On 9 September 2016, the smokestacks at the Playford coal fired power station were blown up. The then Premier of South Australia, Jay Weatherill, was adamant that "There's no future in coal-fired power generation." By the end of the month, the lights in the whole of South Australia went out as lack of reliable electricity exposed the weakness of renewable electricity.
The South Australian Government then spent over $500 million on a gas fired power plant to firm up supply.
A few months later in early 2017, the Hazelwood power station, which provided 20 per cent of Victoria's electricity supplies, closed. At the time, the national energy regulator expressed calm saying that "the closure of Hazelwood will not compromise the security of the Victoria electricity system." By the end of the year the regulator had changed its mind and said "a heightened risk of supply disruptions for the coming summer in Victoria." Diesel generators were quickly bought to sure up the supply of electricity.
Regulators don't celebrate the closure of large coal fired power stations now. News of another power station closure is described in terms of doom. The Energy Security Board earlier this year warned that "Increasing penetration of variable renewable energy resources and distributed energy resources is making it more difficult to maintain security, and low wholesale prices are reducing the incentive for traditional generators to remain online at all times."
Their prediction has come true within months. Last week the latest series in the destruction of our once famed energy system was announced. Another coal fired power station, Yallourn, which supplies around 20 per cent of Victoria's power, is shutting early by 2028.
We are reducing the amount of electricity we can supply. Lower supply means higher prices, fewer jobs and the continuing de-industrialisation of Australia.
Some will claim that we can afford to lose the old, clunky coal fired power stations because we are investing so much in renewable energy. That is half true with Australia on track to install 45 gigawatts of solar and wind power over the next 20 years, some of the highest per capita investments in renewable power in the world.
This sounds like enough to replace the 25 gigawatts of coal and gas fired power due to shut over the next 20 years. Except that solar only works 20 per cent of the time and wind only 30 per cent of the time. So the 45 gigawatts of renewables we have planned is really only worth 10 gigawatts leaving a massive 15 gigawatt hole in electricity requirements.
If we keep reducing our electricity supplies at this rate we won't be able to make things like aluminium anymore because it is a very energy intensive. That would see thousands of people lose their jobs in Gladstone and devastate the Central Queensland economy.
We are not going to smelt aluminium through wind, solar or hydrogen power. If we want to keep a thriving aluminium industry in Central Queensland we must keep the coal fired power stations here running.
It is not too late for us turn this around and invest back in the reliable power that can save jobs, keep the lights on and push power prices down. While we are busy shutting down all our coal fired power stations, China last year installed 38 gigawatts of new coal fired power in one year. That is right, China installed more coal power in just one year than all the coal power we have.
No wonder more and more of what we buy at the shops is Made in China. If we don't want to see the little yellow kangaroo on the green triangle disappear, we need to build some new coal fired power stations to replace the old ones.