In dry, technical language the Australian Energy Market Operator has warned Queensland’s Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, that her renewable energy policy could take the state down the South Australian road, where they have the misfortune to pay high prices for unreliable electricity. The Palaszczuk policy would massively increase Queensland’s reliance on intermittent renewables and erode the value of state assets such as black coal-fired generators, which provide baseload power. And all this for no discernible effect on climate change. It is a profoundly irrational course.
Ms Palaszczuk relies on modelling that suggests renewables can be increased from less than 10 per cent now to 50 per cent by 2030 without making most coal-fired stations unviable, undermining network reliability, or pushing up prices for households and industry. In its contribution to the debate, the AEMO argues that the conventional market modelling used by the Queensland government does not give an accurate picture of the day-to-day operating challenges if the network has to contend with a rapid uptake of intermittent generation. The 2030 target certainly involves a giddy rush to renewables. It would demand “the most rapid rate of generation investment (that) the Queensland power system has experienced”, the AEMO says.
The independent energy agency suggests a more accurate analysis of Queensland’s outlook could cast doubt on the government view that a majority of the black coal-fired stations would remain profitable. Earlier than expected plant closures could push up prices. Loss of this thermal generation would undermine the strength of the power system while heavy reliance on wind and solar power would harm its security and stability. The AEMO sees similar problems ahead for South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and other regions.
The AEMO’s letter to the expert panel advising Ms Palaszczuk includes a line that looks rather like ironic humour: the “AEMO presumes that power system security and reliability of energy supply will continue to be key considerations in the Queensland government’s decision to adopt a 50 per cent renewable energy target”. Not a safe presumption at all.