TWO new coal-fired power stations at Cessnock is an "insane proposal" as Australia seeks to reduce climate change emissions, and a "very negative prospect" for the health of Hunter residents, say academics.
"It's ludicrous to think anyone's contemplating it while the world faces a climate change emergency. Are they on another planet?" said Doctors for the Environment Hunter spokesperson Dr John Van Der Kallen of a plan for the stations on Hunter Economic Zone land.
"It's the wrong proposal at the wrong place and the wrong time," he said.
Self-styled Chinese "belt and road program" expert and investment company Kaisun Holdings told the Hong Kong stock exchange it had signed a memorandum of understanding with a Chinese state-owned power provider and Hunter Economic Zone land owner Frank Cavasinni to build the stations.
But economists have slammed the proposal, saying coal cannot be supported over renewable power based on cost, and politicians including NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Labor leader Michael Daley on Thursday cast considerable doubt over the likelihood of the proposals going ahead.
Climate change expert and Australian National University Professor Will Steffen said it was "basically an insane proposal which doesn't make economic sense and certainly doesn't make climate change sense", despite Federal MP Craig Kelly's support for government underwriting because the power stations were "exactly" what the Australian energy market needed.
Professor Steffen said the Paris agreement on climate change showed the world had a "carbon budget" of emissions to keep global warming to less than two degrees, and existing carbon emitters such as mines and coal-fired power stations represented three times that figure.
"Not only do we have to rapidly reduce existing emissions to meet that target, we have to stop any new proposals such as this, and the proposed Bylong coal mine," Professor Steffen said.
Doctors for the Environment Hunter spokesperson and University of Newcastle lecturer Dr Ben Ewald said the site was 25 kilometres from Newcastle and would increase coal-fired air pollution for about 500,000 people, despite promotion of the power stations as "high efficiency, low emission".
"I think we should be very concerned about this on health grounds because if it was built it would put a substantial health burden on the Hunter, especially when there's perfectly good renewable energy options available that are being put forward by AGL when it closes Liddell power station," Dr Ewald said.
Mr Cavasinni was contacted for comment.