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The power of one: Trevor St Baker proves there is still a fortune to be made in coal

Business

How do you make money out of thermal coal? When you are Queensland energy czar Trevor St Baker, even the most maligned commodity has the ability to be leveraged.

 

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The quietly spoken Queenslander has an uncanny ability to see potential where others can’t.

Having made his fortune largely using coal and gas for power generation, St Baker is now championing clean energy. He heads up and is a major shareholder in battery company Novonix, which has gone on a wild share price ride in recent months after speculation it would be picked up by Tesla. It wasn’t.

There is also Tritium and Evie, companies in the battery recharging space. Evie today opened a charging station at the Brisbane airport to add to its existing ones on the Sunshine and Gold Coasts.

In 1998, he bought a block of land near Braemer, south of Dalby, betting that it would become an energy hub. It did after the wholesale electricity market was deregulated.

Last year St Baker sold off ERM, a company that started as a consultancy but became a power generating concern, to global energy giant Shell, for $600 million,

The sale price to Shell was about double ERM’s market cap at listing in 2010.

His purchase of a NSW power station was another Midas moment.

In NSW, St Baker has his money in coal through his company Delta Electricity, which in 2015 bought the Vales Point coal-fired power station, on the shores of Lake Macquarie in NSW, for $1 million. Nobody else wanted it – and with good reason. Its 1970s commissioned generators were destined for the scrap heap. Or so everyone thought.

A few years later, the ABC reported Vales Point was revalued in the Delta Electricity books at $730 million after wholesale electricity prices surged. St Baker wants the asset to keep going until 2029 at least.

On top of that, Vales Point power station received an $8.7 million grant from the Federal Government for upgrades.

In the 2019 financial year, Vales Point made a $96 million net profit on about $600 million in revenue. An annual dividend of $30m was paid.

And now that asset, for which he paid $1 million, is central to his latest move which is aimed at the NSW Government and its $32 billion energy plan.

Part of the plan is to add 12 gigawatts of renewable energy to the market with a backup battery of 2GW storage capacity, which St Baker has labelled a gross intervention and he would likely be seeking redress.

AGL Energy and Origin are also looking on with horror at what the energy plan would also do to their investments in the market.

“The gigantic intervention into the electricity market in NSW – if not tempered with reality in how to operate and manage and regulate a complex open and competitive market – it has to be seen as a massive ‘change of electricity law’, which will have investors seeking legal redress against the government,” St Baker told The Australian.

“It will have minimal contribution towards the replacement 24/7 dispatchability and essential system support and reliability services provided by the existing synchronous coal-fired generators,” St Baker said.

St Baker is a quiet but generous philanthropist, with the arts among his key beneficiaries.

Two years ago St Baker and his wife Judith, through their St Baker Family Foundation, donated $1.5 million to the University of Queensland – to help green technology research.

The gift was aimed at establishing  a visiting fellowship that would bring a world-leading expert to UQ to advance environmentally friendly transport options – known as ‘e-mobility’.

Which, not surprisingly, has become one of Queensland’s fastest-growing industries.

 

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