Western Australia energy minister Bill Johnston has all but ruled out the development of any new thermal fossil fuel generation of any sort in the state, due to the cheap cost of renewable energy and the government’s aspirational target of net-zero emissions by 2050.
Speaking at the online Stimulus Summit, co-hosted by RenewEconomy and the Smart Energy Council on Wednesday, Johnston said the Labor McGowan government – one of Australia’s only state or territory governments without a formal renewable energy target – had no plan for new energy generation beyond renewables.
“I can’t see new thermal generation being built in Western Australia,” Johsnton told the summit. “All new generation currently being built is renewable, so there isn’t any reason to have any other plan.
“All future generation will be renewable because that’s now the lowest cost. The whole system plan is about guiding the investment to make sure it’s done at the lowest unit cost, so we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to avoid needing to build new transmission infrastructure by using the whole system plan to guide the inevitable investment in new generation here in Western Australia which, as I say , will all be done in renewables.”
This might seem like a statement of the obvious – as RenewEconomy reported here just last week, further cost reductions in both large-scale solar PV and onshore wind projects mean that these two technologies are now by far and away the cheapest form of new build energy generation in areas that count for two-thirds of the world’s population, and 85 per cent of the globe’s electricity generation.
But not all governments in Australia are prepared to concede that it doesn’t make economic – or environmental – sense to built new coal or gas plants on a grid rapidly shifting to low-cost renewables and storage.
The federal government, for one, steadfastly refuses to close the door on new coal or gas “baseload” power generation, with federal energy minister Angus Taylor just this week talking up a “gas-fired recovery” for Australia’s economy, post Covid-19.
But as ClimateWorks noted in its recent report, even despite renewable energy’s cost advantage, Australia is unlikely to achieve the pace of transition required to reduce emissions in line with global climate goals through market forces alone.
Policies such as renewable energy targets are crucial, says ClimateWorks, not just to support investment in new technologies, but also to retire existing thermal generation, as well as investment in transmission infrastructure and a flexible grid.
Read more from the 2020 Stimulus Summit: