Tepid response to clean coal hype

POTENTIAL expectations created by a metropolitan media outlet touting thousands of jobs for Latrobe Valley’s brown coal sector on Friday has been watered down by local stakeholders.

The front page ‘exclusive’ story on the Herald Sun reported a project proposal by “clean coal” technology developer Exergen which would create 3300 jobs and $11 billion in revenue, under the headline ‘Jobs bonanza in new coal rush’.

Gippsland Trades and Labour Council secretary John Parker said Exergen’s plans for the region were already well known, and repeated his long held position of being “very cautious” about project promises which had not progressed past the planning stage.

“These type of promises don’t mean anything because they haven’t got any substance to them; they haven’t even got an allocation yet,” Mr Parker said.

The proposal, made to the State Government’s brown coal allocation tender process, details plans by Exergen to dry a billion tonnes of coal for export to India, and was reported in The Express late last year.

While Latrobe City Mayor Ed Vermeulen said he was not disappointed by the increased focus on the issue, he remained subdued over the story’s claims Exergen’s plan “could be the tip of the iceberg”.

“I’m not the kind of person that gets excited by one headline in the Herald Sun,” Cr Vermeulen said.

“The whole effort of attracting new industries is a very long term process, this will take years to follow through.”

Victorian Energy and Resources Minister Michael O’Brien said the figures reported in the story merely reflected Exergen’s proposal initially made to the government last year.

“Exergen obviously has got significant confidence in its project, but we have made it pretty clear this would be a competitive process, and not simply a case of doing a deal with any one company,” Mr O’Brien said

A market assessment period for the tender process closed on 25 May, results from which will determine a Government decision whether to award one or more coal allocations in the second half of the year.

Mr Parker said despite the lack of any new coal allocations having been made, any such plans would still require funding for transport infrastructure and port development, while claims dried brown coal would make export economically viable were yet to be proven.

“Someone is yet to show us what the price of brown coal is after it has been dried when it had landed in Asia, against black coal from Gladstone,” Mr Parker said.

“The business case on why they would buy brown coal balanced against the cost of drying it over black straight out of the ground needs to be tested.”