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Carbon Clive or Green Forrest: Which of the pair would you rather bet on?

Business

They made enormous wealth from iron ore but Clive Palmer and Andrew Forrest have trod very different paths since then. Only one is likely to go well from here, but it’s so hard to see which one, writes John McCarthy

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It’s like they’re from different dimensions. One who is trying to forge a path with coal and came a cropper last week when the State Government kyboshed a somewhat “brave’’ idea of developing a coal mine and power station near Barcaldine.

That was Clive, of course. He’s batting a big zero with his coal projects in Queensland and you could ask why he bothers when no one in this state government is going to stick their neck out for him.

It’s not really surprising that Clive has had the knockbacks on his coal projects, but it would be easier to understand if there was a coal policy in Queensland that could guide investment.

At the moment the Government uses the line that a coal mine has to stack up environmentally as well as financially. It’s a pretty good policy because it allows them to not discuss anything.

The perplexing issue is how any coal mine could stack up environmentally after reading the reasons for Palmer’s refusal.

The rejection of Palmer’s plan included detail about why it was a no-go and “in the absence of surety of a carbon neutral proposal, the department considers the power station will contribute to longer-term and cumulative global climate change impacts.”

“The project will contribute towards irreversible climate change impacts that are anticipated to undermine biological diversity and ecological integrity. The project cannot guarantee it will maintain or enhance the health, diversity and productivity of the environment for the benefit of future generations.

“The project as proposed would be the second highest emitter of total scope 1 (being the greenhouse gas emissions that are the emissions released to the atmosphere as a direct result of the activity, or series of activities at a facility level).”

Palmer’s downfall was more likely the power station rather than the mine, but the rejection of the Barcaldine project highlights the Government’s concern about another coal-fired power station in the state, but also its hypocrisy.

And let’s not forget that old thorny problem for the Government that they never seem to mention: that it is the leading CO2 emitter in the state through its ownership of the energy generators.

Which kind of ignores the uncomfortable reality that all the coal we send offshore to be burned in either steel mills or power stations is emitting into the same atmosphere. Awkward or what?

The two examples show that the Government is keenly aware of the problem of coal. It just so happens that Clive is a bloke they find easy to reject.

Andrew Forrest however, announced his $US150 million green hydrogen project in Gladstone as well as another much bigger one in the US and a green steel project in WA.

It was $1 billion worth and it could be considered by the less generous as either crazy brave or very insightful.

Australian businessman Andrew Twiggy Forrest pictured earlier this year. (AAP Image/Lukas Koch)

The company he chairs, Fortescue Metals, is going through a rapid evolution and there are concerns about his green schemes and how they will be hungry for capital. Analysts question where the details are on the projects and why others that were promised are still at the starting blocks.

At the moment, his hydrogen plans look like they would fit in the crazy brave category. Hydrogen is such a long way from being anywhere close to commercial and it takes a lot of guts to throw $1 billion at it.

His plan for Gibson Island, in Brisbane, to become a hydrogen producer remains uncommitted with Forrest saying the cost of getting renewable electricity to it is still too expensive.

Forrest and Palmer can’t be both right but if you had a lazy $50 who would you bet on? Carbon Clive or Green Forrest?

 

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