AGL Standing Its Ground For Firmed Renewables

Last week crowds teeming to see their teams play it out for AFL accolades were not the only reason you might have seen a swarm of people in the city. Particularly if you happened to chance by the Melbourne Recital Centre.

There they were protesting AGL's annual general meeting. Australia's largest electricity generator has been subject to routine protests for years now. They've never deserved it less.

In April 2015 AGL announced it would be phasing out its coal-fired power plants, including the Simpsonesque Liddell power station out near Muswellbrook in the upper Hunter NSW.

Liddell was commissioned in 1973 and carries a nameplate capacity of 2000MW. All hasn't been well with it. Time has done to the facility what it does to the planet. As of 2017 the plant was down to 1800MW in summer and is, according to AGL's own then Chief Executive Andy Vesey, "on the sliding scale to oblivion."

To save it sliding further and completely, would come with a pricetag of $920 million. An outlay that can't have been attractive to the energy giant well aware of renewable sources of production that are both less expensive and more sustainsable.

Photograph: ABC News: Kerrin Thomas

To again quote Andy Vesey:

"In this environment, we just don't see new development of coal as economically rational even before factoring in the carbon cost. . .And the question we have to ask, is if we're going to make a significant investment in generation, would we do it in an older plant, which is less reliable with higher maintenance costs, or should we be making that investment in new technology, which aligns with what we believe is the future, which will give a greater value, long term, to our shareholders. Well, we've chosen the second, and we are still of that view."

Andy Vesey admittedly looking like a Bond villain. Photograph: Louie Douvis

Such statements as these — it is a shame the American and CEO for four years at AGL stepped down (was stood down?) on the very day the Honourable Malcolm Turnbull was turned out of the top prime ministerial position by his own party. Timing, which their Chief Financial Officer and acting Chief Executive Brett Redman has averred was pure coincidence.

Whatever the case may be, AGL is standing firm on the closure and remediation of Liddell by 2022. Their programme to decommission it is model really. Relevant eventualities are proactively preempted.

AEMO itself agrees the closure only poses a 1-in-20 years risk of an outage of 2.2 hours for 172,000 homes in NSW. Provided all proposed steps are carried out in full by AGL.

Even in the event that they are not entirely completed to capacity and on time, the risks are about what was normal in SA before the Hornsdale Power Reserve. Just for less of the State. So.

Despite all of that the Liberal government has consistently applied pressure to AGL to commit to the $920 million for five years added service life. The government itself (read: tax-payers) contributing a sizable amount of it.

Or to sell Liddell to another generator keen on coal-fired power. The Chinese owned Alinta chimed in and Delta Electricity had an eye on it as well.

However AGL has not moved and won't be swayed. Interim Chief Executive Brett Redman: "We have been pretty public in saying we think the future of generation is firmed renewables."

Firmed renewables being clean energy supplemented by an alternative on-demand source of generation to offset its intermittent nature of production. Solar needs sun, wind generators require right winds. Should it chance that there isn't enough of either temporarily, there has to be a backup source to make up the difference. AGL envisages gas for now, then in future — batteries.

This is cause for applause, not a protest.

And remember, if you're interested in firmed renewables for your home or business — be in touch with a friendly, informative and helpful Astra Solar consultant today.

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