Edwell to head taskforce to plot Western Australia’s exit from coal

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W.A. government names economist, energy regulation expert Stephen Edwell as chair of taskforce to lead state’s shift to renewables, EVs – and its exit from coal.

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The Western Australian government has put some momentum behind its recently unveiled Energy Transformation Strategy, with the establishment of a taskforce to implement the state’s shift to renewables and electric vehicles, and its exit from coal.

The Labor McGowan government said on Monday that the taskforce would be headed up by “former” Horizon Power chair, Stephen Edwell – an economist with extensive experience in energy sector regulation, market design, policy and utility reform, including a stint at the AER.

The government said Edwell and team would be tasked with delivering the Energy Transformation Strategy’s “Whole of System Plan” to ensure a co-ordinated approach for Western Australia’s power system of the future.

As a key part of this, the statement said, would be the production of a Distributed Energy Resources Roadmap, “to guide the integration of solar panels, battery storage and electric vehicles” into the state’s power system.

The taskforce will report directly to energy minister Bill Johnston, and be supported by a new department of Treasury, the Energy Transformation Implementation Unit.

“I’m confident that Stephen Edwell’s abilities and experience will be instrumental in progressing the McGowan Government’s Energy Transformation Strategy,” Johnston said in comments on Monday.

“Edwell was the inaugural chairperson of the Australian Energy Regulator and has successfully led major reform projects in Western Australia and Queensland, including creating WA’s electricity market.

“I look forward to working with the taskforce, industry and consumer stakeholders to deliver on our vision of a cleaner and more resilient power system.”

University of Western Australia Professor Ray Wills – who is managing director of energy, climate and sustainability advisory firm Future Smart Strategies – said the appointment of Edwell was a positive sign for the state and the energy industry.

“Stephen Edwell is very capable, and very well known to the (renewables) industry,” Wills told RenewEconomy on Monday.

“His role as chair at Horizon Power also means that he’s had a little bit of time of be head of an organisation that has a forward-thinking approach to renewables.”

According to Treasury documents, the initial Whole of System Plan – which is expected to be delivered to government by mid-2020 – will leverage recent modelling of the generation mix in state’s south west, undertaken by the Public Utilities Office.

It says the plan will be developed in close collaboration with Western Power and AEMO, and in consultation with stakeholders.

“Our vision is to provide safe, secure, reliable, low-emission power to Western Australian households and businesses at the lowest sustainable cost, while allowing new technology to connect and giving people more control over their electricity use,” the Energy Transformation Strategy document says.

“The age and cost of our coal-fired generators, combined with competition from cleaner, cheaper electricity produced by both large-scale wind and solar farms and rooftop solar PV, means Western Australia’s coal-fired power stations will need to be retired within the coming decades.

“The state government is committed to a planned and orderly transition from coal-fired generation over time. Early engagement on future plant closures will promote a prudent transition to alternative energy supplies, while providing opportunities to support affected workers and the local community.”

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