Brickbats are out for Scott Morrison, who announced plans to build a gas power plant in the Hunter Valley if generators don’t make up the shortfall in electricity – some 1,000 megawatts of dispatchable energy by 2028.
Conceived as part of the Morrison Government’s ‘JobMaker’ plan, the Prime Minister said his policy would create a more competitive and transparent Australian Gas Hub by unlocking gas supply, delivering an efficient pipeline and transportation market, and empowering gas customers.
“This is about making Australia’s gas work for all Australians,” said Morrison. “Gas is a critical enabler of Australia’s economy.”
Apart from new targets, ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ licenses, ‘unlocking’ new gas fields, and supporting the CSIRO’s Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance to the tune of $13.7 million, the plan also proposes a new ‘Australian Gas Hub’ at Wallumbilla in Queensland
“Our competitive advantage has always been based on affordable, reliable energy,” said Morrison. “As we turn to our economic recovery from COVID-19, affordable gas will play a central role in re-establishing the strong economy we need for jobs growth, funding government services and opportunities for all.”
But, Samantha Hepburn, Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law at Deakin Law School believes any new gas plant in NSW would be a ‘stranded asset’.
“We cannot and must not revert to fossil fuel energy generation,” she wrote in The Conversation. “We must abandon past behaviours if we’re to adapt to a changing climate, which is set to hit the economy much harder than this pandemic.”
Part of the government’s rationale for its investment in gas is that widespread concern that renewable energy will not provide stable, baseload power. It believes that only fossil fuels are capable of performing this role. Hepburn, however, disagrees.
“Under a rapidly changing climate, the issue is not just about keeping the lights on,” Hepburn said. “We not only want energy, we also want to breathe clean air, have enough food, have clean and available water supplies, preserve our habitat and live in a sustainable community. Gas fired electricity can emit methane. Over a 20-year period, methane is 84 times more effective than carbon dioxide in trapping heat, and 28 times more effective over 100 years. So no, gas doesn’t 'work for all Australians'.”
And, Hepburn pointed out that affordability is also an issue, with renewables fast outpacing fossil fuels on lowest cost. “The technology underpinning renewable energy production from clean, low-cost generation such as wind, solar, hydro-electricity, hydrogen and bio-mass is advancing,” Hepburn explains. “Renewable energy generation is sustainable, better for the environment, low in emissions, and affordable. Reliability is improving at a rapid rate. A recent report indicates electricity generated by solar photovoltaic (PV) and onshore wind farms from 2026 will overtake the combined power production from coal and gas.”