THE decision by Origin Energy to close Australia’s largest coal power station shows that policy leadership is needed to accelerate an energy transition that is already under way.
The decision to close Eraring power station is unsurprising. But it does provide more proof that the government needs to step in to make sure more outdated coal plants come offline sooner, and that transition plans for workers and communities are in place.
Policy certainty for industry is important. We know that markets respond well to policy certainty.
The Origin announcement, which followed a similar announcement by AGL, shows that industry is bent on greenwashing business as usual coal operations.
To force industry to close coal-fired power plants, and provide confidence for investors looking to put money into renewables, we need government to commit to a net-zero emissions electricity sector, and make preparations for that transition.
The urgency of climate change makes this transition inevitable. Limiting climate change to 2degrees requires a shift from coal to renewables worldwide. Australian communities deserve a government that is committed to making this change in an organised and well-managed fashion, providing a just transition for workers and taking advantage of opportunities for jobs in an expanding renewables sector.
The government has a choice. Either to listen to the community, international markets and climate scientists and take the opportunities presented by investing in renewables, or continue the current policy of approving new coal mines and letting existing coal plants close in a chaotic and sporadic manner.
The announcement by Environment Minister Greg Hunt to reapprove the massive Carmichael mine in the Galilee Basin shows just how far the government’s energy policy is from what is needed. Another mine, creating more pollution, more health costs for the community and more stress on our environment is the last thing the Australian economy needs.
Australia is already being left behind by the international community, with China and India both spearheading coal closure and investment in renewable energy. China invested $83billion in renewables in 2014, while investment in Australia all but dried up. With the right policy support, Australia has an opportunity to instead lead the way in an international renewable-powered economy.
Investments in renewable energy are expected to top $23trillion internationally by 2035, according to the recent Beyond Zero Emissions report. And a further $2.3trillion will be invested over this time by energy-intensive industries.
However, this is a swiftly closing door, with continued coal obsession at a government level lining us up instead for a dinosaur economy burdened with stranded assets.
First we have record low coal prices, then we have investors pulling out of fossil fuels, now we have businesses shutting up shop.
From November 27 in cities all over Australia, the People’s Climate March will show that the community is firmly behind the push for a cleaner energy future and recognises the urgent need for the clean-energy transition.
Hannah Aulby is a clean-energy campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation