The breathtaking hypocrisy of our coal-fired generators

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No surprise that Stanwell Corp, forced to mothball half its Tarong coal-fired generator, wants to stop the deployment of rooftop solar and wind farms.

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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.

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  1. Evcricket 7 years ago

    While I concede that moving to gross tariffs would likely annoy a lot of people, I am strongly in favour of FiTs being based on gross delivery. That way households are encouraged to improve the efficiency of their house, because the value of electricity they are saving would be the export price, rather than the much lower pool price.

  2. Nigel 7 years ago

    What amazes me Giles, is just why anyone has ever taken the opinion of a coal fired generator as in anyway relevant or unbiased in this debate. As you eloquently describe and as they so clumsily now admit, they are driven utterly by self interest, the desire to protect profits and not changing the status quo despite the implications, and opportunities.

    I’ve put a bucket of sand in the mail for you to pass on, so they can bury their heads in a fresh dose.

  3. Grecy 7 years ago

    This very much looks like the situation in the US where Kodak went belly up because they did not adapt to changes in the industry, power generators like Stanwell need to have a good look at themselves or they may well end up going down this path also.

  4. Tim Buckley 7 years ago

    I think the idea of offering a wholesale price based gross feed in tariff is a deliberate attack on solar, instigated by the self-serving fossil fuel industry who finally realise the threat that is emerging from electricity customers finally being given a real power of choice. Distributed solar systems now deliver power to residential and industry customers below retail grid parity, such that customers now have some say over their power bills.
    To expect a legislated and complacent oligopoly that is increasingly under attack to be happy with this threat is unrealistic. To expect a state government to force these state-owned utility businesses to act in the interests of taxpayers and electricity customers – there is a real conundrum – politicians serving their constituents, no!
    Providing a stable regulatory system to allow the solar industry to continue to develop is necessary. Changing the regulatory system to encourage all proven and viable forms of energy efficiency to lower the total cost to consumers and reduce the air pollution in our environment must be two other key priorities.
    Tim Buckley – Arkx Investment Management

    • Humblebee 7 years ago

      Spot on Tim. Well said.

  5. Pete Moran 7 years ago

    This re-enforces my view, that despite the fossil-nuke bleating, the renewable challenge was never about the mix of technology (PV, wind, storage, CSP etc, nat gas top-/back-up if necessary) but how hard the business-as-usual companies would fight to preserve their assets/revenue.

    They ought to be writing down Tarong’s value to $0, perhaps these companies will be forced to recognise this suddenly shortly. Then they can just be bulldozed.

  6. Scottar 7 years ago

    Ya all will learn the hard way, grid renewable ain’t really renewable in savings. Look what’s happening in Spain and Germany and the other Euro Counties. Their economies are going in the dump, sliding into a Greece pit.

    If it ain’t 24/7 then it ain’t real, sustainable energy. You’ve been warned.

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