Outback council rules on Palmer coal plant

Outback council rules on Palmer coal plant

Conservationists claim a company owned by Clive Palmer is trying to sidestep conventional approval processes for its new coal-fired power station.

Waratah Coal, a subsidiary of Mr Palmer's Mineralogy, has gone to the Barcaldine Regional Council seeking approval to build the new power plant in central Queensland.

Barcaldine mayor Sean Dillon has told the ABC's 7.30 program it's “virtually without precedent” for such a project, worth $3.5 billion, to be left in the hands of a local council.

“For that to be left in the determiner of a local government is peculiar,” he said.

But he also denied the council was out of its depth, saying it had used contract town planners and had engaged with relevant state agencies.

Waratah Coal told AAP it had applied to the Barcaldine local government authorities for a “material change of use”.

“This is absolutely a normal process,” a spokesman told AAP.

Conservationists will stage a rally at Waratah Coal's Brisbane headquarters on Thursday, and have accused Mr Palmer of exploiting an approvals “loophole”.

The Queensland Conservation Council says the local government approval process is not fit to assess a project of such significance because it lacks transparency and does not require an environmental impact assessment.

“This assessment process may lead to decisions which are inconsistent with the Queensland government's plan to reduce emissions and become a renewable superpower,” director Dave Copeman said on Wednesday.

“The council's planning laws being used to assess this proposal are designed for carports, not coal power stations. This is an inadequate process that could approve a toxic new coal project.”

He's called on the state government to make sure the power plant does not proceed.

A Palaszczuk government spokesperson has told AAP “there is no need for another coal fired power station in Queensland” given the state has a young fleet of coal-fired generators owned by the government.

“Clive Palmer and his companies are required to follow the same approval processes as any other business,” the spokesperson said.

In a separate statement, the state development department said the council must wait for advice from the State Assessment and Referral Agency before making a decision on the plant.

“The development application for the Waratah coal fired power station has been referred to SARA due to the proposed use being classed as an environmentally relevant activity and a hazardous chemical facility,” a departmental spokesperson said.

The environment department is also assessing an application for environmental authority to build the plant, but any consultation relating to the social impact assessment will be a matter for the council.

“Council as assessment manager is responsible for deciding the application,” said the spokesperson for the state development department.

The plant is proposed for a cattle station about 30km from the town of Alpha. It will be fed by four million tonnes of coal each year from another Waratah Coal proposal, the adjacent Galilee Coal Project.

The Queensland Coordinator-General assessed the environmental impact statement for the mine and rail components of the Galilee Coal Project, and approved it in 2013.

But that assessment did not include a power station.

“The proponent chose to lodge the application for a power station with the relevant local government, under the Planning Act 2016,” the spokesperson for the state development department said on Wednesday.

“There are a number of processes and applications the project proponents are required to go through, as is the case with other proposals.”

Documents obtained by 7.30 under right to information laws include a project overview written by Waratah Coal.

The overview said the plant would cost up to $3.5 billion, would produce electricity by 2024 at the earliest and will burn coal for 30 to 50 years, at a lower emissions intensity than Queensland's existing coal stations.

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