NSW coal generation under pressure

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
Changes_electricity by state_cropped_580

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
Electricity generation and emissions_cropped_580

That suggests a greater call on renewables, which turns out to be the case:

Figure 3: Changes by fuel type
Changes by fuel type_cropped_580

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
GHG emissions_cropped_580

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.

Under current arrangement a review of the RET is done by the Climate Change Authority. In March the Government accepted their recommendation that the RET remain at 20%.

With an Abbott government the institutional arrangement along with all the existing programs and initiatives of the Clean Energy Future will be swept away.

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.

12 thoughts on “NSW coal generation under pressure”

  1. I guess the question is, really, how should we weight issues, and supplementarily, how should we sum issues.

    Heading into an election in which huge changes will occur and the country will be plunged into a full recession, given that the polls are correct, there have been highly polarising statements made triggered by single issues indicating that people are performing issues calculations which trigger flips of voting intention.

    The one that intrigues me is the Gonsky tertiary revenue shift which appears to have triggered universal condemnation of the government and breached a levy of academic support for Labour. Is this enraged invective or does it really indicate a major change to the voter calculation result which would mean that the 2% reduction in funding of universities is an issue with exponential weighting.

    What would make, for instance, a climate scientist, a position largely dependent on a climate change receptive administration, flip to support a new administration certain to sweep away all vestiges of that profession and its entire purpose while triggering a recession that is further certain to negatively feedback to the tertiary education structure to an even greater extent?

    The answer I think is that we humans are very poorly equipped to make such calculations, and desperately need help in this regard. There is a gap here, probably even an abyss, recognised in other fields with expressions such as “credibility gap”, “requiring a leap of faith”, etc. and to date there has been only one standout form of assistance offered that has the ability to bridge that gap. That is Hans Rosling’s Mind the Gap software solution. You are going to have to google Rosling’s TED presentation to see what I mean as it defies words to adequately convey the power of Rosling’s achievement.

    Last year I phoned the Prime Minister’s office, anticipating the difficulties that this election would deliver, to suggest that they enlist this technology not only for better decision making, but to help to convey to the electorate the gravity of the threat to our civilisation, …..and our country, that: climate change; population change; resource depletion; conflict intensity; and economic/demographic changes,…will all have.

    What Roslings software does is bring visual movement, form, and function to masses of information. Without movement our eyes and our brains cannot perceive the world. Our eyes themselves are constantly moving in order to be able to see static objects. Without that movement we are blind for but a brief instant. Our brains need this very same assistance in order to be able to perceive the “big picture” that is the world beyond our immediate proximity and personal experience.

    Short form? We need help, and fast.

  2. Well, Gillards shower of incompetent squandermonkeys don’t think cli-fi is an issue either, do they?

    Watch their actions, not their words. (Why DID Tim Flannery buy a waterfront mansion in Sydney?)

    The federal government is set to slash around $100 million in funding for solar and other renewable energy projects to help cover an expected plunge in the price of carbon in three years time.

    Funding for manufacturers to adopt low-emissions technology – worth $1.2 billion – and initiatives in regional ­Australia to improve carbon storage are also likely to be reduced in next week’s budget.

  3. Mk50 etc, predictable as ever, brings up the old canard about Flannery’s waterfront mansion. As I understand it, it’s actually on a river, and several metres above current water levels: enough so it won’t get flooded until long after Flannery’s children are dead.

    So, if you’re … incorrect … about that, why shouldn’t we treat anything you say with contempt?

  4. His two houses are on a river? Actually, no.

    Dude, they are at Coba Point, just round the corner from Dusthole Bay on Berowra waters (good spot for hairtail off Coba Point). It’s fully tidal as it’s in a flooded river valley.

    So, if you’re … incorrect … about that, why shouldn’t we treat anything you say with contempt?

    And he was chirpily agreeing with predicted ‘eight storey’ sea level rises in 2006, or is that down the cli-fi cult true believer memory hole nowadays? Of course, that was back in the day of $50k a speaking gig and first class air travel to the gig. These days no-one will pay to hear the poor chap’s wails of ecodoom. How sad for his bank account that the scam is over (even Gillard agrees with that).

  5. MK50, I presume you got your information from that well-known source of climate disinformation and cherry-picking Andrew Bolt. Flannery’s statement about 8 stories was said to be 1996, BTW, not 2006. If you check out Flannery’s writings, he came to climate change quite late. I’d want to see the context of the clip said to be from Flannery in 1996.

    I can tell you that in 2005 in The Weathermakers Flannery was stressing the uncertainty of what we know about sea level change. He said then that some scientists were saying that most of the SLR will occur after 2050 (correct, I think) and will take millennia for the scenario to play out (also correct, probably) while others were suggesting we’ll get 3 to 6 metres over the next century or two (possible).

    It seems that his house is probably 4-5 metres above the water level and most likely what DI(nr) says is true. Either way, leave the poor bloke alone.

  6. What mk50 etc says about Flannery’s house being on an estuary is probably true: the rest of what I wrote stands.

    Brian, I apologise for helping mk50 etc derail the discussion. The graphs showing the drop in electricity use and emmissions give me some hope that Flannery’s house may stay unflooded for his grandchildrens’ lifetime.

  7. No probs, DI(nr). I don’t think MK50 is MarkL of Canberra from times past. He was smarter.

    Fro what I’ve read I think it’s quite likely that more than half the 21st century sea level rise will be in the last quarter, so Flannery’s estate will probably still get a good price.

  8. And a bloody good thing that coal in NSW is under pressure. I saw the air over Singleton, NSW, today. Filthy with coal dust, diesel and the debris from big explosions from the open cuts. An horrific transformation of rural landscape to industrial foulness.

  9. The endless crap from the coal miners and coal mines is not the absolute level of pollution.And Carbon dioxide as mock cream is easily mixed with yoghurt at a mixable temperature,with the necessity of all those nutritious enhancing bacteria.I know I would seem a pain in the proximity of a curly pig’s tail here for my opinion.But I cannot help it.

  10. Thanks, akn. It’s nice to be completely (as against mostly) correct. So, mk50 etc is clearly as dumb as a bag of rocks and even less honest than Tony Abbott. That’s an impressive achievement.

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