Premier John Howard has produced an energy white paper asserting that more than $30 billion of investment is required in new power stations, transmission lines, interstate connections and other power infrastructure in Australia over the next 15 years if the present rate of increase in electricity demand is to be met. The current rate is 2.3 % a year over the past 10 years. Despite intense activity on the part of the renewables and green lobbies the white paper dismisses renewables options as virtually irrelevant, incapable of meeting more than a tiny fraction of new demand, and suggests that Australia’s future energy policy will be dominated by coal-fired generation. As well as the energy investment mentiioned above, $4 billion is to be put into coal mining, mainly on 30 new mines and mine expansions.

Howard has refused to extend the Mandated Renewable Energy Target scheme. Brad Page, executive director of the Energy Supply Association of Australia, said: “The greenhouse emission debate in power generation is not about and can’t be about renewable generation instead of fossil fuel generation. What we have to achieve is a continuation of our enviable standard of living while also dealing with our impact on the environment. For electricity generation, this means finding ways that continue to deliver the reliability and affordability we have now while moving to a low-emission position. Undoubtedly, we will need all available and yet to be discovered technologies and techniques to achieve this. This means renewable electricity generation working in tandem with low-emission fossil fuel technologies.”

According to experts in the energy industry, the big weakness in the white paper is its failure to establish a long-term carbon emission target. A key component is its focus on encouraging industry to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Mark O’Neill, executive director of the Australian Coal Association, said that over the next few years new base-load capacity will be required in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, and Western Australia. “They will be coal plants. The question is what sort of coal plants they will be.” He said that to alleviate CO2 emissions from new coal-fired plants, the next wave of power stations will use coal gasification/combined cycle technology. “These types of plant have the potential to have geo-sequestration applied to them.” A small-scale integrated coal gasification/combined cycle plant has already been trialled in Victoria by HRL, in conjunction with Edison Mission Energy, but the group now needs extra funding to build a 200 MWe demonstration plant to prove the technology ahead of a possible 1000 MWe plant later this decade.