The power station now has the potential to become a location for green energy: Origin Energy, Australia’s electricity and natural gas retailer, already plans to begin the installation of a 700-megawatt storage battery before the coal plant shuts down. It aims to complete the project by 2026 and integrate it with renewables developments across New South Wales. The site itself could host further new infrastructure over time, the company said.
The transition to green energy won’t be cheap. Origin Energy estimates that restoration and rehabilitation will cost A$240 million ($170 million) in total, and plans to spend another A$5 million over 10 years on community support. According to Phillips, major efforts are already underway to find workers new jobs or to retrain staff.
Australia’s been able to accelerate its move away from coal because its renewables sector is growing quickly thanks to abundant sunshine and wind and relatively low costs of installation of renewable infrastructure. The country is a world leader in residential solar, with almost a third of homes fitted with panels.
The influx of clean power assets has resulted in wholesale electricity prices tumbling, with the demand for daytime power — when rooftops are bathed in sunshine — hitting record lows and eroding profits for more expensive coal-based power generation.
“The amount of daytime demand is becoming so small that coal plants are left in a battle amongst each other to remain online,” said Johanna Bowyer, a lead research analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. Aging coal plants are also struggling with reliability, with outages this month removing about a third of the fleet’s capacity to produce power.
Australians added a record 3.2 gigawatts of household solar last year. That’s “more than the output of Eraring and it’s cheaper than what we can produce energy for,” said Phillips. “Really, that makes coal-fired power stations into the future uneconomical.”
Australia’s electricity sector accounts for almost a third of the nation’s direct emissions, and more than 85% of that total comes from the country’s coal-fired plants. The Eraring power station alone emits 12.7 million tons of carbon dioxide each year.
That one of the world’s largest coal exporters and the source of some of the highest per-capita emissions from fuel is abandoning it faster than expected is a testament that the transition is possible, concludes Richie Merzian, director of the climate and energy program at the Australia Institute think tank, which presses for more additional emissions reduction.
“To see Australia plan for the future past coal is a demonstration of transition from one of the last holdouts,” he said.
No more fossil fuels
More recent news on Australia’s green energy transition involves AGL, the country’s biggest coal generator and polluter, being forced to abandon its plans to split in two and keep burning coal for another two decades and more. The climate activist Mike Cannon-Brookes, AGL’s largest shareholder and renewable energy advocate, is believed to have pressured the company, along with other investor, into abandoning the split. He has been pushing AGL away from producing coal-fired power, a practice the energy firm was keen to continue by splitting into two companies, which is off the table now.
As Cannon-Brookes pointed out, AGL’s announcement is a significant step forward for Australia’s energy transition.
Wow. A huge day for Australia 💚💛
Had to sit down & take it in. This live shot couldn’t be a better metaphor for a better, greener path ahead 🌱
We embrace the opportunities of decarbonisation with Aussie courage, tenacity & creativity.
Lots of work but we CAN do this 👊🏻 pic.twitter.com/mSCQl554C0
— Mike Cannon-Brookes 👨🏼💻🧢🇦🇺 (@mcannonbrookes) May 29, 2022
“Wow. A huge day for Australia,” he tweeted. “We embrace the opportunities of decarbonisation with Aussie courage, tenacity and creativity. Lots of work but we CAN do this.”
Additionally, the “outer deadline” for AGL to close its coal-fired plants has now been moved to 2035, a decade earlier than its previous target, according to Cannon-Brookes.
AGL’s coal- and gas-fired power stations are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia, accounting for about 8% of the nation’s carbon footprint.
In sum, Australia’s rapid expansion in renewable energy generation now gives it a major competitive advantage and the opportunity to finally become the example globally in moving away from fossil fuels.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Large scale solar farm generating energy from the sun. Featured Photo Credit: The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENAWIRE).