Australian energy policy is rapidly evolving from expensive virtue signalling to actual disaster.
After narrowly scraping through the federal election with 77 of 151 seats, the government has implemented several measures designed to accelerate emissions reduction well beyond existing targets.
In 2016, the Turnbull government ratified the original Paris Agreement with a 28 per cent target for 2030. The Albanese government has increased that commitment to 43 per cent, but with only half the time left to attain it. Considering the financial and environmental costs involved in attempting to meet even the 28 per cent target, accelerating emissions reduction over a shorter duration will be extremely difficult. And difficult means expensive.
Rewiring the Nation is an emissions reduction plan announced early on, comprising a new $20 billion bureaucracy dedicated to forcing transmission lines through farmers’ paddocks. For context, the State of the Energy Market report values the entire east coast transmission grid at $21.7 billion. The last $20 billion dollar government project was the NBN, which ended up costing double that (and counting).
AEMO’s much-vaunted Integrated System Plan – supposedly the ‘least regret’ solution to achieving incredibly high renewables outcomes – is now completely irrelevant, with ISP projects brought forwards by as much as two decades. Instead of three projects completed by 2030, an ambitious nine new transmission lines are pledged to be completed in the same time-frame.
Another early promise is an 82 per cent renewables target imposed on the crumbling electricity system — a system fragmenting into smaller weather-dependent generators that is rapidly shrinking the margin between a stable grid and blackouts. With the National Electricity Market already on life-support, the outlook for low cost and high reliability is grim.
Billions of dollars worth of perfectly functional power stations are being deliberately run down and closed early. The physics of electricity generation remains unchanged, so replacing these shuttered generators will require alternatives — synchronous condensers and grid-scale batteries; demand management and virtual power plants; curtailing wind and solar; five-minute settlement and emergency reserves; and, of course, lots more transmission lines.
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Ben Beattie is an electrical engineer in the power and natural gas sector.