POWER magnate Trevor St Baker is expected to lodge a proposal with the Federal Government today for a new Hunter or Central Coast coal-fired power station with a Chinese joint venture partner.
Mr St Baker, who bought Vales Point power station from the NSW Government for a song in 2015 and made $113 million in profit on the deal in 2017-18, has outlined plans for a new plant at Liddell or Vales Point as part of a $6 billion proposal for three coal-fired power stations in NSW and Victoria.
They would be Australia’s first high-efficiency, low emissions stations, Mr St Baker said.
The proposal is in response to Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s call in September for “fair dinkum” baseload power generation after the Federal Government lost a public battle with generator AGL over the closure of Liddell power station in 2022. Mr Taylor set a January 23 deadline for “24 hour baseload reliable” projects eligible for government underwriting.
Mr St Baker said he was looking for international investors after Australian banks and major lenders ruled out exposure to coal project funding, in part because of climate change stranded asset risks.
Mr St Baker’s announcement came as the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) released a report on Monday showing Chinese finance is “increasingly stepping in as the lender of last resort for coal plants, as other banks take active measures to restrict their funding”.
The report, China at a Crossroads: Continued Support for Coal Power Erodes Country’s Clean Energy Leadership, found Chinese financial institutions and corporations funded more than 25 per cent of all new coal plants outside China in 2018, or $35.9 billion for projects in 27 countries, excluding Australia.
“While the Chinese government has signalled it will restrict coal lending, the country has yet to formally limit its investment in coal plants,” the IEEFA report said.
Mr St Baker’s proposal for a single NSW plant and two new power stations in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley was slammed by environment and community groups, who said the high-efficiency, low-emission plants were only one-third less polluting than highly polluting old power stations on the proposed sites.
He floated the proposal only two weeks after the NSW Environment Protection Authority ordered Vales Point owner Delta Electricity to clean up a huge part of the power station’s ash dam after dumped asbestos was found in building waste fill.
It also followed a dramatic increase in fine particle pollution confirmed by Vales Point’s own data in 2017. Newcastle GP and public health academic Dr Ben Ewald said data from existing Hunter and Central Coast power stations provided more evidence of the need to replace old coal-fired power stations with renewable energy.
“Every time an old coal-fired power stations closes to be replaced by renewable energy, there’s an immediate health benefit to communities within 100 kilometres of the facility,” Dr Ewald said.
Mr St Baker’s proposal was also raised as the Federal Government approved the controversial Wallarah 2 underground coal mine north of Wyong, leading critics to warn the government could “kiss goodbye” to the Liberal-held Central Coast seat of Robertson because the community strongly opposes a mine in the region’s water catchment.
Mannering Park Progress Association spokesperson Sue Wynn said a new coal-fired power station at Vales Point was “the worst news Mannering Park and surrounding areas could possibly hear”.
“It’s coal. Coal is carbon. It just staggers me that Australia is so far behind the rest of the world which is switching to renewables while we’re still talking about projects like this,” Ms Wynn said.
“It is not what the community wants, because of climate change, and because of the environmental impacts of coal-fired power on our health. It’s been a double whammy in the last couple of days – first Wallarah 2, which is the Central Coast’s Adani, and now this, another coal-fired power station proposal.”
Environmental Justice Australia director of advocacy and research, Nicola Rivers, said it was “gob-smacking the Australian Government would look to Mr St Baker as they seek energy solutions for the future”, particularly given his companies’ rejection of infrastructure to limit pollution from existing power stations.
“When there are renewable energy alternatives available, like the Star of the South project, that will generate clean energy and create local jobs, there is no excuse for building more, big polluting coal projects that pollute our air and make our communities sick,” Ms Rivers said.
Delta Electricity and Mr St Baker’s Energy Innovation Fund did not respond to calls for comment. AGL said it was still committed to its plans for Liddell.
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