After more than 50 years of faithful service the Liddell coal fired power station in the Hunter Valley closed this month. While it was sad, Liddell had come to the end of its life. Machines do not last forever.
But what is more sad is that we are not building new machines that can replace Liddell. We have let a reliable coal fired power station shut while trying to replace it with unreliable solar and wind power. We will all be poorer as a result.
The early signs do not look good. On the day that Liddell shut, the market regulator had to issue four notices warning that there was a lack of power in New South Wales. A couple of nights later the inability of renewables to replace coal was clearly shown.
The Liddell coal fired power station could produce 1600 megawatts of electricity. We have installed 10,000 megawatts of wind power and 7,000 megawatts of large scale solar. So, in theory, this should be plenty to replace one coal fired power station.
However, every 24 hours a thing called night turns up making that 7,000 megawatts of solar useless. And, then sometimes the wind can just drop off for no reason.
On the Sunday night after Liddell shut, wind output dropped to below 500 megawatts. So that 10,000 megawatts of wind was producing just 5 per cent of its potential output. Suddenly, 17,000 megawatts of wind and solar could not replace a single 1600 megawatt coal fired power station.
Fortunately, on a Sunday night there is low demand for electricity, yet wholesale electricity prices still surged to $3,000 per megawatt hour, 30 times their normal levels. The concerning thing is that these wind droughts can happen at any time without prediction. If something like this happened on a very cold day in winter we would be stuffed.
Like us, Germany had shut many of its coal fired power stations and instead tried to rely on wind and solar. They live with the cold reality of wind droughts so often they have a word for it, *dunkelflaute*, or dark doldrums.
Unlike us, Germany did not blow up its coal fired power stations. It instead mothballed them so they could be brought back online if needed. The German Energy Minister, who is a member of the Greens, has been forced to bring 24 coal fired power stations back online over the past year.
Instead of facing reality and building new coal fired power stations, we continue to try every failed energy policy in history. The new Labor Government is now even trying the forever wrong initiative of price caps.
Despite the Government’s attempts to defy economic gravity, electricity futures prices are now higher than when they introduced the price caps at Christmas last year.
The solution to all of this is simple and obvious. Build new coal fired power stations to replace the old ones. China is building two coal fired power stations each week. And, we are now even selling our coal to them again.
Australia seems destined though to try every possible non-solution first. Unfortunately, that means your power bill is unlikely to come down anytime soon.
Hon Matt Canavan
Senator for QLD