Australian news, and some related international items

Shutdown of dirty Hazelwood coal generator ends myth of clean fossil fuels

Hazelwood exits, taking with it myth of cheap fossil fuels, REneweconomy By  on 30 March 2017  The giant Hazelwood brown coal generator shut down the last of its 8 units at 4pm yesterday, the latest and the most powerful symbol of the vast and rapid change in our energy system.

Conservatives and the fossil fuel lobby might have wanted to describe the closure of the western world’s most polluting power plant as a futile act, given the attempts by the Trump government to jump back into last century’s technology and ignore climate science.

But just one day after Hazelwood closed, a new $1 billion solar PV and battery storage plant was being unveiled for South Australia, with its proponents insisting that construction would begin later this year.

Indeed, solar projects are popping up everywhere. Concannon, the former head of Hazelwood – once a staunch critic of Australia’s renewable energy target – has switched camps, heading up a large-scale solar company and plans 300MW of solar, possibly with storage, in South Australia.

He’s not the only one, with Lyon Solar’s announcement and Zen Energy and others, including Adani and DPP Energy, all planning major solar projects in South Australia.

In Queensland, the push to solar is even more rapid. One major energy user, Sun Metals, is building its own 116MW solar plant because the cost of electricity in a grid almost entirely dependent on coal and gas is too expensive.

Meanwhile, the incumbents have got other things to think about, particularly SAPN’s prediction that the cost to households and business of solar and storage will be around 15c/kWh within a few years.

Think about what that means. That is cheaper than just the transport cost of delivering electricity down the poles and wires.

Few in the industry doubt that we are shifting rapidly to a faster, cleaner, smarter and cheaper energy system. The imponderable is that no one knows what the business model looks like.

Networks are convinced that they will remain essential, because someone has to connect the homes, business, and communities. But they, too, are worried that things will move so fast that consumers – having been badly treated by utilities in the past decade – will simply take matters into their own hands.

If SAPN’s forecast are right, they will have an overwhelming economic incentive to do so. To deal with that, it is hard to see how networks will avoid any other action than to write off the value of their networks so they can compete.

The outlook for traditional gentailers, is more bleak. The cosy oligopoly that dominated supply, and accounted for virtually all demand, is starting to unravel……..

The Finkel Review will not, as the conservatives hope, recommend the sort of fantasy dance back into the last century that Donald Trump is trying to achieve in the US. Already, the conservatives sense this and are beginning to attack.

“What would he know,” they say, “he’s only an electrical engineer and the chief scientist.”

And the tribal politics won’t help either. The Greens appear to be the only ones who “get” what is happening, and don’t have vested interests in business and unions to protect. The final report into the Senate inquiry into the retirement of coal-fired power stations split three ways. Only the Greens seemed to understand the need for an orderly transition.

Indeed, denial is the last refuge of the incumbents and the ideologues. Technology marches on, and because it is so readily available to consumers, so will they. This is not about ideology any more. It is about simple economics. The rest is just detail, and politics.


March 31, 2017 - Posted by | climate change - global warming, Victoria

1 Comment »

  1. The Editor
    The Advertiser

    In your extensive coverage of the electricity situation in SA (The Advertiser, 1/4/17) there is one crucial omission.

    At the heart of SA electricity supply problems has been the fact that half of the Pelican Point power station has been “mothballed”. The operators have consistently claimed that they can’t compete with cheap wind and solar power. Yet when the same company closed down their Hazelwood power station in Victoria, hey presto, the mothballed generator at Pelican Point is suddenly competitive.

    The wind and solar contribution is still the same and expected to increase, the only change is that electricity from Hazelwood is no longer available. Hazelwood was filling in the gap between SA electricity supply and demand, a gap which will now be filled by Pelican Point.

    South Australia’s idle Pelican Point generator wasn’t wedged out of the market by wind and solar power, but by cheap thermal power from Victoria.

    Dennis Matthews

    Comment by Dennis Matthews | April 1, 2017 | Reply

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