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AEMO: Community acceptance the key for huge buildout of transmission and renewables

Coal is exiting rapidly, renewables are urgently needed, and community acceptance is key, says AEMO’s Draft 2024 Integrated System Plan.

Last Friday, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), Australia’s central grid authority, released the draft 2024 Integrated System Plan (ISP)

The plan is a 20-year draft roadmap for Australia’s electricity system (the National Electricity Market or NEM). It maps out how we can reach our ambitious renewable energy targets and, in doing so, address climate change. This draft will be refined before the full version is released mid-2024.

What are the significant takeaways from the Draft 2024 ISP?

Coal closure is forecast to happen much quicker than expected.

The ISP predicts that Australia’s remaining coal fired generators are “likely to close earlier than planned,” saying they are becoming less reliable, more difficult to maintain and less able to compete with the growing share of renewables. It suggests that coal fired generation will be gone from Queensland and Victoria within a decade, and that the last coal unit will close in NSW by 2038. 

This prediction accelerates the exit of coal by five years from the previous ISP – and AEMO acknowledges it could happen even faster than this.

We need an even faster build-out of renewables than predicted…

From ISP modelling, AEMO selects an optimal development path (ODP) that sets out the capacity of new generation, firming, storage and transmission needed in the NEM through to 2050. The ODP calls for investment that would “Triple grid-scale variable renewable energy by 2030, and increase it seven-fold by 2050.” About 6 GW of capacity would need to be added every year, compared to the current rate of almost 4 GW, coming to a total of 55 GW of grid-scale solar capacity and 70 GW of grid-scale wind capacity by 2050.

…which means we need more transmission infrastructure…

We need to build new transmission lines to connect more wind and solar power to the grid.

AEMO maintains from the previous ISP that we need to build 5,000km of new transmission lines in the next decade. It’s worth noting that the NEM already has over 40,000km of transmission lines so the augmentation of the current network is a modest one.

Even with construction costs for transmission increasing, AEMO maintains that the lowest-cost pathway for reliable electricity through the transition is from renewable energy, connected by transmission.

This will save us billions of dollars over the long term by linking our electricity bills to the abundance of Australian wind and sun, instead of inflationary global coal and gas markets.

Regional communities, Traditional Owners and environmental stakeholders need to be brought to the table as we plan and build this critical infrastructure. RE-Alliance has been pushing AEMO and transmission companies to better listen to and reflect regional community priorities, and we will continue to do so.

… which makes community acceptance ever more critical.

We are glad to see the ISP consider social licence more than ever before. AEMO recognises that, “communities are being asked, for the most part, to host this new energy infrastructure for the benefit of all energy consumers.”

They emphasise the need for developing trust-based relationships, and say: “Developers and energy institutions must ensure that those being asked to host infrastructure are engaged early, consistently and respectfully; that voices and concerns are considered and responded to; that negative impacts are minimised wherever possible; and that potential opportunities and benefits are maximised and distributed fairly.”

As a member of AEMO’s Advisory Council on Social Licence, we were pleased to have input in the development of the Draft 2024 ISP, especially in regards to the focus on social licence in an appendix to the report.

AEMO is taking public submissions on the draft report. Submissions on the Draft 2024 ISP are due by 16 February 2024.

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