Clean-coal debate intensifies

DEBATE about the viability of much-touted clean coal technologies has intensified this week amid news of a coal allocation strategy for the Latrobe Valley.

Minerals Council of Australia Victorian division executive director Megan Davison claimed progressing clean coal technology could happen “in the blink of an eye”.

Environment Victoria’s Mark Wakeman , however, dismissed any suggestion companies, such as Exergen and Australian Energy Company Limited, expected to bid for billions of tonnes of the Valley’s coal in coming months, had developed clean-coal technologies past a “minuscule pilot plant stage”.

“It is really the cost that determines whether the technology will have any application in the real world and until these technologies have been proven at a commercial scale you can take their claims with a grain of salt,” he said.

Mr Wakeman said no existing power generators had expressed interest in entering commercial arrangements with these companies, despite a looming price on carbon, “because the don’t see it will stack up commercially”.

He said some of the same companies expected to enter into an expression of interest process with the State Government shortly had “promised all the same things and didn’t get any of their pre-projects off the ground” a decade ago.

“We think most of these companies are actually speculating…we think they will get an allocation and then on-sell it to someone who will use it,” he said.

“Our concern is that, once it has been allocated, the genie is out of the bottle and the expectation is that new mines will be built, coal will be burnt and we will have another polluting project.”

The State Government paid little heed to those claims this week.

“What I would say is that there are two views of what should happen in the Valley – there is the extreme greenie view that says coal should stay in the ground and people in the Valley should go off and learn how to install solar panels, but the sensible view we have is that this is one of the best natural resources in the world and we have the potential to step up now and explore (how to do it with) lower emissions,” State Energy Minister Michael O’Brien said.

The Express asked the minister if Victoria’s current economic woes meant the prospect of expanding brown coal development, despite a concerted federal policy push to reduce emissions, was more electorally palatable now than it might have been some months ago.

“Given the carbon tax coming in, and the uncertainty that is causing in the Latrobe Valley and the worry about jobs and the future, people expect the state to have a medium to long term vision for how the Valley can, not only cope, but thrive into the future…this is a part of what we are doing and we want to see it used for the benefit of all Victorians,” he said.

“But we are at a policy crossroads – we have people…who are anti-coal mining and development and we cannot afford to let that view prevail.”