal technologies and nuclear power down the track.
Nationals MP and member for the Queensland seat of Hinkler, Keith Pitt, said he would not be surprised if there was anger on the floor about government inaction.
“The message from the people is ‘enough is enough’,” Mr Pitt said.
“This has to be dealt with and it needs to be dealt with urgency.
“My view and certainly what’s been promoted to me by my constituents and others is no-one cares whose fault it is, but it needs to be sorted out.
“From the newest newborn to the most senior senior, people cannot afford to pay their electricity. There’s nothing left to give.”
That experience is driving the push among Nationals for new, more efficient ‘clean coal’ plants to be build in regional Australia.
The Government is trying to stall the impending closure of the Liddell coal fire station in the Hunter Valley to shore up electricity supply, and it has consistently argued that technologies such as carbon capture and storage and High-Efficiency Low-Emissions (HELE) can reduce emissions while keeping the lights on.
Member for Gippsland Darren Chester supports any move to boost baseload power supplies in the Latrobe Valley, in his electorate.
“People are telling me they are completely dismayed at the lack of progress on providing the reliable baseload energy that they need in their communities,” Mr Chester said.
“And they know and they understand that part of the mix is going to have to be coal for the medium future and perhaps into the longer term as well.
“We can build more efficient coal-fired power stations now than we could back in the 70s and 80s, and we should be doing it.”
He conceded that business would not invest in new coal-fired plants but argued that policy certainty would solve that.
Mr Pitt believed construction of new coal plants was a viable long-term option, but he also wanted to see more immediate action.
He has called on the Federal Government to intervene in the National Electricity Market to try to bring prices down immediately.
“There’s currently a market cap for a peak, which is $14,000 a megawatt hour,” he explained.
“I think we need to intervene and make that something much, much less. I think somewhere between $65 and $75 per megawatt hour is not out of the ballpark.”
His Queensland colleague David Littleproud, the member for Maranoa, agreed that state governments that owned energy companies were profiteering.
He is pushing energy company CS Energy to double the size of Australia’s newest coal-fired power station, Kogan Creek, on Queensland’s Darling Downs.
“The issue is that CS Energy is owned by the Queensland State Government and the Queensland State Government has become accustomed to the $1.5 billion in dividends that they are taking out of the government-owned corporations to prop up their financial mismanagement,” he said.
“And the reality is they can’t wean themselves off that.”