Coal power stations needed ‘back online’

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Coal-fired power stations need to come back online to help ease the nation’s energy crisis, Resources Minister Madeleine King says.

Amid soaring gas prices due to supply issues, Ms King says an immediate step would be for power station operators “to get moving on fixing their plants”.

“In the very short term, what we really need to do is to have the coal power stations come back online because that is the missing piece of the puzzle right now,” she told ABC radio on Tuesday.

“There’s been unplanned outages for many reasons, many beyond the control of those operators – and I do accept that – but I hope they’re doing their best to make sure this power source comes online as well.”

Energy Minister Chris Bowen will meet his state and territory counterparts via video conference on Wednesday afternoon, as the Albanese government considers short- and longer-term solutions to take pressure off prices.

Ms King skirted around the issue of providing assistance to coal-fired power stations, saying the government had a clean energy policy.

“It wouldn’t matter how much money anyone put in right now. We just need the operators to get moving on fixing their plants,” she said.

“It is the coal companies themselves, and the operators of the power stations, that need to get these power stations back online.

“It’s 30 per cent of the energy capacity taken out of the mix because of unforeseen circumstances in many respects.”

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews said unplanned outages were a “feature of the old tech that is being phased out”.

“The key here is to continue to invest in renewable energy with new technology like battery firming so that you can have essentially synchronous or baseload power,” he told reporters in Melbourne on Tuesday.

“It’s great for all families because it puts downward pressure on prices, guarantees supply, and it’s very good for the planet.”

When asked if the government would consider a nationwide policy forcing producers to reserve 15 per cent of their gas, as they do in Western Australia, Ms King said “nothing is off the table”.

She did not commit to the policy, saying it was a “great political struggle” for the Labor government to introduce it, with many people losing “a lot of political skin in that fight”.

Mr Andrews said he had always been a supporter of a domestic reserve, but noted the latest official data showed there was sufficient gas supply for his state.

Opposition climate change spokesman Ted O’Brien said the federal government needed to pull the “gas trigger” which allows exports to be diverted to domestic supply.

But Mr Bowen has argued such a move is a complex process, and action taken now would not have an effect before January.

“It reflects a lack of commercial experience on the part of Chris Bowen – who’s been speaking disparagingly about it – because the value of the lever is not just in its practical use but in the threat of its use, the threat of intervention,” Mr O’Brien told ABC radio.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers said cost of living relief would feature in the October budget, but extending the fuel excise cut would be difficult because of the costs involved.

“We’ve got a plan to get those power bills down over time because the absence of an energy policy for the best part of a decade is a key reason why inflation is going through the roof,” he told Sky News.

Opposition treasury spokesman Angus Taylor, the former energy minister, rejected accusations he had failed to invest in renewables.

Business Council chief Jennifer Westacott urged governments not to allow the energy crisis “to become another political bunfight”.

She said the ministers should focus on getting the energy market to work more effectively, ensure there is sufficient dispatchable power and carefully use gas to make the transition to net zero emissions.

Tess Ikonomou
(Australian Associated Press)

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