Wind energy surges to record share as coal ebbs

May 5, 2014 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

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However, the shift away from coal may soon be reversed as politics and markets combine to alter the economics of energy.

The Abbott government remains steadfast in its plans to remove the carbon tax – now at $24.15 a tonne – which has helped make black coal-fired plants, in particular, relatively expensive.  

Senior members, including Prime Minister Tony Abbott, have also signalled their intent to weaken the Renewable Energy Target, a move likely to freeze new investments in wind farms.

Gas-fired power plants, which contributed 12.1 per cent of energy market supplies in April, are also scheduled to cut output later this year as more of their fuel gets diverted to more lucrative overseas markets.

“Gas has been priced out of the market irrespective of the carbon price,” said Hugh Saddler, principal consultant with Pitt Sherry.

Falling reservoir levels have also contributed to lower output of hydro power, which initially soared after the introduction of the carbon tax in July 2012. Snowy Hydro’s output in April was 49 gigawatt-hours, less than a quarter of the 218 GW-hours generated in April 2013.

“Hydro is kind of running out of water through excess generation,” said Dr Saddler.

Black coal has seen the biggest demand drop among sources of supply as the fuel became relatively costly.

The Liddell and Bayswater plants, which the NSW government is trying to sell, have been operating at less than 50 per cent and 75 per cent, respectively, for more than a year, Dr Saddler said.

Broken promise in the offing?

Mark Butler, the opposition’s climate change spokesman, said the Abbott government was “crab-walking” away from its pre-election promise to leave the Renewable Energy Target unchanged at 41,000 gigawatt-hours by 2020.

The government has set up a review of the target, led by climate change sceptic Dick Warburton, with many in the clean energy industry fearing the panel will recommend a delay and or weakening of the goals.

“This is a just another broken promise driven by ideology in face of the clear evidence that this has been a major policy success,” Mr Butler said.

While falling energy demand has contributed to falling emissions, “the big driver” for the industry has been the rise of renewables, he said.

Two-thirds of the emissions drop has been “because renewable energy increased its market share by 25 per cent in the first 12 months” of the carbon tax’s start, he said.


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