OPINION: Coal Vital to Ensure Turnbull's Hydro Plan is Snow Joke

March 21, 2017

As appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 21st March 2017

Malcolm Turnbull deserves praise for his bold plan to expand the Snowy Hydro scheme. It’s a good step but not the game-changer some believe. It will provide a handy increase in electricity generation capacity. However, this increase will only replace what’s going or gone from our national grid through power plant closures in Victoria and South Australia.
 
The Snowy Hydro scheme has a generation capacity of 4100 megawatts (MW) of electricity.
 
Coal still has a big role to play as it’s abundant and affordable.

Increasing this by half as proposed will deliver another 2000MW of capacity. That’s a good start but not enough to meet future needs.
 
In Victoria, the Hazelwood coal-fired power station will close soon. In South Australia the Northern coal-fired power station has already closed. The combined capacity of these two plants is about 2120 MW, or about the same as the Snowy Hydro expansion. So the Turnbull plan will only replace previously existing capacity in at least five years, but probably longer, if it goes ahead.
 
Further existing generation capacity is also at risk in this time frame. NSW has five coal-fired power plants, with a combined capacity of around 10,400MW. On any day these plants provide 80 per cent of our electricity and often much more.
 
Mr Turnbull has announced a major expansion of the Snowy Hydro scheme.
 
Of these five plants, Liddell is the oldest. It is theoretically due for retirement in five years, and has a 2000MW capacity — the same as the Snowy Hydro expansion. So even if the Turnbull plan goes ahead, closing Liddell puts us back to where we started before a sod is even turned on the Snowy.
 
Clearly, more baseload power is needed. Hydro-generated power does help but it’s not foolproof. Last decade during prolonged drought Snowy Hydro was dependent for a time on coal-fired power to pump water into its dams. Eastern Australia tends to have a big drought about once every 10 years so we still need more traditional capacity as even the Turnbull plan needs a back-up.
 
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the Snowy Hydro Scheme in Talbingo.
 
Additional capacity is not coming from gas any time soon. We have a gas supply shortage, and a desperate scramble to find more just to keep manufacturing businesses going.
 
So coal still has a big role to play. It’s reliable, affordable and abundant. New technology coal-fired power plants operate much more efficiently than older plants and with emissions reduced by up to 40 per cent. We have the highest quality coal in the world right here in NSW with existing distribution infrastructure. Other countries use these plants and our coal. So why don’t we?
 
Finally, here’s another reality check. Environmental activists are already warning that any Snowy Hydro expansion cannot involve any new dams or threaten any habitat or wildlife. How long will it take before some rare native grass, frog or bird is found that puts the whole plan at risk? Let’s hope the national interest can prevail.
 
Stephen Galilee is CEO of the NSW Minerals Council

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