Government has no plans to build coal-fired power station, Josh Frydenberg says

Energy minister hoses down lobbying from Nationals, saying the government would only support new coal-fired power if the market backed it

 Bayswater power station, Muswellbrook, NSW. Energy minister Josh Frydenberg says there are no current plans to build a new coal-fired power station.
 Bayswater power station, Muswellbrook, NSW. Energy minister Josh Frydenberg says there are no current plans to build a new coal-fired power station. Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

The government has no plans to build a coal-fired power station, energy minister Josh Frydenberg has said, despite repeated public lobbying by senior Nationals to bring more coal into the system.

Frydenberg told the ABC on Wednesday if the market supported a new coal-fired power station, “then we will support that”.

The minister’s comments follow a declaration on Tuesday by the Liberal frontbencher, Craig Laundy, that the Turnbull government was not interested in building new power stations, but would look at retrofitting existing plants.

Frydenberg told the ABC on Wedenesday the government wanted to pursue a technology-neutral approach to energy policy.

“We don’t have a plan on the table to build a new coal-fired power station because today we are getting more than 60% of our electricity from that source,” he said. “If new coal is built, if the market supports that, then we will support that.”

Frydenberg said he had asked the Australian Energy Market Operator to provide advice to the government about the dispatachable power requirements of the national electricity market once two ageing coal plants in New South Wales – Liddell and Vales Point – closed some time after 2020.

The Minerals Council of Australia has been lobbying the government to pursue a system of reverse auctions to deal with the dispatchable power issue.

The scheme being pursued by the MCA would set an emissions cut-off that would allow so-called “clean” coal plants to compete with gas and renewables to supply baseload power.

“If that’s coal, or gas, or renewables with storage, or a combination of the above, then we’ll be prepared to support it,” he said.

The federal minister also defended himself from criticism from state governments about his decision to defer discussion of the central recommendation of the Finkel review – a new clean energy target.

Energy ministers are due to meet on Friday to consider the Finkel review and other issues of concern, such as gas exploration, but Frydenberg has told the states they cannot discuss the clean energy target because the government has not yet resolved whether it will pursue it.

Frydenberg said on Wednesday he would happily hear arguments from the states about the clean energy target, but Canberra would not rush to any decision.

Bailey also shot down lobbying by the deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, and the federal resources minister, Matt Canavan, who have been pushing for a new coal-fired power station in Queensland.

“We have oodles of traditional baseload power in Queensland. To propose we need a ninth station is just absolute nonsense,” Bailey told Guardian Australia. “What we need is clean energy. Locking in high-carbon emissions for a generation and a half is one of the most irresponsible policy propositions I’ve heard.”

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