Mad energy policy puts Australia on an unfortunate list

JAPANESE EXAMPLE: Yokohama's high efficiency low emissions (HELE) clean coal-fired power station.
JAPANESE EXAMPLE: Yokohama's high efficiency low emissions (HELE) clean coal-fired power station.

Google the term “load shedding”, which means asking big industry to ease production when there’s not enough power to supply homes and business, and you will see the practice is common in countries such as India, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

And, these days, Australia.

Australia’s energy policy makers and regulators should be asked to explain to the public how it is that one of the wealthiest and resource-rich nations on earth can end up on a list like this. Yet these same people remain committed to doubling down on the policies that have led us to this point – prioritising emissions reduction at any cost, rather than adopting a moderate approach to a clean energy future that ensures electricity is affordable and reliable, as is proposed under the National Energy Guarantee.

Perhaps if the $50 million worth of taxpayers’ money that has been paid to industrial users to cut production were to come from their own pockets, those in charge of policy and regulation would feel differently. But since it is taxpayers who are footing the bill, there seems no end to this national disgrace.

The madness of shutting down reliable baseload generators is proving to be far more damaging to Australia’s economy than the carbon tax ever was. Over 5200 MW of coal-fired power stations have been closed in the past 10 years. During that same period, household and business power prices have surged more than 80-90 per cent.

Australia is at a crossroads where its politicians and regulators must decide what kind of industrial base it wants in the future. Without cheap and reliable electricity, the ripple effect of high power prices through our industrial and manufacturing industry will be immense.

A continued path of high power prices and unreliable power supply will force many to shift their operations and jobs overseas. In the Hunter, the most immediate and significant boost to business confidence and growth that governments could deliver is investment in a new high efficiency low emissions (HELE) clean coal-fired power station to replace Liddell power station if it closes in 2022. Globally there are almost 800 HELE power stations operating, planned or under construction, including in advanced economies such as the US, China, Germany, Japan and South Korea.

But NSW has none.

While renewables have an important role in a clean energy future, we can’t afford to simply throw out coal-fired power – jobs and affordable electricity rely on it. With the impending closure of Liddell Power Station, which accounts for over 10 per cent of the state’s total electricity generation, the NSW Government should make a real investment in the economy by supporting the construction of a HELE power station to deliver cheap and reliable electricity for families and businesses in the Hunter and beyond.

A new HELE power station would secure real cheap and reliable electricity over the long-term, create and support thousands of jobs in the region, and support big industrial employers such as Tomago Aluminium. Without that the only winners in our struggling electricity market will be the big electricity retailers, whose ability to leverage high wholesale power prices into huge profits is mercurial. Sadly, the losers will be ordinary families and businesses who will be left to foot the bill. 

Nathan Vass is founder of the Australian Power Project, a leading advocacy group calling for a balanced and sustainable approach to achieving a clean energy future.