Western Australia to be coal free by 2030 with Muja power station closure

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The state government said Western Australia will shut down its last coal-fired power plant before the end of the decade and will spend an additional half a billion dollars to encourage new jobs for protesting workers.

Later this year, the first units of the 854MW Muja power station near Koli, south of Perth, will be shut down, with the entire facility being shut down by 2029. The nearby 340MW Coley power plant will be phased out by the end of 2027, Premier Mark McGowan said in a statement on Tuesday.

The state will join South Australia, the Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania in converting its power generation to coal. Last year, a report by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AMO) said Australia could go completely coal-free by 2043.

WA operates its electricity grid separately from the rest of the country. The government said the growth in solar power — particularly on rooftops — has made the remaining two coal-fired power plants less viable.

On Tuesday afternoon, coal, solar and gas had almost equal market shares.

“Our current power system is becoming increasingly unstable due to the trend towards rooftop solar panels and the growing demand for renewable alternatives for production,” McGowan said. “Western Australia will implement a judicious, managed transition to greater use of renewable energy for power generation, while ensuring that power reliability is a priority.”

The support package includes spending an additional $547.4 million to help shift coal workers into new industries in the Koli region. This is in addition to the $115 million already committed.

“This investment makes economic sense as it pays for itself by 2030-31 rather than continuing to pay increasing subsidy under the status quo,” McGowan said.

State-owned Synergy now operates two coal-fired power plants as part of the Southwest Power Grid, which serves WA’s major population centers. It will oversee an estimated $3.8 billion investment in “new green energy infrastructure statewide,” including wind farms and new storage, the statement said.

ABC reported that about 1,200 workers in the Koli area would be affected by the closures.

McGowan said increases in household electricity bills would be kept in line with inflation. Without action to phase out coal, those bills would increase from the current average rate of about $1,800 to $3,000 per year, and Synergy’s subsidies to cover mounting losses would increase to $3 billion by 2029-30.

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As part of the changes, the government has committed not to commission any new natural gas-fired power plants on the south-west grid after 2030. Gas supply will be reserved as part of the spin-off of 15% of gas production in the state, a scheme some would like to see implemented in eastern Australia to ensure supply and limit price increases.

The government said that phasing out coal power would reduce Synergy’s carbon emissions by 80% by 2030, including a 40% reduction in emissions on the Southwest grid compared to 2020-21 levels.

WA Energy Secretary Bill Johnson said the state is adding new rooftop solar arrays each year, which is equivalent to adding a new coal-fired generating unit.

“We will be working closely with affected businesses, workers and communities to ensure we create new jobs and training opportunities for future-proof Collies for decades to come,” he said.

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