Early Coal Power Station Retirements On The Cards In QLD/NSW

Coal power viability

The Australia Institute says New South Wales and Queensland are continuing to use less of their existing coal fired power stations, and this could lead to earlier retirements than currently planned.

The TAI’s Climate & Energy Program’s latest National Energy Emissions Audit reveals the average coal powered electricity generation capacity factor in NSW has fallen below 60% and it could drop to 50% by April 2022, making it increasingly harder for aging coal-fired clunkers to remain viable.

Dr Hugh Saddler, author of  the Audit, says the Federal-NSW Liddell Taskforce is still trying to find a way put Liddell Power Station on life support beyond its 2023 retirement, when it could retire much earlier as the market increasingly relies less on coal power and more on wind and solar energy.

“Aging coal power stations like Liddell will find it increasingly difficult to stay afloat if they are only being used half the time, and that is the direction we appear to be heading in NSW in the next two years,” said Dr. Saddler.

But he warns that in order to avoid a surge in electricity prices such as that followed closure of Hazelwood power station in Victoria in 2017, coal plant closures should be timed with investments in new renewable generation capacity, appropriate types of energy storage, transmission and other technologies.

The Audit notes that across the border in Queensland, average coal capacity is about 69%. Based on current trends, Queensland may reach 60% by 2025, putting at least one of its older coal power stations under strong financial pressure.

The report states in Victoria and South Australia, coal-fired energy generation has fallen from 72% to 53% since 2016, while total renewable share has grown to just under 33% – but SA is the heavy lifter in both regards.

In South Australia, there is no coal-fired power generation. The last emissions belching coal burner, Northern Power Station, shut up shop for good in 2016 and as SQ’s Ronald put it back then, “it was renewables that killed the beast“. In South Australia, renewables’ share of the energy mix reached 50% in 2019, with the state seeing 36% growth in solar energy generation.

Rooftop Solar And NEM Emissions Intensity

The report notes annual emissions intensity in the National Electricity Market (NEM) in 2019-20 had decreased by more than 25% below the historic maximum, which occurred back in 2008.  Almost two thirds of the total reduction is attributable to the shift away from coal and towards wind and solar energy.

Here’s a figure that will no doubt please owners of rooftop solar panels – the report says 22% of the total reduction is due to the growth of rooftop solar power system  installations and the resulting decreased demand for mains grid electricity. Collectively, owners of solar power systems across this country have really struck a blow in the emissions battle.

The full National Energy Emissions Audit report can be viewed here.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.


  1. To me, it doesn’t look like EnergyAustralia (EA) is intending to close Mount Piper Power Station (MPPS) in NSW early.

    EA’s Managing Director Catherine Tanna commented last year about operational upgrades for MPPS:

    “Now we’re investing $80 million to help make sure the plant is around for another quarter century, and it’s as efficient as it can possibly be.”
    See: https://www.energyaustralia.com.au/about-us/media/news/energyaustralia-commits-lithgow-region-mt-piper-upgrades

    EnergyAustralia is also seeking approval from the NSW DPIE for a waste-to-energy scheme to augment steam generation for MPPS operations.

    On Aug 14, the DPIE major projects website published EA/ReGroup’s “Mt Piper Energy Recovery Project: Response to Submissions Report”, consisting of three volumes. Appendix W of the MPERP:RtSR included the statement:

    “…potentially eliminate over 4.7 Mt CO2-e over a 25-year period through substitution of grid electricity”.
    See: https://www.planningportal.nsw.gov.au/major-projects/project/11541

    A “25-year period” suggests to me EA is intending to operate MPPS beyond 2045.

    And it looks to me that Centennial Coal seems to think MPPS will be operating until 2053, per their “Amended Report: Angus Place Mine Extension Project”, dated 6 Dec 2019, in Section 2.2 Mine Life, which states:

    “The amended APMEP now proposes to undertake mining operations up to 31 December 2053 with rehabilitation activities to continue beyond this date. This aligns mining operations at the Angus Place Colliery to the current projected life of the Mount Piper Power Station.”
    See: https://www.planningportal.nsw.gov.au/major-projects/project/12641

    Even with early coal-fired power station retirements, there’s still the ongoing legacy of coal-ash repositories. IMO, the Hunter Community Environment Centre’s Submission (#039), to the NSW Parliament Legislative Council Public Works Committee inquiry into the costs for remediation of sites containing coal ash repositories, is sobering reading.
    See: https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/lcdocs/submissions/67192/0039%20Hunter%20Community%20Environment%20Centre.pdf

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Australia does have a long history of sinking lots of money into power plants just before permanently shutting them down. Perhaps the need for major repairs or an overhaul results in a reevaluation of the expected future costs of keeping the power station running. (Or maybe there’s just a lot of inept management out there.)

      • “…maybe there’s just a lot of inept management out there.”

        I think you’re right on the money, Ronald.

        I’d suggest inept management also from:
        – the investors in these enterprises that will lose their money when the assets become “stranded”;
        – the insurance companies that support these enterprises, that are contributing to increasing the risk of wreaking the insurance company businesses with increasing payouts due to escalating dangerous climate change;
        – the local governments that support these projects that will become “stranded” and the Councils are left with the mess (i.e. economic decline and environmental degradation) to deal with in their local communities;
        – the government departments that continue to encourage and approve these projects, despite all the compelling evidence against;
        – the complicit media that won’t ‘rock the boat’ or disseminate lies and false hope; and
        – the gullible and ill-informed electorates that keep voting for more of the same.

        I’d suggest the consequences of all this ongoing ineptitude is, it’s likely to wreak many, many lives and livelihoods if we are not too careful.

        Professor Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said:

        “The window to avoid major catastrophes is still open. But only barely. During the next decade, global emissions must be cut by half and we must halt the loss of species on Earth. That’s the reason. That’s the basic justification for declaring a state of planetary emergency.”
        See: https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/scienceshow/window-closing-for-action-to-stabilise-the-earth%E2%80%99s-climate/12606342

      • Ronald, Have you looked at the goings on in Collie WA lately. A fortune has been spent on the old MUJA plant trying to keep it going and the less than 10year old Blue Waters power station (ex Griffin Coal) now owned by Mitsubishi and others has just been written down to zero value by its owners?

        I guess this is why we now have DEBS but in the long run continued changing the feed in tariffs and increasing the daily feed in charges will surely feed into the death spiral whereby being off grid becomes economically viable.

        If battery prices continue to trend down and PV costs continue to fall then microgrids will surely be the way of the future?

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