Following on from our story yesterday “Is this the beginning of the end coal-fired generation” – noting the mothballing of 50 per cent of the capacity of Stanwell Corp’s Tarong power plant in Queensland, one sharp-eyed reader brought to our attention the state-owned company’s recent submissions to various authorities on the subject of renewable energy.
No surprises here, Stanwell doesn’t like renewable energy. To briefly summarise, it wants a stop to the rapid deployment of rooftop solar, and it wants the deployment of large-scale wind farms curtailed. Its submissions should be seen in the context of Stanwell’s current problems – too much supply, not enough demand, falling wholesale prices. In it’s eyes, renewables would only make that worse.
Stanwell, for instance, appears to have been the only utility to argue in favour of the Queensland Competition Authority’s proposal to introduce gross feed-in tariffs, an idea that many accept would mean the end of the solar industry, except for those preparing to make the dramatic step of going off-grid.
Stanwell said it favoured a “gross tariff” because it would ensure that all customers paid the same network charge, regardless of how much they would consume. Even TRUenergy, the brown coal-fired generator that is leading the push to dilute the Renewable Energy Target, conceded that gross feed-in tariffs were likely to outrage households looking to install solar PV, and could cause a consumer backlash.
As for the Renewable Energy Target, Stanwell also argued for the fixed 41,000GWh to be either cut to a lower fixed target, or preferably changed in favour of a floating “real” 20 per cent target. It complained there was real danger that the LRET would overshoot and reach 25 per cent, causing wholesale electricity costs to fall even further.
It also wants an end to the small-scale renewable energy scheme, saying its “uncapped nature” creates “unpredictability” that is not assisting players operating in the wholesale electricity market. It said it was concerned that the cost of solar energy is falling so fast, that even without the multipliers in the solar bonus scheme, that its deployment would still increase.
“The primary consideration for Stanwell in relation to the SRES is its continued negative impact on wholesale electricity prices as a result of a reduction in demand for electricity,” it said, getting to the nub of the matter.
That is the crucial point. Stanwell, like other conventional generators, wants to bring the deployment of solar PV to a halt to protect its revenue. It’s a perfectly reasonable thing for a coal-fired generator to be asking for on behalf of its direct shareholder (the Queensland government) – even if it’s not in the interests of many of its “real” shareholders, the state’s energy consumers.
Still, the submissions are as notable for what they don’t say as much as what they do say. There are complaints about the supposed increased network investment required for solar PV, but no mention of the massive over-investment in networks to cater for the increased used in air-conditioners, nor for the massive over-investment in generation to cater for demand that has failed to materialise – possibly because many of its consumers have realised that the cheaper avenue is via household solar. There are complaints that cutting the price of wholesale energy will force cheap generation to be replaced by expensive generation, but no mention of BREE’s predictions that wind and solar will be the cheapest form of new generation, or of the environmental impacts of coal-fired generation.
As it revealed in its annual report, for much of the year Stanwell’s entire portfolio is surplus to requirements. It’s ironic, because just last month, Stanwell Corp told The Australian newspaper that the deployment of rooftop solar was not leading to a reduction of coal emissions. But now it’s conceded that rooftop solar is part of the reduction in demand that has forced at least the temporary closure of half of its second biggest power plant. The hypocrisy is breath-taking.