Hunter MP says the market won't build any new coal-fired power stations

Balance of Power: Joel Fitzgibbon wants to "put the climate change wars behind us". Picture: Marina Neil.
Balance of Power: Joel Fitzgibbon wants to "put the climate change wars behind us". Picture: Marina Neil.

The market has decided – no more coal-fired power stations will be built in the Hunter, NSW or Australia, Hunter MP Joel FItzgibbon says.

“It’s not for governments to decide that, they [the power companies] are making that decision already,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott, the coal lobby and right-wing commentators continue to make the case for new, more efficient coal-fired power stations.

The battle comes amid the push for a Clean Energy Target in Alan Finkel's report into the future of energy.

“I think Finkel is potentially the game-changer, if Malcolm Turnbull can get some agreement on his own side,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

”I want to put the climate change wars behind us and have in place a national policy, which drives investment and maintains and creates jobs.

“That means reliable, affordable power all the way to the new low carbon economy.”

Bloomberg New Energy Finance said in its 2017 Outlook that solar and wind would “dominate the future of electricity”.

“Solar is already at least as cheap as coal in Germany, Australia, the US, Spain and Italy,” the report said.

“The levelised cost of electricity from solar is set to drop another 66 per cent by 2040.”

The four coal-fired power stations in the Hunter are planned to close within 20 years. The Liddell plant is set to close in five years.

However, Mr Fitzgibbon said coal exports from the Hunter would continue.

“One thing to remember is we use about 5 per cent of the Hunter’s coal for power generation,” he said.

Nevertheless, he said plans were needed now for the transition away from coal.

“We should be part of the game in gas and we certainly have opportunities to be part of the game in solar and renewables,” he said.

He said there were good places in the Hunter for wind power. 

“We should not be ruling out coal seam gas,” he said.

The Bloomberg report said gas plants would mainly be used as “flexible technologies to help meet peaks and provide system stability”.  

Mr Fitzgibbon said the Finkel report would boost the prospect of “a gas regime in the Hunter because it will return policy certainty”.

“Although we still can’t win that battle without a supply of gas,” he said.

“I’ve spoken before about the possibilities of having an LNG import terminal in Newcastle, which is bringing gas from the North West Shelf, for example.”

He said there were some places, including in the Hunter and Narrabri, where coal seam gas could be extracted “without any threat to the environment, water tables and farming soils”.

“Where we can do that, we should be doing that,” he said.

The Greens NSW said in its policy that coal seam gas pollutes ground- and surface-water through the extraction of large volumes of saline water and the injection of chemicals into gas wells, reduces groundwater supplies through the draw-down of fresh aquifers and destroys agricultural and environmentally-significant areas due to the large surface infrastructure required to support an operating gas field.