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Questions have been raised in Papua New Guinea over the visit by Australian rugby league stars to promote coal development in the country.
The Australian company Mayur Resources has an environmental permit to mine coal in PNG's Gulf Province, and is proposing a coal-fired power plant in Lae.
It's recently deployed a second former league star, Sam Thaiday, to PNG in a promotional capacity.
former Australian captain Darren Lockyer is Mayur's head of Business Affairs.
Christian Lohberger of Nogat Coal PNG, which opposes Mayur's plans, said the league stars, and Lockyer in particular, are idolised in PNG.
"Even though they're just footballers, when they talk and say stuff, people listen. So I guess it's a smart move by Mayur to bring them on board. But I don't know if it's really ethical that they should be using Papua New Guineans' love of rugby league to promote something that's not really connected."
Lohberger said that the proposed plant would create significant pollution and cause harm and death to local communities.
However, PNG's Minister for Energy Sam Basil is supporting the coal project, saying it would open up access to cheaper energy that has long been lacking in the country.
Basil has voiced concern that the current power plant in Lae uses imported heavy fuel oil and is cost inefficient.
He said that PNG should explore as many local energy options as possible, given the country's range of natural resources.
However the plant backers have not secured a local customer or off-taker for the power produced at the plant.
The main power supplier in the country, PNG Power, has been reluctant to buy electricity from coal sources.
Lohberger said he understood PNG Power was waiting on a pending World Bank report on a comprehensive electricity generation cost strategy, which could affect a decision on linking up with Mayur's plant.
"I would say with the way global trends are going, the surge in renewable energy, and the fall in prices of solar and wind and hydro, that any report that takes a look at power prices is not going to be favourable to coal," he explained.
But global shifts away from investment in fossil fuels, due to pressing climate change issues, are not deterring the minister who has cited PNG's neighbours' energy policies.
Basil said that with both Australia and Indonesia heavily reliant on coal power, PNG should not deprive itself of a home-grown asset.
SOURCE: RNZ PACIFIC/PACNEWS
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