NSW energy minister sees no competitor to coal “for decades to come”

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NSW Coalition energy minister says he’s prepared to legislate to “embrace new coal mines” to keep the state’s coal power stations burning for as long as possible.

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New South Wales energy minister Matt Kean has again pledged his allegiance to coal – and to his federal counterpart Angus Taylor – declaring the fossil fuel “here to stay for decades to come,” via the mainstream media megaphones of both the Daily Telegraph and 2GB Radio.

In what the Daily Tele described as the minister’s “first in-depth interview on energy and climate change,” Kean read straight from the Coalition song-book on both topics, even giving a hat-tip to Tony Abbott’s Direct Action policy.

The crux of the Daily Tele interview is that Kean and the Coalition Berejiklian government are prepared to legislate to “embrace new coal mines” and keep the state’s coal fired power stations burning for as long as possible.

Kean has said something along the lines of this before – as Michael Mazengarb reported here in July. But this week’s effort goes all out, using text-book LNP double-speak on climate, and outright misinformation on renewable energy.

On the one hand, he tells the paper’s state political editor, his government is“committed and firmly focused on protecting the environment” and meeting its stated target of net zero emissions by 2050.

On the other, Kean wants to keep the lights on and drive down power prices, and doesn’t want to “place ideology before people”.

“The people of NSW want to protect the environment but not at any cost to their hip pocket,’’ he said.

And if that means “bypassing clunky planning laws to speed up approvals to re-open nearby coal mines” – those are the Daily Tele’s words – then so be it.

“Let’s not beat around the bush this morning, Ray. Coal is absolutely here to stay for decades to come in NSW,” Kean trilled to 2GB’s Ray Hadley in a radio interview on Wednesday morning.

“I will look to secure the coal supply for power stations like Mt Piper, to ensure that they will be able to continue to operate for decades to come.

“My policy decisions will be driven by two objectives: keeping the lights on and driving power prices down. And Ray, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

Never mind that the vast majority of current intelligence on the National Electricity Market transition says that Australia’s ageing coal fleet is increasingly unlikely to do either of those things.

As Giles Parkinson reported earlier this week, the very same Mt Piper coal generator in NSW “looked to have difficulty digesting its breakfast over the weekend, tripping off on two occasions,” while its other unit is also out of action.

And on prices, there is no contest. A benchmark study from CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator confirmed late last year that the cost of new wind and solar – even with hours of storage – is “unequivocally” lower than the cost of new coal generation.

As for what Australia’s rapidly changing grid needs to boost relaibility and economy, it is not baseload coal.

“What is needed is highly flexible and fast responding power. This can come from a variety of sources such as gas, hydro, energy storage, and demand response. However, coal is not one of them,” Energy Synapse’s Marjia Petkovic explains here.

But why take the word of energy industry experts or market operators, when you’ve got Ray Hadley?

“You said earlier, Ray, that the best way to provide baseload energy into the system at the moment, that’s reliable and affordable, is coal, and right now, that’s the case,” Kean gushed on 2GB.

“But who knows, in 20, 30, 40 years time, there may be new technologies that will deliver cheaper, more reliable power sources. I don’t have that crystal ball. My focus is on making sure we keep our power stations open until that technology arrives.”

AEMO doesn’t have a crystal ball either, but it does have an Integrated System Plan, and some of the best minds working on the task of decarbonising the grid in the smartest and most economic way possible and in a way that won’t accelerate global warming.

And those “new,” cheaper and more reliable technologies Kean dreams of… someone should let him know they have already arrived, and just keep coming – even despite Australia’s mind-boggling political climate.

Only this morning Neoen Australia unveiled plans for a massive new wind, solar and battery project for South Australia, adding to its suite of renewable and storage projects in the country, and taking the total pipeline of renewable and storage projects in the state to more than $20 billion.

At least NSW will have more interconnectors, so it can accept excess renewables from South Australia, and excess solar from Queensland.

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