Eraring closure fallout continues

YESTERDAY’s announcement by Origin Energy that it will close the Eraring coal-fired power station seven years early in 2025 and replace it with a battery has caused an uproar between the NSW government, Canberra and union groups.

Political spat between NSW and fed Libs

Political spat between NSW and fed Libs

Federal energy, industry and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor told multiple radio programs that he was only informed by Origin about the closure the night before it was announced, in contrast to NSW energy minister Matt Kean, who said Origin had informed his government "months before" and had been working on a plan to replace the capacity left behind.

"To find out last night with no warning … I've got to tell you, it's very disappointing," Taylor told 2GB Radio yesterday. 

"I understand that others were informed earlier. We'll work to find a solution…because I'm not going to leave the electricity consumers of New South Wales on the lurch."

Taylor has been adamant that the two 700/1400MWh batteries, one proposed by Origin at the site of Eraring and the other proposed by the NSW government, will not be enough to fill the supply gap and keep electricity prices down, describing Kean's plan as "delusional". 

The Australian Energy Market Operator and EnergyCo NSW said yesterday the new transmission projects underway would be more than enough to fill the supply gap, noting that currently at peak times Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong consumers are not able to access all existing generation capacity. 

"The Waratah Super Battery will allow this reserve transmission capacity to be freed up and used to transfer additional energy to consumers from existing generation," EnergyCo said.  

Grattan Institute energy director Tony Wood told Energy News that it was likely that Origin kept the feds out of the loop due to the pressure they put on AGL Energy to keep its Liddell power station open in Victoria. 

"They probably didn't want to have a shitfight with the federal government," he said. 

"I think you can understand why the priority was managing things locally with the state government."

Energy News asked Wood if this could be a fuss over nothing, given the speed business has moved compared to policy, he was unusually succinct. 

"Yes," he said. 

"[But] maybe, if we do this well, it will actually force people to do what they're supposed to be doing and that is sit down with industry and the Energy Security Board, and AEMO and come up with a plan - they've been farting around with this for years.

"Shouting about it doesn't solve the problem."  

The Australian Energy Council, the peak body for the country's electricity generators,  in December called for more focus on coordinated planning for an orderly exit from coal and maintaining Australia's energy security, as well backing an economy-wide emissions reduciton target of 55% by 2035. 

"Australians want action on climate change as well as affordable, reliable energy. An interim target is an important signal of the need to reduce carbon emissions across the economy," AEC CEO Sarah McNamara said. 

Meanwhile, unions have used the closure to attack both Origin for its lack of warning, and the federal government for its lack of plans to transition workers out of Australia's coal-fired power stations, which have been struggling to financially compete with the surging uptake of renewables. 

Mining and Energy Union's Robin Williams said the union was seeking urgent meetings with Origin to understand the company's plans and put measures in place to support Eraring's 400 workers. 

"The interests of workers, families and communities should be front and centre as the energy generation industry undergoes major transformation," he said. 

"We need an industry plan to prevent forced redundancies, create job transfer opportunities for skilled energy workers and investment in the regions that have powered Australia for decades."

Electrical Trades Union national secretary Michael Wright said the challenging market conditions for coal fired power stations had been "obvious to anyone who takes a passing interest for years". 

"But the Morrison government has failed to plan for the economic security of workers, their families and their communities. They seem content to throw them to the wolves," he said. 

"Twelve coal fired power stations have already closed in the last decade, but Scott Morrison keeps acting like everything is fine. Where is the regional transition program?"

Clean Energy Council CEO Kane Thornton said the closure highlighted the need for a nationally coordinated approach to manage the retirement of fossil fuel generation as well as support for new renewables. 

He pointed to Rystad data released yesterday which showed an A$830 billion, 400GW pipeline of renewable energy projects

"Investors are willing to develop the projects that put Australia on the pathway to a future powered with clean energy, but what's missing is a strong federal policy to underpin that new investment as well as proactive support for workers and communities for a just transition," he said. 


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