There are a growing number of stakeholders publicly recognising the need for a phased closure of Australia’s coal burning power stations.
AGL, Origin, EnergyAustralia and even the Australian Energy Market Operator are calling for a plan to close coal burning power stations. So, too, are Australia’s leading think tanks, academics and businesses.
Guess who’s missing? The Coalition government. Why? Well, a number of reasons.
Firstly, coal burning power stations polluted an astounding 162 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2014-15. That’s equivalent to 30% of Australia’s total emissions. AEMO and others have correctly calculated that if we are going to meet our Paris climate targets, we’re going to need to do something about our biggest single source of climate pollution.
Secondly, our coal burning power stations are ageing and are operating in an oversupplied market. AGL argues that around 75 per cent of operating coal burning power stations are past their use by date. And AEMO have said that we have around 9000 MW extra generating capacity in the system.
And given these figures, AGL and other generators have rightly commented on the need for certainty for local communities and for the electricity market. With the reality of climate change, and ageing power stations operating in an oversupplied market, power stations are likely to start closing.
As seen in Port Augusta, where Northern power station was closed with less than a year’s notice, this can leave local communities and workers without a plan for the future. At an electricity market scale, Origin have said that a planned transition will help certainty in renewable energy investments.
In Victoria, announcements from Engie and the Victorian Government in the last month have added extra pressure to coal burning power stations. The French owners of Hazelwood, Engie, have said that they’re considering closingthe power station to cut their emissions. And the Victorian Government announced a state renewable energy target of 40% by 2025, which will mean Victoria’s brown coal power stations will have to make way for new renewables.
Without a plan for a phased closure of coal burning power stations we are likely to see some plants closing at short notice, and others staying open way too long.
As well as major electricity generators and the national market operator, consensus is also growing among our business, community and academic leaders. Two separate leadership forums hosted recently by the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Australian National University have found overwhelming support to transition the energy sector to renewables.
So the reality of climate change and the current state of the electricity market are demanding that we close coal burning power stations, and there is a growing consensus among energy generators, market operators, and business, academic and community leaders that we need to transition.
So what is the government’s plan?
Asked at a candidates forum recently what the government’s plan was to transition communities affected by coal closure, Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg had very little to say.
At a policy level, the Coalitions Direct Action Plan doesn’t even mention coal. And goes nowhere near suggesting that our electricity market may need to change in a significant way. This is beginning to show, with emissions in Australia actually rising in 2015, as a direct result of increased use of coal power stations.
Far from ‘meeting and beating’ our climate targets, Australia is going backwards. The government has no plan to phase out our polluting coal burning power stations, and no plan to help transition communities and workers affected by their inevitable closure.
Instead, the Coalition has suggested using the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to fund a steel works, a transmission cable, urban development plans, improved water quality on the Reef, and agricultural infrastructure. All important projects, I’m sure, but will do little to help the transition our energy sector desperately needs.
With no serious climate policy, the Coalition is way behind the rest of the Australia and indeed the world. They need to wake up to the reality of an oversupply of dirty coal fired electricity, and catch up to the growing consensus of Australians ready for a clean energy transition.
Hannah Aulby is a clean energy campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation.