Anyone with half an interest in renewables will be following the political tussle over energy policies with a mix of discomfort and disbelief. The prospect of the coalition adopting a clean energy target is looking less likely by the day with the government distancing itself from Finkel’s key recommendation. Instead the coalition continues to support old technology and publicly calling on AGL to maintain operations at Liddell beyond the 2022 use by date. The 2000 MW plant has, perhaps, become a symbol of the coalition’s dogged determination to prop up old, polluting technology regardless of impact and economics.
The cost of a face-lift for AGL’s ageing plant would be prohibitive: estimates are in the region of hundreds of millions of dollars.
As put by Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, the coalition is intent on spending “hundreds of millions, billions of dollars propping up the coal industry. Coal is dead. It’s dead in Australia, trying to keep these clunkers going [and] at huge public expense is just crazy”.
AGL has been given until mid December to draw up plans for the plant it has already demonstrated financially unviable. One option is to create a dam in the open-cut mine and replace the plant with gas generation and pumped hydro, a proposal that would fulfill chief executive Andy Vesey’s pledge to avert a market shortfall.
In recent days the past coalition prime minister has publicly reinforced his stance, backing energy reliability (subtext: coal) over renewables. He describes a clean-energy target as “unconscionable” as is any move to wind back support for coal in favour of renewables; casts climate change as “very much a third order issue” and is calling on governments to build coal-fired power stations including “Hazelwood 2.0.” Some would argue the one thing that coal plants can be relied on is the harm caused to health and the environment.
On that, the spotlight has now fallen on Energy Australia’s 1400 MW coal-fired Mt Piper plant near Lithgow that supplies approximately 1.18 million NSW homes, 15 per cent of the NSW electricity supply.
Completed in 1993 the plant has an operational life to 2042 however where once six mines supplied the coal today it’s down to one, and that is looking shaky. Each day Centennial Coal’s Springvale mine pumps millions of litres of untreated mine water into the river supplying Sydney’s main dam, and the mine is now threatened with closure on environmental grounds.
Should an alternative supplier be sourced, or Springvale pipe the wastewater to a treatment plant (that is not yet in existence)?
EnergyAustralia chairman Graham Bradley told media “We are in a diabolically compromised commercial position; unexpectedly so.” He blames the “dysfunctional” state planning system.
An industry source told us that the complexity and uncertainty of state planning processes are resulting in refusal for many coal projects, or in some cases deterring proponents from taking projects into a planning process.
Gas shortages and a moratorium on exploration exist in both Victoria and NSW, the latter now experiencing a shortfall of secure coal for power generation. In the bid to conserve coal each of the three large NSW generators are pricing it above gas and the situation is unlikely to be resolved in the near future.
Added to the mix are the protests by environmental groups (whose agendas have been widely misconstrued in some publications).
The emerging scenario is thus: the concept of reliable base load generation from coal and gas, considering fuel uncertainty, is no longer guaranteed. This does nothing to help industrial customers or retailers because while fuel supplies are uncertain, generators are unable to offer firm or future contracts. Stalemate!
Solution. Renewables and storage technology are advancing at a rapid rate while becoming cheaper. Better still, wind, sun and gravity pose no risks over fuel supply. With storage, renewables can provide dispatchable generation which is just what the market needs.
The signs are that these contemporary, clean technologies will soon be providing the contracts to support the electricity market.
In short, the weakness of uncertain baseload generation to deliver outcomes for customers needs to be recognised as the nation moves to smarter generation that does not rely on fuels with supply constraints and social dependencies.
More and more people regard solar thermal, pumped hydro backing wind, battery storage combined with distributed energy as the way forward, the path to a more rational future.
A recent Climate Council survey found the majority of people (almost 75 per cent) believe solar batteries will become commonplace, given household solar storage holds the key to cheaper and more reliable energy. Citizens also see little merit in maintaining old coal fired plants. (See following item.)
Economics certainly help determine energy choices according to Emma Herd of the Investor Group on Climate Change who says more Australian businesses and households are pursuing renewables based on the sound financials.
Senator Wong agrees. Speaking on Q&A the senator alluded to Australia’s decade long political conflict over the energy market, but says “Australians get it. They want to be making energy out of the sun and the wind, but they also want to be able to store that [now they can].”
This story was found at https://www.solar.org.au/industry-news/electricity-shock/