The Morrison Government’s decision to spend up to $600 million in NSW on a new 660MW gas-fired power station vindicates the Australian Workers’ Union’s campaign for affordable, reliable energy and the resulting jobs it creates in existing and new industries.
The plant, to be built at Kurri Kurri in the Hunter Valley, will secure energy for the state once the nearby Liddell coal-fired power station closes in coming years while providing important firming for Australia’s renewable energy market.
AWU National Secretary Dan Walton says cheap, reliable power is crucial to ensuring families, businesses and job-creating industries thrive, as the nation transitions to clean energy. Gas can play a vital role in firming the grid as more renewable generation comes online.
This is crucial to the 900,000 Australians who work in the manufacturing sector.
“Australia makes steel, aluminium, cement, copper, timber, packaging, food processing, fertilisers, plastics, chemicals, building products, and much more,” Mr Walton says.
“These factories are power hungry. More importantly though, they require power reliability.”
Mr Walton says the new plant, and the planned 300MW Tallawarra B dual fuel capable hydrogen/gas power plant in the Illawarra, will provide stability to the electricity grid when needed and in doing so protect workers’ jobs.
“Gas and renewable energy are compliments. Australia cannot make the leap safely to renewable energy without bothering to shore things up with gas during this transition,” Mr Walton says.
“In heavy manufacturing a power outage doesn’t mean inconvenience, it means catastrophic equipment failure and plant closure.
“And you can’t generally switch factories on and off. They need to run through the night when the sun isn’t shining and the wind may not blow.
Unlike legacy coal plants, gas plants are fast to dispatch energy when required, and quick to turn off when no longer needed.
“They are perfect for covering the inevitable gaps in power supply that a renewable-heavy energy system will throw up.”
Mr Walton says going with gas-fired power will not hold back the switch to a green future, and will actually help get more renewable energy sources into the grid faster.
“As our former Chief Scientist Alan Finkel has indicated – gas firming can lower our emissions, increase renewables and safeguard and expand our heavy industry.
“Gas can create reliable energy, when needed, while emitting half the carbon dioxide of coal, and the availability of natural gas can and will give us the licence to build more solar and wind.
“There’s no actual choice between gas and renewables – they’re complementary. The former gives us the security to pursue the latter with boldness and confidence.”
Mr Walton says renewable energy is shaping up as the cheapest form of generation, but it still has some way to go in proving its reliability.
“If we want Australian manufacturing, especially heavy manufacturing, to endure, we will need to transition to renewables deliberately and carefully,” he says.
“One day, Australia can and should become the world’s first zero net emission manufacturing superpower. We can ship zero emissions energy and metals products to the whole world at a massive premium.
“Until then, we need to hang on to the manufacturing capacity we already have and build on it.
“We can’t burn our manufacturing capacity to the ground and hope to rebuild it later when renewable technology allows.”