The billionaire coal investor is going green

The billionaire coal investor is going green

He also warned that Australian households are suffering from ever-increasing energy costs as coal and gas-fired power plants have to be shut down in a hurry, while renewable alternatives are far from ready to replace them.

New Hope Chief Executive Rob Bishop has just returned from Japan, where customers have expressed concerns about the long-term prospects for Australian coal.

Top quality NSW thermal coal has fetched more than US$380 per tonne over the past week and the price has averaged over US$397 in each of the last five months, according to figures from GlobalCoal.

Mr Millner expects coal and LNG supply and prices to be high on Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s agenda when he meets his Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese in Perth this weekend.

“They (Japanese utilities) are concerned that it (the price of thermal coal in Australia) will remain well above $300 for a number of years,” he said.

“There’s obviously a point where someone who buys coal in Japan and uses it to generate electricity still has to make money, so I don’t want those prices to go haywire.

“There has to be a happy medium where we make good money and they make a profit. It’s not good coal prices going through the roof and they can’t afford to pay for it.”

Mr Millner said government policies in Australia, where it has become very difficult to permit coal mines, distort prices and could increase global greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our coal is the cleanest coal in the world. To my knowledge, if everyone used Australian coal instead of Indian coal, Russian coal and Chinese coal, emissions would be reduced by 25 to 30 percent,” he said.

Australia’s current account surplus widened to $18.3 billion in June from $2.8 billion, on the back of a $16 billion coal-fired increase in the trade surplus, which hit $43.1 billion.

Mr Millner said the surplus was at risk if those who want to shut down the coal, oil and gas industries got their way.

“Will lithium and cobalt etc. replace the balance of payments export earnings that we get from coal, gas and petroleum products?” he said.

“We have a huge surplus. So if we lose that, how are we going to fund the construction of new hospitals and schools?”

Australia’s resource and energy export earnings are expected to reach US$450 billion in 2022-23, beating last year’s record US$422 billion, driven by a rise in energy prices

New Hope is evaluating the economic feasibility of using land it owns in New Acland in the Darling Downs region of Queensland for renewable energy projects.

Mr Millner said New Hope would only invest if it felt it could make money from renewable energy projects in New Acland, where the company has rehabilitated more than 740 acres.

“We’ve been talking to the Queensland government about whether we can build some kind of wind farm, solar farm or something like that in the rehabilitated area, but it has to be economical,” he said.

In August, New Hope handed over the rehabilitated site of the former Chuwar mine, about 5 kilometers from Ipswich, to the Queensland government. It was the first open pit coal mine in Queensland to be fully rehabilitated and abandoned, and is considered safe for cattle grazing and other uses.

Mr Millner said Australians should not be naïve about the energy transition and the time it will take to make the transition in a way that protects the economy and household budgets.

“We all want to make the world a better place than it was when it started, but things that take years to plan can’t be done yesterday,” said the 72-year-old.

“Politicians rushed to shut down these coal plants and gas plants before we had the batteries, before we had solar, before we had wind, before we knew if hydrogen would work, before we had all of these things tested and proven so you’re after and can switch from one to the other.

“Now we have the scenario where people’s incomes have been severely impacted by higher energy costs. We have seen what is happening in Europe and it is happening here and it will continue to happen because there is not enough base load power.”

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