New projects ‘imminent’

THOUGH “tenuous” Federal political circumstances have left the Latrobe Valley’s power generation future in limbo, new projects for the region are “imminent”.

Last week Latrobe City Council chief executive Paul Buckley told The Express there was an urgent need for investors to “understand the investment (policy) framework” that would apply, to this region’s brown coal resource before projects potentially worth billions of dollars could progress here.

On Friday the Federal Government gave its strongest indication yet it was preparing to respond to Latrobe Valley Transition Committee recommendations asking for help to move to a low-carbon economy.

Latrobe City Council has also spent months lobbying the Federal Government for a response its own low-carbon transition document, ‘Securing our Future’, and while it is understood council has yet to formally be advised of an imminent announcement, a spokesperson for Federal Regional Development Minister Simon Crean confirmed one was impending.

The spokesperson said he expected there would be announcements “within the next month”, once some final “issues” had been resolved.

Mr Buckley said the LVTC and council had been expecting a Federal response for “some months now”, adding “we continue to get indications it is not far away”.

He said it was “without question” that figures in a recent Federal Government report, projecting a massive reduction in the role of brown coal for energy generation in coming years, highlighted the urgent need for transitional assistance in the region.

Mr Buckley said the report, by Federal Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics, showed “there will be a significant requirement for governments to support alternate uses of the resource”.

Council advice to federal and state governments has pushed the “need to ensure infrastructure is in place to enable a market to be developed” for the potential export of brown coal, according to Mr Buckley.

“That is one of the big hurdles in the next five to 10 years, for that to be a priority,” he said.

Mr Buckley said his confidence in the continued value of brown coal was supported by the progress of up to three significant coal-related initiatives where companies were currently “doing preliminary work around planning applications”, though further details were not yet “publicly available”.

With a Federal election due in September, however, and the Federal Opposition vowing to roll-back the carbon tax, Mr Buckley said investors were understandably cautious.

“The Opposition are saying they will (roll-back) our current policy framework and all the polling analysis shows there is a fair chance they might get elected, so if I am sitting here with one billion dollars, I am not going to start to spend that billion without some certainty of what the (future) policy framework might be.”

Until some “certainty” prevailed, it was “very difficult for people to plan… industry, community and others,” he said.

Mr Buckley said he hoped, in the immediate future, the Federal Government would help fund a Centre for Sustainable Industries at Monash Gippsland, supporting low emissions coal technology research, and an Industry Diversification Fund, matching the State Government’s $35 million Latrobe Valley Advantage fund.

The latter would provide the region with an “unashamed competitive advantage in terms of attracting new industry and investment to the region”.