Speculative energy companies that profited from a failed 2002 brown coal allocation are once again jockeying for millions of dollars of government grant money in the race for Victoria's reserves.
The federal and state governments last year set up a $90 million fund to help companies develop ''pre-commercial'' technology to transform Victorian coal into exportables, such as briquettes, diesel or fertiliser.
While the process for divvying up the cash has been opaque, the Abbott and Napthine governments are believed to be close to an announcement A decision on the results of a tender allocating licences to billions of extra tonnes of brown coal is expected by the end of the year. Deputy Premier Peter Ryan said the government had been talking to ''a number of potential purchasers'', particularly in Asia, and there was ''a hell of a lot'' of interest.
''We have invited the market to consider the fact that we have 13 billion tonnes of brown coal available for allocation … in the Latrobe Valley,'' he said.
Brown coal is considered to be only a step above peat. It contains more than 60 per cent moisture, and in an unprocessed form is uneconomic and unsafe to export.
An Environment Victoria analysis of companies potentially vying for grant money concluded that none had built or operated a brown coal project of any kind, ''let alone based on the often unproven technologies they are touting''.
Its campaign director Mark Wakeham said Victorian taxpayers were bankrolling the ''coal pipedreams of a handful of speculators'', predicting that proposals to exploit the resource would never get off the ground.
In 2002 the former Labor state government allocated the rights to billions of extra tonnes of brown coal.
Treasurer Michael O'Brien had previously described the allocation, which could enrich several of the individuals involved but did not result in any new projects, jobs or investment, as ''a bit of a dud''.