Explained: Energy market operator calls for urgent investment in dispatchable power

22 August 2019

This morning AEMO published its annual Electricity Statement of Opportunities, which predicts risks to the grid, potential power shortfalls and investment opportunities over the next ten years

Angus Taylor

The threats AEMO has identified are caused by aging and increasingly unreliable coal-burning power stations. They’ve previously identified cheap and reliable wind and solar as the solution to Australia’s long-term energy security

If that sounds a bit impenetrable and dry, fear not. We’ve put together a no-nonsense explainer on what the report says and the politics surrounding it:

  1. AEMO is the Australian electricity market operator. They’re the regulator that makes the rules that determine what generators (like coal stations or wind farms) do.
  2. This report says that hot weather this summer might lead to peaks in energy demand that might see the lights go out in Melbourne.
  1. That’s because some Victorian aging and unreliable brown coal generators are currently broken and need to be fixed. They’re not due to come online until December at the earliest. 
  1. AEMO will manage this risk through what is known as “load shedding” – paying large industrial users to switch off their power hungry facilities. 
  1. So the key takeaway is this: ancient, breaking coal generators are the problem here – wind and solar will still be flooding the system with electricity. The problem is that our aging coal stations are breaking down more often – the same as a rusty old bomb breaks down more and more often.
  1. And just like with an old car, there comes a time when you’re throwing good money after bad. When a car is clapped out, you’ll be endlessly fixing it forever… and meanwhile you can’t drive around because it’s at the mechanics shop. You need to fix the problem by getting a newer car. Read: our aging coal fleet.
  1. AEMO are begging for a solution. Last year their Integrated Systems Plan told us what the cheapest and best solution is – investment in a modern electricity system with a better transmission system, lots of new renewables, and some “dispatchable” electricity like pumped hydro – e.g. Snowy Hydro 2 in NSW or Battery of the Nation in Tasmania. Want to read more on the specifics of what a 100% renewable future looks for Australia? Read this excellent explainer.
  1. Angus Taylor and News Ltd will doubtless wilfully misinterpret this as, “AEMO says the lights will go out because there isn’t enough coal”. That’s true (although only in one place, and only one year). But the solution is not more coal. Coal is broken – our aging and increasingly unreliable coal-burning power stations are the problem. Cheap and reliable renewables are the solution. 
  1. Everyone knew this would happen – but for six years the Coalition have preferred to fight a culture war around coal rather than rolling up their sleeves and actually do anything about the actual problem. Now, with the regulator, AEMO, begging the government to act, they’re just playing the same old games. The one time someone tried to fix the problem – Frydenberg with the NEG – Taylor and his cronies axed the Prime Minister in the back. 
  1. Angus Taylor has proven deaf to AMEO’s calls – he’s an anti-wind ideologue with deep ties to the fossil fuel industry. He’s a climate sceptic whose only plan is to pump taxpayer money into these failing coal clunkers.  
  1. Coal has played an important role getting us to where we are. But it is hurting the planet and making people sick, and our coal plants are getting to be rusty clunkers. It’s time to let them go and to build the modern energy system that Australia requires. The good news is that is is already happening!
  1. Almost 100Gw of renewable energy projects have been proposed around the country – enough to replace our existing coal stations twice over! It’s amazing. There is just so much potential in this burgeoning new industry.
  1. As much new renewables have been built in the last three years as in the last thirty. The momentum is real.
  1. There’s only one thing standing in the way. A dinosaur who can’t let go of the past. Angus Taylor. 
  1. The Coalition have had six years. Six. Years.
  1. During that time they dismantled the only Federal climate laws Australia has ever had.
  1. They replaced them with…nothing. Because they’re coal obsessed climate deniers who dance to the tune of their pied piper, Tony Abbott.
  1. Angus Taylor needs to join the 21st century – right now he is ignoring his department, the regulator, the Australian people and big business. Why? This is not evidence-based policy. 
  1. And why do people like Josh Frydenburg, Tim Wilson, Dave Sharma… people who aren’t climate deniers and say they want to get on with things – why are they letting him get away with it? His own party needs to hold him to account.

After six years of policy chaos and failure, it is time for Taylor to take AEMO’s advice and get on with the job of building the modern energy system – powered by the wind and the sun – that we so desperately need.

Take action to build a cleaner future for Australia now.