The Power and the Politics

The Power and the Politics Slowing Western Australia's Energy Transition

SEN Events was delighted to have Peter Milne, journalist, energy industry analyst and commentator through his online publication Boiling Cold (https://www.boilingcold.com.au. He addressed an enthusiastic audience on a squally Monday night.  

Peter gave an overview of the SW Power System and examined the current realities and future challenges in power delivery, decarbonisation and the interplay with the political issues impacting and holding back investment and development.

Key points

  • Coal units under threat, aged units designed for steady loads which do no exist today. Action to announce a plan is overdue.
  • The forward WA state gas supply trajectory shows great uncertainty with a possible shortfall from 2027.
  • The gas supply shortfall was overlaid with the backdrop of tacit justification for additional onshore gas developments by way of Strike Energy/Mitsui’s Waitsia development and Woodside’s offshore Scarborough field.
  • The recently completed WA Government Whole of System Plan (WoSP) was analysed in some detail with the impractical outcome that coal units would continue until the end of their design lives, an over-reliance on rooftop solar would see impractical, uneconomic and highly polluting open cycle gas turbines providing increasing energy levels of the power with huge emissions consequences.
  • Wind development over the forward period of the WoSP is inadequate and a paucity of transmission investment as indicated by the government could deter wind development.
  • Very little is being done to cut emissions and emissions assumptions are not even applied in the WoSP.
  • WA‘s current Climate Policy is very weak with no targets, no carbon price and no scenario (yet)  for a net zero future. This is despite the Energy Minister stating publicly that their “aspiration” for net zero 2050 “is a target”.
  • The Collie coal units on which the SWIS is highly dependent are operating outside their design which is costly and could lead to catastrophic failure or lengthy unplanned outage.
  • Bluewaters Power Station, also operating outside of its design is owned by banks who could, should the opportunity arise, hold the state to ransom with potentially unreasonable demands.
  • Vested interests have an unhealthy influence over state politics.

Peter lit a spark of hope however in his closing remarks and reminded us that the government is in an electorally strong and financially secure position and there is potential for the next iteration of the WoSP to be more aggressive in terms of positive reforms with improved environmental outcomes. The outdated conservative view of batteries that entrenches gas, needs to be reviewed so that batteries are factored in as an integral tool to power management. As well, the renewables resource-rich state has the capital to invest in new infrastructure and address the urgent need to slash emissions as much as we can.

It is time that the state stopped giving fossil fuels a free ride. Lower costs of energy supplied from renewables will be an imperative that no government will be able to ignore.

In addition, external factors will exert a strong influence. International partners and trade rules will demand and require that Australia goes green with punitive carbon border adjustment tariffs as the stick with the carrot being lower overall energy costs; In the future it is clear: buyers will want green energy.