A controversial scheme to export Victorian brown coal for use in overseas power stations – shelved by the Brumby government in 2009 – has been dusted off, as mining companies anticipate a more coal-friendly attitude from the new Baillieu government.
A West Australian-based company, Mantle Mining, has lodged an application with the new government for a coal exploration licence over a large area of prime dairy country and bushland near Mirboo North in South Gippsland.
Mantle chairman Martin Blakeman said yesterday he hoped eventually to develop mines to supply local power stations and an ambitious scheme by Melbourne-based Exergen to dry and export millions of tonnes of brown coal.
News of the venture comes as the new state government is believed to be preparing to launch an inquiry into ''mining opportunities in Victoria''.
Renewed interest in commercial exploitation of Victorian brown coal – one of the world's most carbon-intensive sources of energy – could conflict with Julia Gillard's new push to curb greenhouse emissions through a carbon price.
In late 2009 the Brumby government abandoned an already controversial plan for a special coal allocation for a $1.5 billion Exergen scheme to dry and export coal for Indian power stations. The plan became mired in more controversy after The Age revealed the company had paid for a meeting with the premier while its proposal was before the government.
If revived, the scheme would open the way to the first major exports of Victorian brown coal.
The election of a Coalition government in Victoria has been welcomed by key players in the mining sector.
Allan Blood, a WA coal entrepreneur and member of the Liberal fund-raising 500 Club, last week flew to Melbourne to press the government to open up Gippsland's coal reserves.
Mr Blood, who has proposed a $2 billion scheme to turn coal into fertiliser, had been critical of Labor's ''political'' retreat from brown coal exploitation.
He told The Age he was optimistic about prospects under the Coalition. ''We want to get cracking. I'm very keen to have a fresh set of ears listening and understanding and hopefully being very proactive.''
A spokeswoman for Energy Minister Michael O'Brien said last night she was unaware of any proposal for a inquiry into mining opportunities in Victoria.
In late 2009, Environment Victoria spearheaded a strong community campaign against exporting Victoria's brown coal and we won in the short term. Read more here
Check out what happened in the campaign against exporting coal