Although coal’s share declined from 60 per cent to 56 per cent, Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor said the figures demonstrated the “continuing importance of coal” in Australia’s energy mix and also highlighted a “growing reliance on gas”.
“Gas is flexible and provides the dispatchable capacity we increasingly need to balance intermittent renewables and deliver a secure, reliable and affordable electricity system to power our homes, businesses and industries,” Mr Taylor said.
The role of coal in energy generation is a contentious issue for the Coalition.
A discussion paper released last week on the Morrison government’s Technology Roadmap for greenhouse gas emissions reduction, due to be finalised in September, cast doubt over the future of coal power in the electricity grid.
The paper highlighted growth factors for gas usage and production and said switching from coal to gas can provide “quick wins” that reduce global energy sector emissions by 10 per cent. It cited a recent CSIRO forecast that said domestic gas usage would rise “at least 20 per cent by 2060” and gas production would climb at least 90 per cent in the same timeframe.
However, the paper did not support the case for “high efficiency” coal-fired power stations, which have been advocated by Nationals and some Liberal MPs.
Reacting to the release of the discussion paper Nationals leader Michael McCormack promoted the importance of coal and emphasised the “opportunity for input” to policy development.
“We’re pro-coal, we’re pro-all technologies,” Mr McCormack said last week.
“I know a lot of people set their hair on fire about climate change and all the rest, yes it is important … but what’s important is also jobs for the here and now.”
Queensland Nationals Senator Matt Canavan said he had told Mr Taylor “coal-fired power must have greater prominence in the final version” of the policy.
Mr Taylor said last month “flexible, dispatchable” power from fast-start gas plants would increase the capacity of the energy grid to accommodate more renewable energy.
Speaking on Wednesday Mr Taylor called on state and territory governments to “do their part to unlock more gas for the domestic market and encourage investment in reliable generation”.
Following the 2017 closure of the Hazelwood power station, and prolonged forced shutdowns of ageing coal-fired generation units, the decline in black and brown coal use has been gathering pace.
A study released last month by the Australian Energy Market Operator, which manages the nation’s energy system, said Australia’s main electricity grid will be able to accommodate up to 75 per cent renewable energy as soon as 2025.
Business reporter for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.
Mike is the climate and energy correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.