THE federal government’s decision to hand NSW $4 billion for its stake in the Snowy Hydro schem has triggered a rush of competing proposals to spend the money, and a political bun-fight over the definition of regional NSW.
Upper Hunter National Party MP Michael Johnsen was quick off the mark to say that about half the money should go towards a new high-efficiency low-emissions (HELE) coal-fired power station in the Hunter, while environmental groups including the Nature Conservation Council said the money would be best spent on renewable energy infrastructure.
The debate over the Snowy money began after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that Canberra would buy NSW and Victoria out of the scheme for a combined $6.15 billion.
In turn, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian pledged that all of the proceeds to NSW would be spent in regional areas of the state.
While this could be considered a windfall for the Hunter Region, Newcastle Labor MP Tim Crakanthorp and Port Stephens MP Kate Washington said that as far as this funding was concerned, the Coalition state government had excluded Newcastle from its definition of regional areas.
Ms Washington said: “The Hunter continues to be snubbed by this government which is more interested in building stadiums in Sydney then delivering for regional areas.”
Mr Crakanthorp said the Snowy deal had been on the table for some time and the state government had originally promised to spend 30 per cent of the money regionally, only to “copy” the Labor Party by upping the regional offer to 100 per cent.
But the devil was in the detail and much depended on what areas were in or out of the regional definition.
Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald MLC said the regional spending policy was “a huge win for the Hunter”.
“This will create an investment bonanza in regional NSW with every cent of the proceeds going to rural and regional NSW,” Mr MacDonald said.
“It is important we back productive infrastructure that will support the businesses and jobs of the future.”
On the call for a new power station, Mr Johnsen said only a coal-fired station could provide the stable, baseload power he said the grid needed to operate efficiently.
He said renewable power could augment a coal-powered grid, but he heavily criticised the South Australian government’s spending on the Tesla battery, saying that even with a 100-megawatt capacity, it was only capable of short bursts of use.
Labor front-bencher and Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon said Mr Johnsen couldn’t make up his mind whether he wanted to extend Liddell, build a nuclear generator or a new coal-fired station.
The Nature Conservation Council’s Kate Smolski said the organisation believed that wind and solar could supply 70 per cent of the state’s electricity needs with large-scale wind and solar farms, and rooftop solar.
Ms Smolski said the council’s plan would take $25 billion to install 2500 wind turbines and 42 million solar panels.