In the year I became chief executive of the Electricity Supply Association, 1990-91, Queensland electricity customers consumed just over 22,000 gigawatt hours, less than half of demand in New South Wales.
At this time the two States north of the Murray together accounted for 53 per cent of total Australian power demand and burned 31 million tonnes of coal in meeting this need.
In the financial year 2009-10, using the latest data from the Energy Supply Association, the “old ESAA’s” successor, Queensland customers consumed 47,400 GWh, equal to almost 68 per cent of demand in NSW.
The two States combined accounted for 57.5 per cent of national power demand and burned almost 50 million tonnes of coal to deliver it.
In 2019-20, as forecast by the new Energy Supply Association yearbook, system energy requirements, which are a couple of thousand gigawatt hours above consumption due to power station use and line losses, will reach 75,600 GWh in Queensland and almost 100,000 GWh in NSW. Between them, the two States are predicted to account for almost 61 per cent of national power output.
These statistics show why two States dominate the challenge policymakers face in trying to cut greenhouse gas emissions below 2000 levels in 2020 and they are a pointer to why Federal Treasury suggests the answer is to seek 60 per cent of emissions credits overseas.
If you assume on these trends that the two States between them will account for about 238,000 GWh of demand in 2030 – by which time Queensland may even have overtaken NSW as the leading power consumer – and allow that only 20 per cent of this supply will be met from renewable energy, as forecast in the federal energy resource assessment, you have a situation where almost as much power will be provided north of the Murray from fossil fuels as is being consumed from all sources in Australia today.
To which you can add Victoria.
When I took up the reins at ESAA in 1991, Victoria far outstripped Queensland as an electricity consumer, using a third more. Today, the roles have been reversed and Queensland uses eight per cent more electricity. By the end of the decade, on current forecasts, Queensland will be using almost 44 per cent more power than Victoria.
By the decade’s end, the three States will account for 80 per cent of power sent out and what fuels they are using will be the dominant electricity-based emissions issue, with generators nationally accounting for almost 40 per cent of Australian emissions.
Push this out to 2030 and the dominance of the three States in the power sector will be greater still.
Now this is where the rubber really hits the road in the power-related emissions debate – all the rest is wheel-spinning. And the media focus on what may or may not shut in Victoria (and perhaps South Australia) can be seen to be rather less than the main game.
Eighteen months ago when the Queensland government thought that 2020 demand would be 69,000 GWh – about 4,000 GWh out on the latest ESAA forecasts – it was predicting that 9,000 GWh would be met from renewable energy by the decade’s end.
That already left 12,000 GWh of new supply to be met from fossil fuels and it is apparent that this number now will be higher still.
Look at the power station developments proposed in Queensland, as listed by ESAA, and you will find that 7,170MW of new capacity is intended to be gas-fired along with 1,700MW burning coal.
The proposals for renewable energy total 574MW.
To which, if one wishes to be fair, could be added the 1,500MW of capacity Origin Energy wants to build in Papua New Guinea and link to northern Queensland by a very long transmission system – and whatever capacity might eventuate in the Julia Creek area in Queensland if the CopperString transmission line is built.
And then there is the “Solar Dawn” subsidised project at Chinchilla. About 20 of these projects could deliver the sent-out energy of a Kogan Creek coal station – at about 20 times the capital cost.
Even with these included, the dominant outlook in Queensland this decade and a bit beyond is to source more electricity from fossil fuels.
(Playing with estimates provided nationally by the federal Department of Climate Change, putting a 1.5kW solar array on every household rooftop in Queensland would cost about $40 billion at present prices and deliver about three million tonnes of abatement in 2020. Even if you halve the capital cost, that is not cheap abatement. On the other hand, building eight nuclear power plants in the three States at a capex cost of about $40 billion would deliver most of the higher demand.)
What becomes blindingly obvious from this sort of number-crunching is that it is essential for the Gillard government to be working closely with the regimes in Sydney and Brisbane, as well as Melbourne, to plan towards a lower-emissions environment in 2020 and 2030 – never mind 2050, which has suddenly become attractive to the Prime Minister as a planning horizon as the numbers for nearer years look less and less rosy in terms of her climate spin.
Equally obvious is the fact that this isn’t happening – and wasn’t occurring even when Labor governed in all three States, instead of just clinging by its political toe nails to power in Queensland.
An energy security strategy and abatement plan that doesn’t involve all four governments in a tight accord is not a way forward at all.
The $12 million being spent on carbon price advertisments that hardly anyone is watching would be better outlayed on funding a detailed examination of these critical regions for electricity and abatement.