Goodbye to Brown Coal by David Strang

So what's stopping us from saying goodbye to our unreliable and polluting old coal generators?

Energy Australia protest - climate criminals

Australia is blessed with an abundance of renewable energy resources.  We have a country well suited to the generation of electricity from solar and wind to support our hydro-electric generators.  In addition, we have an incredible opportunity to create a new major export industry by generating hydrogen for export.  A transition to renewable energy sources is environmentally and financially beneficial.  But instead, we cling to outdated brown coal fired generators.  It makes no sense.

In an effort to understand our government I have spent the last few weeks trying to understand why it is so difficult for Victoria to rid itself of its brown coal fired generators.   The generators themselves are old and unreliable and we live in a country blessed with an abundance of renewable energy.  It just doesn’t make sense – NO SENSE AT  ALL.

Brown coal generators fail in the heat

No matter how much I read I couldn’t find one single logical reason for us not to transition.  I read and examined a number of possible reasons for the lack of an aggressive plan to close these polluting generators but on examination they all lacked substance.  Every obstacle raised had a clear solution.    

The issues that I considered are as follows:

  • The transition to renewables might lead to a rise in electricity prices
    • In fact renewable energy is highly competitive (and the cost is falling).  It is the unreliability of the old coal generators that causes high electricity prices;
    • Both SA and the ACT which have transitioned much faster than Victoria have lower wholesale prices than Victoria.
  • A network reliant on renewables will be unreliable (what happens when the wind doesn’t blow)
    • The current unreliability in our grid is largely due to the old coal fired generators;
    • Our engineers have resolved this issue and grid firming is now available and working.
  • There are not sufficient investors
    • This is clearly not true, although investors need certainty which could be provided by a plan to de-commission the coal fired generators.
  • Closing the generators will cause economic and social problems
    • There are real issues to be faced and it will be necessary to provide significant assistance to ensure a just transition – this means action and not just words.
  • The grid and the distribution networks will not support the transition
    • It is apparent that our networks are poorly prepared but we have the smarts to work around these issues with a combination of:
      • Batteries embedded in the network to manage loads;
      • Placing new generation plant close to existing transmission equipment;
      • Significantly increasing generation and electricity trading within the cities to reduce demands on the grid through the use of VPNs;
      • Reducing demand by using electricity more efficiently.

So why is there no plan to decommission Victoria’s brown coal fired power stations when it would clearly be in the best interest of the population?

Luckily I  met a senior lecturer in the School of Social and Political Sciences and the Centre of Health and Society at the University of Melbourne who provided documents that indicated that there was no plan in place because the Minerals Council of Australia and other like-minded organisations did not want it.  In blunt terms federal politicians are funded by the big end of town and will always do what they want ahead of what is right.  Inaction at the federal level now makes sense.

So why hasn’t the current Victorian Government taken action. 
Well, they have taken some positive steps, but they are still worried that doing the right thing may impact them adversely.  They too are partially funded by big corporations but they also have to respect the interests of the unions and also have to consider how actions will be assessed by voters.  However, with the correct messaging they can be persuaded to take action.

So, my conclusion is that it is the power of the fossil fuel producers, through their donations to the major political parties, that is stopping our transition to renewables and a safer world. We can change this by presenting a consolidated front to the Victorian government showing that all parties (apart from the Minerals Council) support the speedy closure of the brown coal fired generators.

by David Strang

So what to do next?

Leave coal in the ground

Images from a protest this week at climate laggard Energy Australia (who operates the dirtiest power station in Australia, Yallourn) illustrate the growing pressure from consumers and the public over the delayed transition to clean energy that are already impacting energy companies social licence. 

Energy Australia protest pressure

From investor pressure, disrupted AGMs, reputational losses to the increased possibility of climate lawsuits, companies such as Energy Australia are feeling the heat.

Energy Australia is feeling the heat

EMCA is pleased to join Environment Victoria's and Friend of the Earth's campaigns on moving Victoria beyond coal and increasing Victoria's climate ambition in the lead up to the 
Emission Reductions Target announcement in March 2020.

Energy Australia protest speakers

What can we do? Calls and emails to your own State MP's office are very much noticed. Check out Environment Victoria's support and training materials here.

Are you interested in joining a team to speak to your MP? We'd love you to sign up on our Volunteer page - we will be organising more MP visits both in the next month and also next year. Climate ambition matters, and it is vital that Victoria adopts safer targets that are based on science.


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