THE Uniting Church has dealt a blow to backers of a controversial Cessnock coal-fired power station proposal, including in the Federal Government, by ruling out the sale of land it owns at the proposed Hunter Economic Zone site for such a project.
The church "would not permit its land to be used in the development of a coal-fired power station and would not sell the land to a party who would intend to use it as part of any such development", said a Uniting Financial Services statement on behalf of the church's NSW and ACT Synod.
The church was particularly "disappointed" by such a proposal at the Hunter Economic Zone which was "intended to support diversification of the economy of the Cessnock area away from its dependence on coal", the statement said.
The church confirmed its HEZ landholding after reports last week of a 2000MW twin coal-fired power station proposal at the Kurri Kurri site prompted threats of environmental activism to rival the 1980s Franklin Dam protests, and a call by Federal Coalition MP Craig Kelly for taxpayer subsidies because the proposal was "exactly what the market needs".
While senior Federal and NSW politicians remained silent or cautious about a proposal announced in Hong Kong by a Cayman Islands-incorporated company on behalf of a Parramatta businessman and a Chinese state-owned power company, the Uniting Church said it "would not support such a development".
It bought the land more than 10 years ago but had not developed the site because of restrictions imposed after the Hunter Economic Zone was identified as habitat for the critically endangered bird, the regent honeyeater.
The decision is also in line with a 2014 Uniting Church in Australia resolution to divest from all fossil fuel investments and "show leadership" while national governments were "reluctant to take difficult decisions" on climate change.
The head of the church in 2014, Flinders University theology professor Reverend Andrew Dutney, said the church believed action on climate change was a moral issue because of "our obligations to one another, other species, the environment as a whole and future generations".
"The biblical view of life is that everything is connected, and human beings have a responsibility for stewardship," Reverend Professor Dutney said.
"In the public arena, on this kind of matter, I would expect the Uniting Church to comment and state its position."
After the church announced it would stop all fossil fuel investments in 2014 Reverend Professor Dutney described it as "an important act of public witness".
The church's ethical and environment social governance investment policy prohibits it from profiting from any fossil fuel extraction activities.
"With national governments reluctant to take difficult decisions, it falls to us as members of the body of Christ to show leadership in taking action to reduce damaging pollution,” the church's 2014 divestment statement said.
“To avoid damaging climate change we must move quickly to a clean energy economy. The Uniting Church recognises that continued investment in fossil fuel industries does not support the change needed.”
In its statement last week after confirming its opposition to any coal-fired power at the Hunter Economic Zone site, the church said it believed endangered habitat restrictions on the land "would prevent it being used (for such a proposal) in any case".
"Uniting Financial Services is actively looking at ways to facilitate the best environmental and economic use for the site, including, but not limited to, activities such as establishing a bird sanctuary," the statement said.
There was widespread scepticism about the Kurri Kurri plan after news of a memorandum of understanding between the three players was announced.
A coal-fired power station would not be a good bet because it does not meet the market's need for flexible power to back up cheap wind and solar, EnergyAustralia energy executive Mark Collette said.
AGL remains committed to its mix of renewable energy options as it prepares for the closure of its Liddell power station near Muswellbrook in 2022.