After initially criticising it, federal Labor is now backing a new gas-fired power station at Kurri Kurri in the New South Wales Hunter Valley.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said on February 1 that he not only had changed his mind but, if elected, he would pump even more money into it.
The federal government has tasked the government-owned Snowy Hydro with the $600 million, 660 megawatt plant. Even Snowy Hydro admits the Kurri Kurri gas project will only generate electricity for short periods of time.
Labor’s energy spokesperson Chris Bowen once said “economics or the engineering” did not justify its construction, but Albanese said it will now support the project provided it runs on an initial 30% “green” hydrogen energy source, with the aim of it reaching 100% “as soon as possible”.
Bruce Robertson from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said Labor’s decision to support Kurri Kurri gas would lead to higher electricity prices. “This project is poorly located on a gas line that cannot even supply it with sufficient gas and is now proposed to be powered by hydrogen, a technology that’s unproven and whose costs are unknown,” he said.
“The electricity market doesn’t even need the Kurri Kurri gas-fired power station, as sufficient capacity has already been added to replace the closure of the Liddell coal power station.”
He said if the Labor Party really wanted to support the “nascent hydrogen industry”, it would be better to do so on a smaller scale first “to see if it works and can be scaled up”.
Fiona Lee, Coordinator of the Gas Free Hunter Alliance (GFHA), said it would be better for governments to support renewable energy technologies and focus on sustainable jobs. “Any power station that burns more fossil fuels, like gas, is worsening climate change,” Lee said. “We want to see the $600 million of public money spent supporting and retraining workers.”
Energy analyst Bruce Mountain, writing in the February 2 The Conversation said the Kurri Kurri power station would be “a government-built white elephant” and that “retrofitting it to burn hydrogen would be so expensive as to be unrealistic”. Burning hydrogen for power “is about the least useful thing you can do with it”.
Niko Leka, who is standing for the Socialist Alliance in the NSW Senate, said Labor is trying to walk both sides of the fence — trying to blunt the National Party’s pro-coal and gas attacks while also trying to appear slightly more disposed to renewable energy.
“This is a doomed strategy,” Leka said, pointing to the same approach it took with the Adani coal mine in the Galilee Basin. "It will lose support from both camps, because it will prolong the death agony of the fossil fuel industry and undermine the struggle to tackle climate change in a serious way.”
The Socialist Alliance is campaigning for real action to tackle the climate emergency which includes a planned shift to 100% renewable energy within 5–10 years via public investment and emission reduction targets and with a focus on assisting fossil fuel workers find new jobs.
“We don’t need the Kurri Kurri gas plant, or the Narrabri coal seam gas project and its associated gas pipeline from the Pilliga. But the science dictates that we do need governments to commit to a fast transition, and Labor is signalling that it will not,” Leka said.