And the Best Horror Story of 2023 Goes to…

No need for Stephen King, the ESOO (Electricity Statement of Opportunities) is this year’s horror bestseller, and it comes out this week.

In WA this week we have seen the power of the AEMO reports. With the WA WEM ESOO showing the government’s ambition to phase out coal by 2030 would result in shortfalls. This week the WA government scrambled to cover the shortfall and quickly announced the Muja 6 plant was given an extension until at least April 2025 under ‘reserve outage mode’ conditions. With WA planning to remove 1,366MW from the system by 2030, the transition was showing shortfalls of just below 1GW by FY26 and a terrifying 4GW by FY33. The noises coming from the state are therefore all about how to “manage the transition” and no longer how to meet the targets.

Over in the NEM (National Electricity Market), even before the release of the ESOO this week, this was the week in which we saw announcements in Victoria and an expected announcement from NSW looming. The question is no longer will Australia meet its Net-Zero target, but by how far we will miss it and what impact will closures have before renewable uptake comes onto the grid?

The Victoria government has pre-empted its requirements and moved forward to strike the “structural transition deal” with AGL to continue the operations at Loy Yang until 2035. Despite the pressure from certain board members, even they have to concede that the uptake in renewables is not at pace to orderly transition the market away from coal.

Energy Australia followed this announcement with the news that through its “Climate Transition Action Plan” the Yallourn power station will close in 2028, with the Point Piper remaining available until 2040.

This has been flanked by the NSW government strategically leaking, no doubt to soften the announcement, that the Eraring plant will remain online. The question now is in what form and at what cost.

With Australian renewable uptake at one of its lowest levels in years, hindered by the huge subsidies in the US and massive European demand. Increasingly vocal opposition to transmission upgrades, especially from rural communities, and no certainty on policy post the RET expiry in 2030, there is no doubt this week’s ESOO will make scary reading.

With the COP28 looming at the end of November, I think the hot potato in Canberra is going to be who goes, as there is no doubt when the ESOO is published we will be back in the naughty chair.

The question, therefore, is not will we miss our energy transition and therefore climate targets, but rather by how much?”

Australian Manufacturing: Is it time to bring it home?

Australian Manufacturing - Wind Turbine

The English love their football (soccer) and no more so than Baddiel and Skinner who sang “It’s coming home” for the 1996 Euro’s. But with another wind project either being delayed or scrapped is it really time to consider if the Chief Operating Officer of AGL, Markus Brokhof is right “The manufacturing industry has to come back to Australia.”

The latest announcement from CleanCo last week which stated the company is pulling the pin in their investment in the Karara Wind Farm in the Southern Downs in Queensland, citing delays, not in connections or transmission but in turbine parts and rising costs, only acts to further strengthen Brokhof’s argument. This investment was part of the wider MacIntyre precinct and would or may still be, the largest wind precinct in Australia. However, this could be a blow to Queensland’s target of owning 50% of new renewable generation within the state.

This is just the latest in a string of windfarms to hit delays, the Clarke Creek wind farm has been hit with numerous delays between change in ownership from Goldwind to Andrew Forest’s Squadron energy, through to shutdowns for worker safety as well as project management changes causing equipment to be removed from site. With the offtake from the first stage of the project mostly going to another Government Owned Corporation, Stanwell could this be a further blow to the state’s advanced renewable targets, 80 per cent by 2035, and the existing 50% by 2030.

Another one of Andrew Forests wide array of companies is Windlab, whose own windfarm the Upper Burdekin project has not only lost its inaugural customer Apple, but has had to significantly downsize the output of the site from the proposed 193 Wind turbines to a reduced 136 and is now likely to only have 80 following significant opposition from wildlife conservationists who stated that the project was threatening already endangered species.

To further stoke the flames, AEMO has now come into the forefront of media, stating that not only do we not have enough investment in renewable electricity to compensate for the expected closure dates of coal generation, but the firming technology to support this renewable grid has not been fully funded or addressed, this year’s ESOO will certainly paint a bleak picture for the medium term in Australia. This sentiment is only exacerbated by the Australian former chief scientist and first Victoria State Electricity Commission CEO, Andrew Finkel, who last week quit his role at the SEC stating; not only was the capital investment not in place but investment has dried up and the “country is unlikely to reach its emission reduction targets.” I’m sure not a sentiment which was welcome news for the Andrew’s government whose election campaign was built on the premise the SEC would be both decarbonising the Victorian grid whilst reducing the cost for Victorians.

With the COP 28 due in November and Australia looking like it will miss it’s, late to the party but thanks for coming, 2030 targets, increasing international pressure will be placed upon Australia to ask how we will try and achieve some meaningful reductions? Rik De Buyserie, Engie Australia’s CEO implied to even get close to the 2030 climate targets Australia would need 10,000km of new transmission, 44GW of new renewables and 15GW of firming capacity. With components scarce, increasing costs and logistical issues of port slots to physically ship the parts to Australia, maybe it is time to turn our attention inwards and start upskilling and creating our own industry to de-carbonise ourselves?

Next test in NSW for the transition to renewables

Hand turning off light switch

For over eight years, there has been talk of AGL shutting down Liddell power station. Finally, this will become reality today, with the next Liddell unit being shut down.

Liddell Unit 4 will be shut down today, followed by Units 1 and 4 over the next 10 days. The retirement of Liddell power station will make 10% of NSW’s availability being bid unavailable.

It would be expected that the permanent closure of 10% of NSW’s electricity generation would put the grid at risk and lead to higher electricity prices.

AEMO has alleviated market concerns by saying, “Supply is not at risk”. However, Edge2020 is not ruling out an upward pressure on prices due to a shock to the market, despite the market knowing the Liddell units would be shut down for many years.

The retirement of Liddell power station is the next big step for NSW as the state transitions from scheduled coal-fired generation to intermittent renewable energy and storage.

While the market has known about the retirement of the Liddell power station for years, Edge2020 expects the market to be firm on the reality of the closures. Spot electricity and forward prices in NSW and Queensland may increase in the short term; however, they will settle over time.

Following the retirement of the Liddell units, availability will still be relatively high in NSW. The capacity factors of the remaining coal-fired units will increase, and gas will fill the remaining gaps. As a result of this and generation from neighbouring regions, it is unlikely that the NSW region will incur a significant drop in availability resulting in a Lack of Reserve (LOR) notice from AEMO.

AEMO confirmed in February that the closure of the Liddell units would not breach the reliability standard; however, AEMO’s latest reliability report has raised concerns that reliability risks remain in NSW. AEMO’s biggest reliability concern has been the delayed delivery of Snowy Hydro’s Kurri Kurri gas-fired generator. The Kurri Kurri gas-fired generator has been delayed by 12 months. AGL has confirmed AEMO has not approached them regarding reliability levels following the closure.

Further to alleviate the availability and reliability concerns of the market as we approach to summer is the news that Energy Australia will have the 300MW Tallawarra B gas-fired generator online in December. Additionally, NSW imports additional electricity from Queensland and Victoria via the interconnectors.

AGL has plans to repurpose the Liddell site into a clean energy hub which will include a 250MW battery with room for expansion that could be linked to a nearby pumped hydro project.

After the closure of Liddell 4 on April 19th, followed by Unit 2 six days later, and then finally Unit 1 on April 29th, AGL will start demolition in early 2024.

The next few weeks will be an interesting time in the industry, particularly for NSW politics and the wider NEM. Edge2020 will monitor the market and provide updates over the next few weeks as the final unit retires.

Storage, the future for AGL

During the record high energy prices experienced last winter combined with a rapid transition to renewable energy saw AGL Energy return a half year loss of $1B due to outages at Loy Yang A and their Hunter Valley power plant.

Despite this, AGL’s new chief executive Damien Nicks has an optimistic outlook for the second half, after a “challenged” first half. As a result of this drop in underlying profits, investors are worried about how AGL will fund its decarbonisation and whether the transition to renewable energy will occur fast enough, reinforcing the huge challenge faced by Australia’s energy-intensive industries.

AGL announced last year to committing to a $20B plan to develop 12GW of renewable energy by 2036 following pressures from shareholders and activists. A major component of the 12GW of renewables is 5GW to 7GW of firming capacity assets such as batteries and pump hydro. AGL are expecting the firming capacity assets to generate higher returns (7% to 11%) compared to wind and solar (6% and 8.5%).

Despite the decline in underlying profits, “Having a clearly endorsed strategy now, and now we have a board and management team in place means that the banks look at our transition plan and strongly support that,” Mr Nicks said. “That is a key part of us getting access to that capital.” The projects will be funded through cash flow, corporate equity, debt, and project debt.

While this may be a good strategy for AGL to improve shareholder value, it will be interesting to see how the strategy goes meeting Australia’s ambitious climate goals.

AGL considering Loy Yang A shutdown in response to industrial action

Update 16/12/2016: According to the Australian Financial Review (AFR) The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has backed down on its threats of industrial action at AGL Energy’s Loy Yang power station, putting an end to a whirlwind eight hours that saw AGL responding with an indefinite shut down and the Victorian government intervening to avert significant damage to the state’s energy supplies.

An ongoing dispute regarding pay and conditions at the Loy Yang A power station in Victoria could result in industrial action and subsequent employer action at the facility.

AGL’s negotiation with the CFMEU over an 18 month period has failed to yield an agreement to suit all parties. This led to the Fair Work Commission granting approval to CFMEU’s application for a ballot of its members on taking industrial action. The resulting ballot showed support for this course of action.

Due to this outcome, AGL has now advised the market operator (AEMO) that it intends to take employer response action to the proposed industrial action at Loy Yang A power station. The response will be a full site lock-out at both the Loy Yang A power station as well as the adjacent mine. The lock-out at the mine would curtail fuel supply to Engie-owned Loy Yang B power station. AGL has advised that the lock-out would commence on 28 December 2016 and last for an indefinite duration.

The news comes as the market operator is already predicting a tight supply / demand balance for the quarter. The most recent forecast doesn’t take this news into account but shows that Victoria was already relying on its interconnectors to keep up with demand in the state. A reserve shortfall was originally expected to occur on 22 and 23 December and will therefore not be affected by this announcement.

Figure 1: Reserve capacity for Victoria Source: AEMO

The loss of Loy Yang A (2,305 MW brown coal) and a reduction at Loy Yang B (1,120 MW brown coal) is likely to increase the number of reserve shortfalls and could lead to involuntary load shedding. The Victorian brown coal generators are also responsible for keeping prices down and stabilising the system.  During Q116, Loy Yang A provided 35% of the state’s average load and Loy Yang B provided 19%. Without the base loaders, the more expensive peaking generators will have to provide more generation which will be at a much higher price.

It is not just Victoria affected by the planned industrial action. South Australia is heavily dependent on Victoria for both prices and energy support. With potential shortages in Victoria, South Australia will struggle during times of low wind. Other regions will be affected as well. We saw earlier that the planned March 2017 shut-down of Hazelwood (1,820 MW brown coal) increased the forward prices across the entire NEM.

The announcement today is likely to affect Q117 contracts and maybe even beyond. Victoria will not be able to sustain the loss of both Hazelwood and Loy Yang A and it is likely that either the lock-out will be called off or Hazelwood will have to keep operating for longer if the unions and AGL cannot find agreement before March 2017 when Hazelwood is scheduled to come off.

The market operator will update its outlook for the period once the market has had a chance to respond to the news.

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