Clarity sought on govt coal policy

The State Government’s plan to review coal development programs has been labelled “ambiguous” and prompted calls for a clear statement about its stance on coal.

Energy and Resources Minister Lily D’Ambrosio has moved to reassure the community the review is not about coal-fired power generation, rather it is a way to assess how successful coal development projects have been.

It follows government investment in various Latrobe Valley demonstration projects involving alternative uses for coal.

“(The review will) assess all of the coal development projects that governments have assisted over the last 15 years and the reason for that is to understand what has worked and what hasn’t, what investment potential may have come out of any of those,” Ms D’Ambrosio said on Friday.

“People want to know taxpayer dollars are going to produce an outcome for people.”

Ms D’Ambrosio said the review would take about three months and would feed into the government’s broader consideration of future coal policy, which would include a full community engagement and consultation process.

“The Victorian Government will work with the local community to get the certainty they need and industry needs about how we deal with coal proposals into the future and while we do that we want to talk about what can deliver real investment and jobs for people in the Latrobe Valley,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

Regional Development Australia Gippsland chair Richard Elkington said from a community perspective there had been many “false starts” into coal development and government was moving towards a balanced approach for economic diversity.

“This is a long-term game, we don’t expect to see anything in the short term because we’re still going through this long process of research, development, demonstration and commercialisation,” Mr Elkington said.

He said the government needed to make a clear statement to the Victorian community about its position on coal.

Mr Elkington said there were issues of social licence and it had been a long time since there was a major capital resource project for brown coal.

“It’s been historically a region which has welcomed major investment in capital intensive industry, whether it be a power station or a mine or a magnesium factory,” Mr Elkington said.

“I’m not sure we’re so welcoming now and the longer we take to develop a major capital and energy intensive industry, the risk is we’ll have diminishing community support.

“The region needs to be more vocal about what it needs to develop the brown coal resource.”

Member for Morwell Russell Northe said the government’s review announcement on Wednesday was an “ambiguous statement” with “very little detail on what they’re actually trying to achieve”.

Mr Northe said he was concerned about what the future might hold for state bodies like Coal Resources Victoria, which is based in Traralgon and was created to develop long-term plans for the development of the state’s coal resource.

When asked whether the review would affect the future of CRV, Ms D’Ambrosio said she would not “pre-judge the outcome of the review”.

The review comes after a Latrobe Valley demonstration project that was earmarked for government funding flopped.

Shanghai Electric Australia Power and Energy Development planned to develop a $119 million demonstration plant at AGL’s Loy Yang power station with a view to produce briquettes for export to China.

It was due to receive $25 million in joint funding from the state and federal governments towards the project, but the State Government announced on Wednesday the company was unable to develop the project due to a lack of market demand and it had failed to attract private investment.

As such, it will not be receiving the government funds.

The project came under the joint federal and state Advanced Lignite Demonstration Program, of which there are two other Valley projects to develop plants at Yallourn Power Station: one to produce a range of products including pulverised injection coal, the other to create synthetic crude oil.

A State Government spokesperson said on Wednesday these remaining projects were still “tracking along”.

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