Australia would need to shut 12 of its coal power stations by 2030 in order to do what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says is necessary to avoid catastrophic effects of climate change.
- The IPCC said coal-generated power needed to drop by 78 per cent of 2010 levels
- The Parliamentary Library ran the numbers and, in Australia, that means 12 stations have to close
- The Government says coal will “continue to play a vital role in our energy mix, now and into the future”
The implication comes from simple arithmetic, produced by the Parliamentary Library, and would require nine power stations closing before the end of their scheduled life.
To stop warming at 1.5C, the United Nations’ IPCC said this week coal use for electricity must be reduced to almost zero by 2050.
But another figure went unreported: the IPCC also said to get to zero by 2050, we need to get to 78 per cent below 2010 levels within 12 years.
At the request of the Greens, the Parliamentary Library crunched the numbers for what that meant in Australia, assuming that reduction was shared equally among each country.
To figure out Australia’s share, the library researchers looked at how much electricity was produced from coal across the country in 2010 and simply cut it by 78 per cent.
Then, assuming coal power stations operate at an average of about 80 per cent of their maximum output, it was a relatively simple matter to figure out how much coal-fired power needs to go.
The way to reduce power output? Close stations
In 2010, Australia produced about 180,000 Gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity from coal. Cutting that by 78 per cent means we can produce just 40,000 GWh from coal in 2030.
But economically and physically, you usually cannot just turn down the power coming out of coal power stations. So the way to reduce that power output is to reduce the total coal fleet — to close some of the stations.
So, what does Australia’s coal-fired power plant fleet look like?
Currently, there are 21 coal-fired power stations in Australia.
In 2010, Australia’s coal fleet had a maximum output of about 23.6 Gigawatts.
Assuming the plants operate at an average of about 80 per cent their maximum output, Australia would need to cut its coal fleet down to one with a maximum output of about 5.64GW.
That means stations would have to close.
AGL’s Bayswater power station in NSW would need to close for Australia to hit the IPCC target, but the company has committed to an upgrade. (Supplied: AGL)
So, how do we get there?
Well, the Parliamentary Library assumed firstly, that plants scheduled to close before 2030 would not be extended.
That is despite some of the owners of those stations floating such extensions.
That knocks out two in NSW — Liddell and Vales Point — and one in Western Australia — Kwinana.
Secondly, as coal power stations age, they usually become less efficient and more expensive to maintain.
The list of 12:
To reduce Australia’s coal-generated energy use by 78 per cent by 2030, up to 12 power stations would have to close or severely reduce their output. Some are already pegged for closure and others are within five years of their total life so “would not be preferentially kept open”.
1. Liddell, NSW will be closed
2. Vales Point, NSW will be closed
3. Kwinana, WA will be closed
4. Yallourn, Vic will be within five years of closure
5. Gladstone, Qld will be within five years of closure
6. Eraring, NSW will be within five years of closure
7. Bayswater, NSW will be within five years of closure
8. Tarong, NSW will be within five years of closure
9. Some parts of Muja, WA will be near end-of-life
Then, from the remaining stations, the report suggests closing:
10. Loy Yang A, Vic because it uses high-emitting brown coal
11. Loy Yan B, Vic also because of its use of brown coal
12. Callide B, Qld because it would be next closest to retirement
So the library reasoned the next most likely closures to meet the IPCC pathway is to close those that are within five years of their scheduled closure, or at least 45 years old, where no scheduled closure is known.
That knocks out another six, including some well-known ones such as Bayswater in the NSW Hunter Valley, and Gladstone in Queensland.
Still, that would leave too much coal in the system. The next oldest, the library found, would be Callide B in Central Queensland, so the library considered that one might close.
Finally, although Victoria’s big brown coal stations, Loy Yang A and Loy Yang B, are set to run until about 2048, they are also the most polluting power plants in the country. Adding those to the list of closures would get Australia in line with what the IPCC said needed to happen.
So according to the Parliamentary Library, if the transition away from the use of coal-generation energy demanded by the IPCC was applied to Australia, there would be:
- One coal power station in NSW
- Five in Queensland
- Up to three in Western Australia
- None in Victoria.
That’s it. It would require 12 closures, nine of which would need to happen early, or, before the end of their scheduled life.
Of course, the 78 per cent reduction could be achieved in lots of ways, but the analysis by the Parliamentary Library makes relatively simple assumptions about which closures would be the most “likely”.
“As people digest the IPCC report, the penny is dropping that 2030 is the real deadline, a mere 12 years away,” said Greens climate and energy spokesman Adam Bandt, who commissioned the analysis.
“The IPCC is telling us that of the 16 coal-fired power stations on the eastern seaboard, at least 10 need to go in the next 12 years.
“Currently only two are scheduled to go before 2030 and some people are even talking about extending those.”
How would Australia systematically shut down the plants?
Mr Bandt called for a legislated timetable of orderly retirement and a transition fund to support the communities affected by the closures.
The now defunct Finkel Review, commissioned by the Coalition Government, recommended an orderly commission driven by an emissions trajectory and a mandatory three-year notice period for closure.
This week, the IPCC warned if the world warmed to 2C, instead of 1.5C, the Great Barrier Reef would likely be completely destroyed, twice as many people would face water scarcity, and an extra 10 million people would be impacted by sea level rise at the end of the century.
The world has already warmed by about 1C and reducing coal use in electricity generation was one of a suite of actions the IPCC found was necessary to stop warming at 1.5C.
Energy Minister Angus Taylor told the ABC the Government would “not be distracted from our goal of lowering power prices for Australian households and small businesses”.
“A debate about climate change and generation technologies in 2050 won’t bring down current power prices for Australian households and small businesses,” Mr Taylor said.
“Coal will continue to play a vital role in our energy mix, now and into the future, to ensure we can lower power prices and maintain reliability to keep the lights on.”
After the IPCC report was published, Prime Minister Scott Morrison emphasised it was not a report specifically for Australia, but for the whole world.
And Environment Minister Melissa Price said the IPCC was “drawing a long bow” in calling for an end to coal power.
“I just don’t know how you could say by 2050 that you’re not going to have technology that’s going to enable good, clean technology when it comes to coal,” she said.
“That would be irresponsible of us to be able to commit to that.”
In response to the IPCC’s findings, the Minerals Council of Australia said that the building of new coal power stations that burnt coal at higher temperatures would help the world reduce emissions.
“New high-efficiency, low-emissions (HELE) coal-fired electricity generation plants will be a part of this mix,” a Minerals Council spokesman said.
“HELE technologies significantly reduce emissions from coal-fired electricity generation.”