Australia closes its oldest coal-fired power plant

Australia is preparing for a radical shift towards renewable energy. The country, which is one of the main exporters of coal in the world and so far the red lantern in terms of environmental protection, closed its oldest coal-fired power plant on Friday. Liddell Power Station, located about three hours drive north of Sydney, is one of a series of aging coal-fired power stations due to close in the coming years.

Built in 1971, Liddell supplied around 10% of the electricity consumed in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state. It will take two years to destroy it, says its operator, AGL, according to which the site can then be used for a clean energy project, such as a hydrogen power plant. “More than 90% of the plant’s materials will be recycled, including 70,000 tonnes of steel, which is more steel than the Sydney Harbor Bridge,” said the public company.

“A fairly rapid gradual withdrawal”

For decades, coal provided the bulk of Australia’s electricity, but plants like Liddell’s quickly became unreliable “wrecks”, University of London renewable energy expert Mark Diesendorf told AFP. New South Wales. Inefficient, polluting and expensive to maintain, these coal-fired power stations would defeat Australia’s climate goals if they continue to be used.

Australia has long been one of the largest coal producers and exporters in the world and through governments has resisted pressure to reduce activity in the sector. But the centre-left government, elected last year on a promise of climate action, has pledged that 82% of Australia’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2030. It s This is a sea change: while top performers such as Norway generate over 90% of their electricity from renewable sources, Australia currently generates only around 30%. “The plans call for a fairly rapid phased withdrawal,” continues Mark Diesendorf. “These plants should have already been closed and there is no economic argument to replace them with new coal-fired plants”.

On the right track

Under increasing public pressure, many Australian fossil fuel companies prefer to shut down old coal-fired power plants rather than keep them running. Liddell was originally scheduled to close in 2022, but AGL says it has kept it in service until April to ensure “the reliability of the system”. Australia’s largest coal-fired power station, Eraring in New South Wales, is set to close in 2025 with a handful more to follow over the next decade. These closures will test whether renewables can bridge the gap, climate finance expert Tim Buckley told AFP.

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A government report released on Friday says Australia is on the right track. The Australian energy market operator found that record levels of renewable electricity generation – mainly solar power – was already driving down emissions and electricity prices for households. Because Australia, bathed in sunshine and blessed with sparsely populated, windswept coastlines, has all the natural ingredients to become a renewable energy superpower, according to Tim Buckley.

“A real contradiction”

For the expert, the most difficult will be to find a way to store this energy and transport it over the vast distances that separate Australian cities. “The chances of everything going well by 2030 are close to zero,” he admits. Even if things go well, Australia faces enormous challenges to reach its goal of net zero emissions by 2050. For the past decade, a “climate war” has dominated Australian politics, undermining repeatedly attempts to reduce carbon emissions.

In 2020, researchers found that 8% of Australians denied the existence of climate change, more than double the global average. Transport accounts for 19% of emissions in Australia, one of the only advanced economies to lack energy efficiency standards, which the government has pledged to rectify soon. While Australia is betting on renewables for its domestic market, it continues to rely on fossil fuels to boost its export economy: dozens of new coal mines, oil fields and gas projects are being planned. “In continuing to develop gas fields and coal mines for export, we are terribly behind,” said Mark Diesendorf. “It’s a real contradiction. »

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