Cheap renewables mean no new coal or gas power for WA's South West

The WA Government expects no new coal or gas-fired power generation in the South-West will ever be built but those looking for clues to the future of Collie’s existing coal-fired power stations will have to wait for a plan to be released later this year.

Cheap renewables mean no new coal or gas power for WA's South West

All future power generation installed in the South-West of WA will be renewable energy as it is cheaper than using coal or gas, WA Minister for Energy Bill Johnston said today.

Johnston told the Renewables-led Recovery virtual conference today that solar, wind and batteries were also increasingly replacing diesel for off-grid power generation.

"You can see what can be achieved without any government subsidy because of the cost advantages of renewable energy," Johnston said of the efforts of mining companies.

The Minister said the State was seeking funds from the Commonwealth Government's COVID-19 stimulus efforts to accelerate WA's transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

"We are continuing to examine what options there are for supporting our grid in the South West and taking advantage of the unique renewable energy opportunities in the remote parts of the State," Johnston said.

"That's why we are working with the Commonwealth Government on projects that we believe would support that transition here in WA."

Johnston said WA was "very jealous" of the $6 billion the Commonwealth Government invested in 2018 to gain full ownership of the Snowy Mountains hydroelectric scheme by buying NSW and Victoria out.

The WA Government's request may be to support installations like South Australia's successful Hornsdale grid battery installed by Tesla in record time in 2017. In April the Government released a plan to manage the increasing amount of solar energy on the South West Interconnected System that called for more battery storage.

The plan, the Distributed Energy Resources Roadmap, is the first stage of the Government's energy transformation strategy for the SWIS that covers the area from Kalbarri in the north to Albany in the south and east to Kalgoorlie.

The next stage is a Whole of System Plan to be released later in 2020 will guide what investment can achieve the cheapest electricity. Johnston said he was hopeful that new transmission infrastructure would not be needed.

Coal question unanswered

A closely watched aspect of the System Plan will be what it says about the retirement of coal-fired power stations in Collie.

Collie's coal-fired power stations produced the equivalent of more than 7.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in the 12 months to June 2019, according to the Clean Energy Regulator.

The State Government launched a process in September 2019 to develop a State climate policy to support WA achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Johnston has resisted the setting of targets for a gradual reduction in carbon emissions to net-zero over the next three decades. WA Environmental Protection Authority chair Tom Hatton told The West Australian in 2019 that the scientific consensus was that a gradual fall to zero by 2050 was needed to stop global temperatures going too high.

Last August the Government announced that two 40-year old units at the State-owned Synergy's Muja power station would close in 2022 and 2024 respectively. At the time Johnston said Muja's other two units would operate into the 2030s and Synergy's Collie power station into the 2040s.

Collie is also home the privately-owned Bluewaters power station.

If the State acts consistently with the science and requires carbon emission reductions before 2050, the operation of Synergy's coal-fired power stations may be scrutinised.

Minister for Environment Stephen Dawson said the Government had temporarily paused work on the State's climate policy while it managed the COVID-19 pandemic.

Main image: Muja Power station. Source: Synergy