The way forward for Australia’s energy system hinges on the success of a series of new transmission lines, which will link new renewable wind and solar farms to demand centres on the east coast.
This was brought into sharp focus by Origin Energy’s announcement that Australia's biggest coal generator, the 2880 MW Eraring power plant, is going to be shut in 2025, 7 years earlier than expected. To keep the lights on, the build-out of transmission projects included in the Australian Energy Market Operator’s (AEMO’s) Draft 2022 Integrated System Plan (ISP) is now more critical and some may now need to be delivered even earlier than foreshadowed.
The Draft ISP included several new actionable ISP projects within NSW. These are projects for which work should commence at the earliest planned time. It includes the new England REZ transmission link and the Sydney ring (reinforcing Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong supply), which were both to be delivered by July 2027. Another major project, HumeLink, was recommended for early works to be delivered by 2024 with the full project to be delivered by July 2026 if decision rules demonstrating that consumers benefit from the project are passed.
This is in addition to the Central West Orana REZ transmission network project, which is an already committed ISP project.
The NSW Government has announced that it will install a 700MW/1400MWh grid battery. This battery - called the ‘Waratah Super Battery’ - will be the largest network standby battery in the Southern Hemisphere. The Government states that the Waratah Super Battery, together with other minor transmission upgrades, will allow Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong consumers to access more energy from existing electricity generation. Its role is not to supply energy but to increase the ability of existing transmission networks to deliver power to where it is needed in all circumstances.
To build these transmission projects in the timeframes recommended by AEMO, it is important that the projects are accepted by local communities, who will host new transmission lines on their properties. Landholders should be consulted early in the process and appropriate payment arrangements should be available to those hosting new transmission lines.
Late last year, the NSW Government commenced reviewing landholder compensation arrangements which are currently tied to compulsory acquisition arrangements under the Land Acquisition (Just Terms Compensation) Act 1991. This review needs to be expedited and open to public consultation.
Also late last year, prominent Australian environmental and conservation organisations, including RE-Alliance, released a joint statement supporting renewable energy transmission lines as essential pieces of infrastructure required to bring more renewable energy into the grid and combat climate change.
CSIRO recently showed how renewable generation - solar and wind - is much cheaper than other forms of energy and that it is pricing coal and gas out of the market. Eraring’s closure demonstrates what this looks like in the real world. This is a great thing because of its cheaper power prices for households and because we must move away from fossils as quickly as we can to drastically reduce Australia’s high emissions. However, we need critical transmission infrastructure to replace the old coal-based grid to a distributed network of variable renewable energy.
Eraring’s early exit shows that coal generation will exit faster than expected. Coal fired power stations are closing early. We need to get delivery of Renewable Energy Zones right; look after neighbours of wind & solar farms, support local communities and ensure locals have a voice in strategic decisions.