One of Australia’s dirtiest coal-fired power plants, Yallourn in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, is closing four years ahead of schedule and will be replaced, in part, by a giant battery.
EnergyAustralia announced Wednesday that it would shut down the 1,480-megawatt brown coal plant built in the 1970s by mid-2028.
There have been several aging generator outages in recent years and a widespread expectation that at least one coal plant would shut down prematurely due to an influx of cheap renewable energy making them financially unviable.
About 500 workers at the plant and the connected coal mine were informed of the decision Wednesday morning. The company’s managing director, Catherine Tanna, told a subsequent press conference that EnergyAustralia had a plan that was supported by the Victorian government and included a $ 10 million workforce support package.
Climate activists said the shutdown was inevitable, and not soon enough given the scientific evidence, and called for a government-backed transition plan for the affected cities of Gippsland.
Tanna said the company would build a large, long-lasting battery, with four hours of storage and a maximum power capacity of 350 megawatts, by 2026 to help ensure a secure power supply when the plant closes. She said it was larger than any working battery, but larger batteries were proposed elsewhere.
He said the world of energy was changing rapidly and the company was committed to ensuring storage was installed before Yallourn closed.
“EnergyAustralia is determined to show that coal-fired power can go off the market in a way that supports our people and ensures that customers continue to receive reliable power,” he said.
Yallourn has the capacity to supply around 20% of Victoria’s electricity and 8% of generation on the national grid, which covers the five eastern states and ACT. The Australian Institute said it had decomposed 50 times in just over three years. Removing it would reduce national greenhouse gas emissions by about 3% and Victoria’s emissions by 13%.
Conservation group Environment Victoria said the announcement highlighted the pressure on coal and the need to act more quickly to replace it. The group’s chief executive, Jono La Nauze, said avoiding the worst impacts of the climate crisis meant that coal-fired power plants had to close by 2030, and called on governments to orchestrate a faster shift to clean energy, including support for affected communities.
“This very week, the United Nations secretary-general called on developed countries to phase out coal power by 2030,” he said. “This is the task before us, and our state and federal governments must rise to the challenge.”
Latrobe City Council Mayor Sharon Gibson said she had heard rumors that the plant could close early, but was surprised by the announcement.
He said the region had yet to recover from the comparatively abrupt closure of the Hazelwood coal plant four years ago, and urged federal and state politicians and businesses to meet with the community to plan for a “proper transition,” warning not to there was time for “things around.”
“Without politics, we have to see what can be put in place to make sure we have a viable community that comes out of this,” he said. “Can we be a recycling center? Can we be a food manufacturing center? These are some of the things we need to keep in mind. “
Victoria’s Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the government would put workers at the center of its response to the announcement, including creating a Yallourn worker transition and support service within the Valley Authority of Existing Latrobe, which was established after the Hazelwood closure.
“The truth is, we are seeing these old coal-fired power plants come to a halt around the world as countries and businesses are shifting to new, cleaner, more reliable and more efficient forms of energy,” he said.
“We cannot ignore that change or pretend it is not happening, and we owe it to these workers to build a modern energy grid that creates and supports thousands of Victorian jobs.”
Brown and black coal plants have faced increased financial pressure in recent years, as solar and wind power have been built faster than most experts expected.
A recent analysis by two groups, Green Energy Markets and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (Ieefa), found that, between 2018 and 2025, new solar and wind plants would add around 70,000 gigawatt hours of clean supply each year.
This is equivalent to more than a third of the use of the national network. The result has been a drop in wholesale electricity prices, which has been good for consumers, but not for fossil fuel generators.
The drop, up to 70% in Victoria over the past year, has put particular pressure on inflexible coal plants that are not designed to go up and down, and cannot compete with the massive surge in near-free solar power amidst the day.
Experts, including Kerry Schott, chairman of the national Energy Safety Board, have warned that anticipated coal shutdowns and increased demand for variable renewable energy are a major revamp of the rules governing the national energy market. This year you should receive their advice on the subject.
Federal Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor said the government understood that EnergyAustralia had made a business decision and that the plant closure would raise “reliability and affordability concerns.”
“As an essential service, the Commonwealth government expects the market to intensify to deliver enough dispatchable generation to keep the lights on and prices low once Yallourn closes,” he said.
Taylor said his thoughts were with the plant workers, their families and the local business owners who depended on the plant for their livelihoods.
He said the government will model the impact of the shutdown “to hold the industry to account” and ensure that there is enough flexible capacity in the system necessary to ensure electricity is affordable and reliable for consumers.
Australia’s Energy Market Operator (Aemo) published a plan for an optimal grid last year that found that between 6GW and 19GW of new flexible power capacity would be needed by 2040 to support a grid that runs primarily on solar and wind power. .
It found that this could come from batteries, hydroelectric pumping, demand management (users are paid to reduce electricity use at peak hours) and gas, but suggested that the new energy to gas, the only fossil fuel in the list is probably more expensive. than other options. There are five large-scale batteries with a total capacity of 260MW connected to the grid, and another 7,400MW planned.
An Aemo spokesperson said Wednesday that it welcomed EnergyAustralia’s announcement as it would allow for a thoughtful response from the market.
Pressure is mounting within the international community, from governments and investors, for a faster move away from coal. New US climate envoy John Kerry has called for a faster exit from fossil fuel while pushing for countries to commit to more ahead of a major climate conference in Glasgow in November.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism