From laggard to leader: New South Wales Labor party’s election pledge for extra 7 GW of renewables

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From pv magazine Australia.

Michael Daley, leader of the New South Wales state opposition party, has announced, if elected on March 23, Labor would use reverse auctions to deliver 6 GW of renewable energy backed by storage, and establish a state-owned corporation to deliver 1 GW of renewables and storage – all within a 10-year timeframe.

The NSW opposition had already announced this month its Solar Homes policy to provide rebates of up to $2,200 (US$1,570) to incentivize rooftop PV in the state for households with an income of up to $180,000. It has been calculated both policies would deliver a combined 9 GW of new renewable energy capacity and a 14% reduction in the state’s carbon emissions by 2030.

“The urgency is upon us,” shadow minister for energy and climate change Adam Searle told pv magazine. The biggest catalyst for Labor’s ambitious new policy, said Searle, is that “over the next 15 to 16 years, 9 GW of electricity generation that we rely on today is scheduled to retire and we’re not getting the new investment we need to build the energy generators of the future”.

The candidate was referring to the predicted retirement of coal-fired power generators in the state, with the Liddell power station expected to close in 2022, and the Bayswater, Vales Point and Eraring facilities to follow within 10 years. That would leave the Mt Piper power station – built in 1992-93 and with two 70 MW coal-fired steam turbine generators – the last of New South Wales’ coal-fired plants standing, with a stated capacity able to power around 1.18 million homes per year.

Labor’s new policy proposal aims to power more than 3 million homes, which Searle said is “as many the state has today”.

And then there was one. Over the next 15-16 years all of NSW’s coal-fired power stations bar Mt Piper – pictured – near Lithgow, will be retired. Image: Energy Australia

Source: EnergíaHoy

Extra gigawatts to power electrification of land transport

Searle said Labor is looking to generate more energy than currently required, “so that we can move towards electrification of land transport and decarbonizing the economy and society more broadly”. “We’ll need a much higher level of electricity to do that, but first we need to replace what we’re using and then bring on more supply and bring prices down,” he told pv magazine.

Searle anticipates solar PV generation, as an established technology, will continue to play a “massive” role in Labor’s planned energy transition. But he added, the party’s intention is to leave room for the emergence of alternative renewable technologies such as thermal solar and floating solar as well as battery and pumped-hydro storage.

“So as we roll out the reverse auctions, which we’ll design and deliver in conjunction with the Australian Energy Market Operator [AEMO] and industry and consumers, some rounds will be technology specific while others will be technology neutral,” he said, which would encourage developers put up the most cost-effective and efficient solutions for each region or market sector.

The need to secure the energy supply is closely followed in Labor’s rationale by the need to tackle climate change and the imperative to drive energy prices down.

“Renewable energy has never been more affordable, whether at a household level or at a system-wide level,” said Searle, but that is not being reflected in electricity pricing, which is part of the reason Labor included a state-owned entity in its plans.

Back to the future?

“The energy market is very concentrated and we need a lot of reform,” said Searle. “Privatization has led to a lack of trust in the market. People have just been ripped off by the energy companies, so we need to have an honest broker.” He said a government-owned corporation would also provide systems security, by investing or seeding investment in areas in which “the market either cannot or will not act”.

New renewable generation, 4 GW of which Labor is proposing it would introduce within four years after the March 23 election, would for the most part be transmitted on existing lines as it replaced coal-fired load, according to Searle.

However, he emphasized NSW Labor has had discussions with transmission and network companies about how the party might, if elected, assist in supporting strategic upgrades to the transmission system.

“NSW Labor supports, in principle, the Integrated System Plan developed by AEMO,” said Searle. “We know that strategic investment in transmission upgrades can unlock value in new investment [it] will also mean we have to spend less money investing in new energy generation projects. So we’re committed to that.”

Jobs boom

He said in NSW’s decentralized energy future, however, the state would have many more scattered smaller energy generators, “concentrated where there is good resource, and where transmission lines are already in place”.

The NSW opposition claims that its policy for igniting an unprecedented boom in renewable generation would generate at least 3,400 jobs in regional areas where most new plant would be constructed, with thousands of related jobs created in the renewable supply chain and associated services.

John Grimes, CEO of industry body the Smart Energy Council, described the state Labor policy as “an absolute game-changer”. Grimes applauded Labor’s initiative, saying the announcement – together with last week’s commitment to 500,000 new solar homes – represents “a smart plan for a smart energy future”.

Searle promised details of the policy would be released today, alongside further pre-election announcements.

By Natalie Filatoff.