D’Ambrosio: We can’t sit around waiting for coal plants to close

Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Lily D’Ambrosio speaks to media during an announcement at PowerPlus Energy, in Melbourne, Friday, October 21, 2022. (AAP Image/Diego Fedele) NO ARCHIVING

Victoria energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio has defended the state’s newly announced 95 per cent renewable target by 2035, and the effective closure of its remaining coal fired generators by that date, saying the state can no longer afford to wait for the coal industry to make up its mind.

“Our government is not just going to sit around and wait for them to … announce their decisions when the loss is at our end,”  D’Ambrosio told RenewEconomy in an interview on its weekly Energy Insiders podcast.

“We’ve got to think big, and we’ve got to take big action. We know that if we simply left it to the market to make decisions about when they’re going, whether they’re staying, all of that nonsense, it’s been played out now for a number of years and continues to be played out.

“All we’re going to find is that electricity prices will just jump up, and we’ll fail to capture the benefits. So the fantastic job benefits, and of course, the emissions reduction targets that we’ve got great ambition to achieve.”

Closing down coal

Victoria has three remaining coal-fired power stations: Yallourn is scheduled to close in 2028 as part of a secret deal with the state government; Loy Yang A is now fast tracked by AGL to close in 2035, and; Alinta’s Loy Yang B is still formally set for closure in the 2040s, although few expect it to last that long.

In a brief statement, Alinta said this week its employees would be “shocked” by the newly announced Andrews government plan, and wondered how the government would assist in managing the closure and making new investments in renewables and storage.

Would Victoria entertain a similar deal with Alinta that was negotiated with the Yallourn owner EnergyAustralia?

“That’s a matter for them if they want to have conversations with the Victorian government,” D’Ambrosio said.

“But one thing is to be very, very clear, we’re not going to be sitting around, we’ve never been a government that sat around and waited for the market to solve what is, you know, a massive challenge globally.”

Government owned renewables

Victoria’s impatience and frustration with the “market” is reflected in its decision to revert to at least part public ownership of electricity assets. It is reforming the State Energy Commission and will have it invest in 4.5GW of new renewable capacity.

The Victoria government on Thursday made a virtue of its decision to replace “unreliable, privatised coal” with “clean, government-owned, renewable energy.”

This state involvement is the most controversial part of the Victoria renewable plan, with many wondering on its impact on private investment, and on retailers given that the new SEC may also compete in that part of the market.

D’Ambrosio insists that the decision wasn’t a lack of faith in the capacity of private investment, but a desire to ensure the benefits of the investment were captured for Victorians.

She says there will be more than enough opportunity for the private sector to invest, given the need for at least 12GW of new renewable and storage capacity over the coming decade.

“Ultimately, it’s an essential service”

“We know what the Liberal Party has done … they’ve sold off public power assets to private for profit companies. They sold off Victoria’s essential services and sent much of those profits offshore,” she said.

“And with generators alone, making about $23 billion in profits at our collective expense. So now we’ve got privatised coal power stations, they’re getting all their broken down and closing and really now long time coming.

“Now it’s really important for Victorians to be put at the heart of the benefits of this. We’re building it on behalf of Victorians. And the profits will be shared by Victorians. This is about what’s good for Victorians. And ultimately, it’s an essential service. So we make no apology for that.”

Listen to the full interview on the Energy Insiders podcast hereEnergy Insiders Podcast: Victoria’s big switch to 95 pct renewables

See also: Victoria counts on $30 billion of offshore wind, not much solar, to replace coal

And: Vena Energy confirms plan for 2GW offshore wind farm in Victoria

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