Australian brown coal generators snare bulk of $1 bln carbon grants

CANBERRA, March 30 Fri Mar 30, 2012 2:02am BST

CANBERRA, March 30 (Reuters) - Australia's three biggest polluting brown coal-fired electricity generators will share A$760 million ($780 million) in government cash grants to help them adjust to a price on carbon, Australia's Climate Change Department said on Friday.

The money comes from A$1 billion set aside to help coal-fired power stations curb greenhouse gas emissions, with the money to be paid ahead of the A$23 a tonne carbon price which starts from July 1.

Three massive brown coal-fired power stations in the Victorian state will take the bulk of the money, with TRUenergy's Yallourn W power station to receive A$257.5 million, National Power's Hazelwood power station A$265 million, and Loy Yang A power station A$240 million.

"The government is implementing measures to underpin a successful energy market transition," Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said in a statement.

"Cash payments are part of a broader package designed to ensure secure energy supplies as the nation transforms to a low carbon future.

Australia is introducing a carbon price from July 1, before moving to a floating carbon price from July 2015, as part of its efforts to fight carbon emissions and combat global warming.

Australia accounts for just 1.5 percent of global emissions but is the developed world's biggest per-capita carbon emitter, due to a reliance on burning coal to generate about 80 percent of the country's electricity.

The carbon price will be imposed on the top 500 polluting companies, but the government will give away free permits to cover up to 94.5 percent of emissions from major export-exposed industries to help them adjust.

Apart from the cash grants, the government is also in negotiations with coal-fired power generators to pay to cut 2,000 megawatts of electricity generation from the biggest polluting power stations by 2020.

The three biggest polluting power stations, Yallourn W, Hazelwood and Loy Yang, burn a total of about 61 million tonnes of brown coal each year. ($1 = 0.9685 Australian dollars) (Reporting by James Grubel; Editing by Michael Perry)