Kerfuffle Over Potential Liddell Power Station Sale And Life-Support

Liddell Power Station - Coal Fired Clunker

Ageing Liddell Power Station’s ears are burning as well as its coal

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s attempts to keep an old coal fired power station in New South Wales operating past its use-by date has caused quite a stir.

Situated at Lake Liddell near Muswellbrook in the Hunter Region of New South Wales, Liddell Power Station is a 2GW coal-fired power generator.

Commissioned in the early 1970’s, Liddell Power Station is responsible for an estimated 13,399,000 tons of greenhouse gases each year, plus other toxins associated with coal-fired power. In short, it’s an ageing, emissions-spewing, water-sucking clunker that is a threat to public health.

AGL acquired Liddell in 2014, along with other Macquarie Generation assets. In April 2015, AGL gave advance notice of the station’s closure in 2022 – which is the end of the plant’s service life. The company also committed to not building, financing or acquiring new conventional coal-fired power stations in Australia, not extending the operating life of any of its existing coal-fired power stations and closing all existing coal-fired plants in its portfolio by 2050.

Missing from these commitments was a mention of not selling any.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Turnbull stated he was in discussions with AGL about the company selling Liddell Power Station to a “responsible party” and keeping it going in order to help ensure energy security.

Yesterday, the PM reiterated his desire to keep Liddell cranking for some time.

“We have had several discussions with the Chief Executive of AGL Andy Vesey, about the possibility of the Liddell power station continuing for a longer period – say up to five years – to provide more security to the system over that period.”

AGL released a statement yesterday concerning Liddell.

“AGL has committed to the closure of the Liddell Power Station in 2022, which is the end of its operating life … AGL will continue to engage with governments, regulators and other stakeholders to deliver appropriate outcomes but notes that the company has made no commitment to sell the Liddell Power Station nor to extend its life beyond 2022.”

No commitment doesn’t necessarily mean no sale or extended life, and rumours are swirling about potential buyers, backers and government support – however, AGL seems pretty keen to be publicly seen as putting a dampener on things. Mr. Vesey tweeted yesterday:

“Keeping old coal plants open won’t deliver the reliable, affordable energy our customers need”

Following the official AGL statement, Senator Matt Canavan called the company hypocrites and Senator David Leyonhjelm turned things up a notch by reportedly describing AGL as a “bunch of wankers“.

In a blog post in June, Mr. Vesey said AGL welcomed the Finkel Review recommendation for a Clean Energy Target (the only Review recommendation the government is yet to accept) and was upbeat about renewables including hydro, wind, solar power and storage. However, he said firming options like quick start gas peaking plants for times when renewables need to be supplemented will be required. It may be in AGL’s best interests financially to keep and close Liddell Power Station.

Reaction elsewhere to the PM’s suggestion regarding Liddell was swift and in some cases, harsh.

“AGL and the other major energy companies have made it very clear they do not want to invest in coal-fired power and want a stable policy environment that allows them to make the transformation to renewable energy and storage,” said Greens NSW energy spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham.

Mr. Buckingham stated the recently released 2017 Electricity Statement of Opportunities (ESOO) from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) made it clear large scale investment in renewable energy with storage was a viable solution to Australia’s energy challenges.

“Only a luddite could read that report and want to prop up an unreliable 50 year old coal-fired power station. The NSW Government should make it clear to the Prime Minister that this is not a sensible strategy.”

RenewEconomy’s Giles Parkinson said the Prime Minister’s full capitulation to the coal lobby was now complete.

“… his political needs are to appease the right wing of his party, and to do that he has to play the role of string puppet to the fossil fuel lobby, in the shape of the Minerals Council of Australia.”

The plant’s reliability has also been called into question. Mr. Parkinson pointed out Liddell Power Station lost half its generation capacity at the height of last summer’s heatwave.

The Clean Energy Council noted that during the event, renewables came to the rescue.

“Last summer’s heatwaves highlighted the contribution of renewable energy, which essentially saved New South Wales from a blackout when some thermal gas and coal generators went missing in action on 10 February this year,” said CEC Chief Executive Kane Thornton.

Mr Thornton says bipartisan national energy policy is becoming increasingly urgent and has urged the government to implement a Clean Energy Target – as without it, the nation was unlikely to see sufficient new generation from private investors to meet Australia’s future energy needs.

Even under a Clean Energy Target per the Finkel Review, it’s been reported coal use would be higher for quite some time than under business as usual.

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. Pat Comerford says

    So taxpayers can fund the losses and private enterprise can commercialize the profits. Now where have we seen that little scam play out before.

  2. Malcolm Turnbull has prostituted himself to the right wing of his party. His price? His Job.

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