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What the closure of Australia’s oldest coal-fired power station means for our energy transition

– Padmapriya Muralidharan, Communications Manager, RE-Alliance.

Australia’s oldest coal-fired power station, Liddell, closed the last of its operating units today. In this piece, we explore why this is important, what this means for the future of the Hunter region and what lessons this closure holds for the future of the energy transition. 

The closure is an opportunity to move to cleaner, greener, more reliable and more efficient energy sources.
When it was switched on 52 years ago, Liddell Power Station delivered the cheapest and most reliable energy.  However, like all power stations it has aged and become unreliable and inefficient over time. Initially Liddell generated 2,000MW at maximum capacity. It was later downgraded to 1,680MW. Since one of its four units shut down last year, the plant has been generating closer to 750MW. According to data group WattClarity, Liddell also needed to be restarted 335 times in 2022 – this makes for unreliable generation. 

With renewable energy, we have cleaner, greener, more reliable and more efficient ways of energy production. Announcing its closure all the way back in 2015, Liddell owner, AGL, said, "the installed capacity and energy output from Liddell is best replaced with lower emissions and more reliable generation, with a longer life span."

The fact that the original closure announcement was met with opposition illustrates how urgent transition has been stymied by politicians trying to hang on to the past. The fact it is now finally happening is a cause for both relief and optimism that the transition is now back on track. 

Building reliability through a planned transition
With eight years to plan the closure and transition to more reliable and cleaner renewable energy generation, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) said it was confident that energy reliability in New South Wales would not be impacted by the closure. “The notification of Liddell’s retirement has allowed the market to respond, with NSW forecast to meet reliability measures until at least 2025,” said Merryn York, AEMO Executive General Manager of System Design.

Recent large-scale renewable energy developments in NSW have created a pipeline of flexible energy resources. In order to support a fast transition, new “firming” capacity or flexible energy that can be utilised when renewables aren’t producing energy or at times of high demand is also being developed. Projects under construction in NSW include the 700MW/1400MWh Waratah super battery, the 300MW/1200MWh Calala battery, the 200MW/400MWh Tamworth Big Battery and the Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro project to name a few.

The future of the region
The Hunter region has previously been synonymous with coal. Plans to develop the Hunter Energy Hub with grid-scale battery, solar thermal storage, wind, hydrogen and pumped hydro projects have created a new opportunity: to make the region the model for socio-economic resilience powered by clean energy. 

The Liddell Power Station has created jobs for multiple generations in the region. Reskilling programs are crucial to ensure that the region continues to offer economic prospects to its residents. We believe that a National Transition Authority is needed to ensure re-skilling and retraining workers to ensure they are ready to participate in growth industries like renewables, and investing in diversifying the economies of impacted communities. For this reason, we are engaged in advocacy and partnership calling upon the Federal Government to establish the National Transition Authority.

Coal closures are necessary for a climate-safe future
If Australia is committed to creating a climate-safe future, emissions reduction targets need to be met – and coal closures are the number one priority for reducing our emissions. With the closure of Liddell, AGL, Australia’s largest carbon polluter, will reduce its emissions by 17%.

Energy production is Australia’s biggest source of emissions. Reducing emissions from Australia’s electricity generation will be the main driver of emissions reductions in Australia’s economy, delivering over a third of the target 43% by 2030.

The energy transition is an opportunity to build resilience
As more coal-fired power stations close, rapid transition to renewable energy ahead of closures is important to keep our energy systems reliable and resilient. It is equally important to ensure transmission networks are built to bring the generated renewable energy to the grid. 

With Liddell, we have seen that the closure of coal power stations, when planned in advance, can lead to better energy reliability, lower prices and reduced emissions. At the same time, this is an opportunity to create resilient communities in regional Australia. A National Transition Authority can help create this for regions.

We believe a swift and just energy transition is crucial to build a climate-safe future; we are committed to ensuring regional communities are supported through the energy switch. 

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