The Australia Letter is a weekly e-newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by e mail.
When it was first introduced in 2017 that Australia’s oldest energy station, Liddell, would shut, the information set off a political firestorm.
On the heels of the abrupt closure of one other coal plant which triggered energy prices to spike, the announcement sparked fears that shuttering Liddell, which opened in 1971 and accounted for 10 % of New South Wales’ vitality, would have the same impact.
Politicians accused its proprietor, AGL Vitality, of making an attempt to “quick the market,” whereas locals within the Hunter Valley expressed considerations about job losses. The Coalition authorities went so far as to try to broker a deal for the facility plant to be offered to a competitor keen to increase its working life, and the information grew to become a flashpoint for a debate about the way forward for Australia’s electrical energy system and renewable vitality.
However right this moment, when the ultimate unit of the facility station was switched off, it was in a really totally different surroundings.
Employees have both been transitioned to a different energy station throughout the highway or retired. The fears in regards to the impression of the vitality grid are muted — though some considerations stay that the closure will result in greater electrical energy costs at peak instances. AGL’s plans to remodel Liddell into an “industrial vitality hub” embody constructing a battery on the location and looking out into photo voltaic, wind and hydrogen energy.
And it comes as Australia is making a seismic shift towards renewable vitality and shakes off a long time of reliance on coal-fired energy. Since 2017, renewable vitality doubled from 16.9 % of Australia’s whole vitality era to 35.9 % in 2022, based on the Clear Vitality Council. The governing Labor Occasion has dedicated that by 2030, 82 % of the vitality Australia generates can be from renewables.
“Australia has had and nonetheless does have one of many dirtiest energy programs, but it surely’s transferring fairly quickly,” mentioned Chris Briggs, the director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures on the College of Expertise Sydney.
However as that transition accelerates, specialists warn that Australia wants a clearer nationwide plan to handle its exit from coal energy.
“The strategy of governments has been that they are going to attempt to speed up or facilitate the buildout of renewables storage and transmission — the kind of excellent news facet of the story — however nobody actually desires to place their hand up and be accountable for job closures — that’s politically contentious,” Dr. Briggs mentioned. “And so we’re lacking the opposite facet, which is the plan to acknowledge and put a timetable in opposition to the closures, and handle them in a extra organized style.”
It could be tempting to take a look at Liddell’s orderly closure and assume that the system is working, he mentioned, “however the danger is, as you get later on this decade, if the federal government’s plan to get to 82 % actually does come to fruition and we’re on monitor for that, then you could possibly find yourself having a rush, a cluster of coal vegetation closing at comparable instances at a comparatively quick discover.”
There’s additionally the likelihood that the house owners of those vegetation will resolve to delay closures to benefit from vitality worth spikes that will happen when different energy stations shut, he added: “So the opposite house owners sit again, hoping that another person will shut first and so they would possibly get slightly bit extra income out of the plant. However, after all, that militates in opposition to getting the discover of the timing that we need to get to have the ability to handle this transition.”
Equally, the Australian Council of Commerce Unions has referred to as for a nationwide authority to be established to handle the transition to renewable vitality, which might coordinate with authorities our bodies to make sure that affected employees have training, employment and redundancy choices.
“We can not go away this to the market,” the union mentioned in a statement. “A simply transition plan is essential for employees and their communities, corresponding to these across the Liddell Energy Station, who’re residing by way of the impression of change.”
Now for this week’s tales: