Well it is if the country stays on its present policy trajectory.
Sophie Vorrath at RenewEconomy comments on the latest pitt&sherry electricity emissions update (April data). Back in 1998 coal used to supply 90% of NSW’s National Electricity Market (NEM) electricity. Now this has fallen to less than 75%. One factor is that demand is falling more in NSW than in other states, as shown in these graphs:
Figure 1: Channges in electricity demand by state
An aluminium smelter at Kurri Kurri has closed, as has Shell’s Clyde oil refinery. Also coal fired power stations use a large proportion of the electricity they generate for their own operation, and this electricity consumption is included in NEM total demand. Here NSW is losing out. Tristan Edis at Climate Spectator has the story:
The reality is that the NSW coal generators are the meat in the sandwich of the National Electricity Market.
To the north they face some relatively new, efficient and lower emission Queensland coal generators that they can’t push off their perch. Then to the south they have the dirt cheap brown coal generators, several of whom are old and emissions intensive, but their fuel is so cheap it almost doesn’t matter.
Then you add the fact that electricity demand has taken a bigger dive in NSW than any other state and a $23 carbon price, and the NSW coal generators start to really hurt.
Life is then further complicated by the fact that when the South Australian wind really blows it squeezes the Victorian brown coal generation into NSW. And provided the Coalition doesn’t fiddle with the Renewable Energy Target, there will be an awful lot more of this wind power to contend with.
Profits of coal power generators are down between 45 and 70%. This is inconvenient for the NSW Government which wants to sell them for a good price.
Overall electricity generation has turned negative, but emissions even more so:
Figure 2: Changes in electricity generation and emissions
That suggests a greater call on renewables, which turns out to be the case:
Figure 3: Changes by fuel type
Black coal is the big loser, but the biggest winner is gas. The report is emphatic that the carbon price is having an effect, although the trends predate its introduction.
This story is only about electricity in the NEM area, that is, excluding WA and NT. Overall this is the picture for all greenhouse emission except LULUCF (land use and agriculture), from the December 2012 quarter report combined with the April update (pdf):
Figure 4: GHG emissions
That graph masks the subplot in petroleum, which is worth a closer look:
Figures 5 & 6: Changes in petroleum
Bulk diesel is used in such activities as farming, road transport and mining. Sooner or later attention will have to be given to petroleum uses in these areas. Tony Windsor flatly refused to have petrol included in the carbon pricing scheme. His point was that country folk have few options in vehicle usage.
It is time now to ask the question as to what happens if darkness spreads across the land after the September election. Giles Parkinson asks whether renewables might be doomed. He has an interesting account of the views of Mike Nahan, the new energy minister in WA who is straight out of Institute for Public Affairs central casting – literally.
Federally Gary Gray, Ian Mcfarlane and Martin Ferguson are very much cut from the same cloth. Ferguson and Gray were constrained by a government with a genuine commitment to reducing emissions. Ian Macfarlane? Who knows? Wikipedia tells us:
In a speech given in Adelaide on 20 February 2006, Clive Hamilton (director of The Australia Institute) identified Macfarlane as one of Australia’s climate change “dirty dozen” (or Greenhouse Mafia), a group of climate change sceptics with considerable influence over Australian Government policy.
I wouldn’t take it as read that he regards CO2 as a problem. My impression is that country folk don’t trust him very much.
Meanwhile Parkinson tells us that:
new [renewables] projects are at a virtual standstill. Financiers have basically shut up shop pending the result of an election, and the likelihood of yet another RET review.
The Coalition has already indicated that it will seek yet another review of the RET, and will be sympathetic to claims by utilities that lower than expected electricity demand should cause less wind and solar farms to be built. Some utilities want the numbers cut in half – and they have the support of broader industry groups such as the Business Council of Australia and other industry groups, and of the conservative state governments.
In the end, of course, the future will belong to disruptive technologies which are already here and are largely being embraced in the rest of the world.