Issue 64, July 2010
Welcome to the seventh edition for 2010. This issue covers the prospects for major wind development in South Australia, the continuing negative impact of low REC prices on renewable investment, the leakage of clean-tech funds overseas from Australia, the parlous state of NSW electricity infrastructure and uncertainty over the adequate of the State’s gas infrastructure, the prospects for the closure of Hazelwood power station in Victoria, an environment of “unprecedented uncertainty” for generation investment, the fall-out for network businesses from the Victorian bushfire royal commission and other news.
Julia Gillard’s promise to spend $1 billion – albeit over 10 years – to connect more renewable generation to the power grid was most warmly welcomed in South Australia where Premier Mike Rann has just hailed the production of a “Green Grid” report by Macquarie Capital, Worley Parsons and lawyers Baker & McKenzie.
The report says construction of new transmission lines, linking the world class Eyre Peninsula wind resource to the power grid, could attract $4.5 billion in investment in 2,000 MW of wind power, followed by a second 2,000 MW development stagewith the potential to eventually create 10,000 MW of supply on the peninsula, an area the size of Tasmania between Port Augusta and Port Lincoln..
The move, the report adds, could make South Australia a substantial exporter of electricity to the rest of the eastern seaboard.
Premier Rann says this represents one of the most exciting investment opportunities for South Australia. He expects the private sector to “grab it with both hands.” He urges the acceleration of the federal review of transmission development regulations, without which the wind farm will not be built. “The development of a greater amount of energy derived from wind, solar, geothermal and wave power is only being held back by the inability of private energy companies to sell their product because of transmission problems,” he claims, ignoring warnings in the Macquarie study about power price problems.
Rann has pledged to have a third of SA power consumption sourced from renewables by 2020.
The study proposes that a new 500 kV line be built from Davenport, near Port Augusta, linking with Heywood in Victoria. Augmentation of the existing high voltage network would also be needed.
Ominously for investors in green generation and for advocates of the national carbon abatement target for 2020, however, Macquarie Research, in its contributions to the study, warn that the problem with low-priced renewable energy certificates (RECs) is likely to persist for “some time” and there will not be sufficient investment in renewable energy at utility scale until the value is close to $65 per megawatt hour. The RECs are currently trading at $40.
The key reason for the REC weakness is market oversupply caused by the Rudd government’s misguided inclusion of small-scale generation and solar hot water heaters in the legislation to enlarge the RET originally passed in 2009. Within months this saw the REC price slump from $50 to $23 and investment in large-scale wind farms dry up.
Macquarie Research says there are now 18 million RECs in the market and it warns that the surplus may not tighten sufficienctly until 2013-14. “Less large-scale development now could be a problem later on,” it adds, pointing out that putting major wind farm projects on hold will make it increasingly difficult to meet the target. “Australia,” it says, “may see an undersupply of large-scale renewable energy around 2014-15 and, although (consequent) higher REC prices will likely result in further investment, these may not come online until 2016 or later.”
The current industry estimate is that 10,000 MW of capacity will be needed to meet the 2020 target. Macquarie Research says there is a substantial pipeline of 14,000 MW of wind farm projects under consideration, construction or planning, but only 1,000 MW is slated to be completed in the next three years, based on projects for which a final investment decision has been made.
A substantial proportion of the 12,000 MW of projects still under discussion by investors will require comprehensive transmission network solutions and planning approvals before they can proceed.
A large increase in wind development in South Australia was integral to the emissions trading report to the Rudd government by Ross Garnaut and the subsequent modelling of the ETS by the Federal Treasury. They assumed 3,000 to 5,000 MW of wind would be built in SA, but the industry warns that development in the State will be limited to under 2,000 MW unless transmission regulation issues can be resolved.
Macquarie Capital and its partners say that it is unlikely the transmission upgrades needed for the Eyre Peninsula developments would be approved under the existing federal regulatory test for new networks and unlikely that investors would contemplate the HV projects without the availability of a regulated charge.
Engineers Australia says the standard of New South Wales electricity infrastructure is going backwards. In a new review of the State’s power assets, it has downrated its rating to “C-minus” – which denotes “adequate, but needs major changes” – from “B” (good, but needs minor changes) in the last survey in 2003.
The organisation finds that NSW infrastructure generally is in “average to poor” condition, with three-quarters of assets needing major to critical changes. It says: “The State’s infrastructure is under stress in many areas.” It argues that there is a lack of strategic planning, co-ordination and integration in the State and a commitment to existing plans when population growth is driving demands for improvements that will require significant investment by both the private and public sectors.
While road and rail assets get worse ratings than electricity, Engineers Australia expresses concern that NSW power needs will not be able to be provided from within the State if plans for baseload generation are not resolved. Increasing population and increasing demand will result in a generation reserve deficit after 2012-13, it points out.
Most of the State’s large power stations were built before 1990, it says, and are expected to reach the end of their technical life within 20 years, with the 600 MW Munmorah plant on the Central Coast due to close in winter 2014 unless it has a major overhaul.
It points out that there are currently three generation projects with a total capacity of 362MW committed or under construction in NSW and another 23 fossil-fuelled and 14 renewable energy projects in less-developed categories. Given existing and committed investment, NSW is thought to have sufficient capacity to meet peak and average until 2013-14.
The State is relying at present on 2,600 MW of capacity in Victoria and Queensland via the high voltage interconnection system.
It acknowledges that transmission and distribution service performance has improved in the past few years and that committed medium-term investments of $18 billion on networks will lead to further improvements, but it warns that the delivery system has problems with ageing infrastructure and with congestion and constraints in some high voltage system areas. “Many transmission and distribution assets in NSW are reaching the end of their useful life because much of the network was built from the 1960s through to the 1980s.”
It says EnergyAustralia has the oldest distribution network in Australia, with many assets more than 50 years old, and 35 percent of TransGrid’s substations and switching stations were commissioned before the 1970s.
The transmission system focus over two decades has been on fine-tuning the system to maximise utilisation rather than building new assets. Only a few major transmission lines have been built despite a massive increase in consumption. “As the load continues to grow and constraints arise, there is now little option but to construct major new infrastructure..”
Engineers Australia says the State’s 10-year growth rate for electricity needs is projected to be 1.5 percent annually, pushing demand from about 70,000 GWh a year in 2000 towards 90,000 GWh in 2018-19.
Population growth is a particular issue in Integral Energy’s distribution service area, it adds, with population there expected to grow six percent by 2013-14 and the maximum demand for electricity to rise by a third. “Its supply area is served with rural and semi-rural feeders but is now becoming urbanised. This means customers expect improved reliability performance.” Population growth is also pronounced along the coastal strip in Country Energy’s service area, it says, with this population having a high use of air-conditioning.
Engineers Australia is also critical of the outlook for the energy retail market in the State. “The sale of the State-owned retail activities has the potential to transfer the existing monopolies to private ownership,” it warns. “There is a considerable risk that competition will not be enhanced, resulting in no downward pressure on prices.”
Looking at NSW gas supply, Engineers Australia says “it is impossible to determine if the infrastructure is appropriate for future demand” because of uncertainty over future demand, very slow growth in domestic gas penetration and short-term transmission pipeline capacity concerns. Other factors include uncertainty over government policy, the potential for the internationalisation of domestic gas prices as east coast LNG developments take place and the scale of construction of gas-fired generation on the east coast.
The Bligh government is in danger of turning Queensland’s “energy supermarket” in to a 7/11 store, according to the State’s mining lobby.
Michael Roche, chief executive of the Queensland Resources Council, told a Brisbane forum of the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia, that the State has two centuries’ worth of coal and gas plus an estimated 135 million pounds of uranium and more oil reserves than Nigeria in the form of the shale oil resource located south of Proserpine. “Unfortunately,” he said, “the government is trying to turn our energy supermarket in to a 7/11 store in which coal and gas are tolerated and not much else.”
Roche said he was also convinced that there was a “huge opportunity” in Queensland to convert coal to liquid fuels in a situation where Australia’s transport fuels import deficit was set to double to $30 billion a year by 2015.
Colonial First State Global Asset Management, one of the largest investment funds in Australia, claims that substantial amounts of money earmarked for clean-tech projects are leaving the country because of the inability of federal policymakers to produce a viable, long-term set of decarbonisation plans.
Amanda McCluskey, head of Colonial First State’s responsible investments activities, told the CEDA forum in Brisbane that there are numerous major institutional investors eager to support abatement technology, but their funds are going to China and Europe because of the lack of coherent policy here.
“There’s real investment certainty in China, for example,” she told CEDA. “Australia needs a carbon price.”
Speaking at the forum, Queensland Energy Minister Stephen Robertson highlighted the biggest inhibition for politicians in pursuing emissions trading and carbon charges –the unwillingness of voters to accept higher power bills.
Queensland has been in the forefront of a wave of power price rises from mid-2010 as network charges go up to support more than $35 billion in infrastructure development on the eastern seaboard over five years.
“The blowback we have seen from electricity price hikes this year hurts our (political) interests,” Robertson said. “Yes, people want to see investments in renewable energy but are they prepared to pay for it?”
Robertson’s comments came as leaks from the Federal Government – wracked with internal dissent ahead of the 21 August election over the “execution” of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his replacement by Julia Gillard – claimed that focus group reaction to the impact on prices of carbon charges was a key factor in the decision by the Cabinet committee (that included both Rudd and Gillard) to walk away from introduction of a national emissions trading scheme before at least 2013.during the election campaign.
The possibility that brown coal-burning Hazelwood power station in Victoria could be closed down this decade has been raised in the middle of the federal election campaign by State Premier John Brumby, intent on his own election in November and conscious of a growing threat in inner-urban Melbourne seats from the Greens.
The statement plays to the interests of the Liberal/National coalition federally because Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has pledged to spend taxpayer funds directly on abatement rather than impose “a great big tax” on carbon.
Following Brumby’s comments, there has been media speculation that Hazelwood’s owners, British-based International Power, would seek between $2 billion and $3 billion in compensation for prematurely closing the plant. The Commonwealth Bank has an 8.2 percent stake in the operation.
Both Brumby and Abbott can point to large savings in greenhouse gas emissions over two decades from closing Hazelwood. The power station received Victorian Government permission in 2005 to development a new brown coal mine adjacent to the plant and the licence includes the right to emit 445 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between now and 2030.
The 1,600 MW Hazelwood plant is the oldest generator in Victoria and continuously attacked by environmental activists for being “one of the world’s dirtiest power stations.” It was acquired from the State government by IPRA in 1996 at a cost of $2.35 billion and the company has invested more than $400 million in improving it, including $80 million to drastically cut its dust emissions.
International Power refinanced $742 million in debt for its Hazelwood power station in Victoria earlier this year.
Immediate reaction to the Victorian Government’s statement in the Latrobe Valley was that hundreds of jobs could be lost – the power station employs 800 staff and contractors -- but Opposition Leader Abbott said the Coalition, if it wind the August election, would insist that any compensation was conditional on employment being retained. IPRA has previously indicated it would consider building a gas-fired baseload power station at Hazelwood.
Abbott said: “Conditions of accessing the funds will be no loss of jobs and no increase in power prices to consumers.”
The Victorian Government has revealed that it is in talks with IPRA, but Premier Brumby has refused to reveal whether a deal has been struck. Brumby said it was important for Victorian energy security that a closure of Hazelwood, which provides 23 percent of the State’s power and emits 12 percent of its greenhouse gases, be phased.
Environmental activists Environment Victoria claim that closing down Hazelwood would reduce the State’s emissions by 15 million tonnes a year and release 27 billion litres of water, used for cooling, a year for other purposes.
Meanwhile, Premier Brumby, in announcing Victoria’s new energy policy, has identified a target for solar power supply of five percent by 2020, arguing that the state needs “masses of power” between January and March and that solar thermal is a “perfect fit” for the peak summer market.
However, he rejects the idea of providing government loans to help investors in solar overcome financing issues – the Solar Systems project collapsed last year because it could not source adequate funding. Brumby says the government does not want the debt showing up on its books. The State, he says, has put $150 million on the table to support solar developments pursue federal contributions.
Brumby says the government expects the combination of State and federal policies will help drive down brown coal’s share of Victoria’s power supply from 90 percent now to 60 percent at the end of the decade.
Federal Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson has denied claims that the mineral resources rent tax the ALP plans to introduce if it wins the 21 August election will result in electricity prices rising five to 20 percent.
The claim has been made by the South Australian Chamber of Mines & Energy, pointing to a poll finding by Nielsen that rising power costs have passed the state of the economy as a major worry for householders.
However Ferguson says the claim is unfounded because the price of thermal coal is set on the world markets and the MRRT will not have an impact there.
Victorians face the prospect of a major extra capital outlay on electricity networks and consequent rise in power bills as a result of the findings of the royal commission in to the fatal bushfires of February 2009.
The comission has declared that faulty power lines were a key factor in three of the fires in which 121 people died. This is already the basis for a class action involving 630 claimants against network service provider SP AusNet and the Victorian Government.
The commission has recommended that all ageing powerlines in the State be upgraded and replaced, with action in the most at risk areas within 10 years, replacing single-wire links with bundled cables or underground systems. While the cost will be “high” and prices will need to rise, it says, decisive action is needed to avoid future potentially tragic consequences.
The commission has been critical of regulatory decisions to reject previous network proposals for replacing links in bushfire-prone areas. In 2004 and 2005 Powercor, which services western Victoria, had made “compelling” submissions to the Essential Services Commission without success.
It noted that distribution networks had been “a notorious cause of bushfires in rural areas over the years,” with nine major fires in 1977 caused by electrical assets.
The commission has also criticised Energy Safe Victoria, the government agency overseeing electricity system safety standards, as “weak,” lacking influence over the network businesses. It accused ESV of permitting an environment of “compliance ritualism, with the focus on ticking boxes rather than substantive matters” instead of pursuing best practice. It has called for the agency to be reformed.
In March, in a submission to the commission on behalf of SP AusNet, Jonathan Beach QC said the proposals put to it for wholly undergrounding the powerlines would cost the business $7.5 billion and could result in consumers facing a 20 percent increase in their power bills for 20 years.
Following the commssion’s report being published, SP AusNet and Powercor told the media that they could not yet indicate the cost of the recommended remedial work.
The ALP and Julia Gillard have come under fire from the Greens, with whom they have exchanged a prefence arrangement for the 21 August poll, for failing to pledge that no more coal-fired power stations will be built in Australia.
While some observers argue that the preferences deal may be less helpful to the ALP than believed because many Greens voters will not express a preference when they vote, obtaining as many second votes as possible from the party is critical to the Federal Government’s re-election prospects.
Greens leader Bob Brown has derided the election pledge to require new coal plants to meet a standard of 0.86 tonnes of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour as demonstrating “a complete lack of leadership.” The Greens and the environmental movement are also complaining that the Federal Government’s timetable for a 2012 review of the emissions trading proposals mean that it will not be possible to legislate for the scheme in the next parliament.
Gillard has declared that the new standard will apply only to new power plant proposals, not existing ones or those for which environmental approval has been given already. The standards would be finalised after consultation with industry, experts and the environmental movement, she promised.
The conservationists say that as many as 15 coal plants could be built under the proposed Labor emissions standard, generating between 30,000 and 40,000 gigawatt hours of electricity a year and driving up greenhouse gas emissions when the bipartisan pledge is to achieve annual abatement of more than 140 million tonnes by 2020.
Meanwhile the ALP has been widely mocked by its opponents, environmental groups and the media for its proposal to create a “citizens’ assembly” to sit for 12 months to examine the evidence on climate change, the case for action and a market-based approach to abatement. Central to the derision has been the point that Australia already has such an assembly – called the Parliament.
Gillard has also been criticised for proposing to shave $350 million off the Solar Flagship program and a scheme to give rebates to householders for solar hot water and heat pumps in order to pay $2,000 to anyone who trades in a pre-1995 vehicle next year. The $520 million idea will also require $150 million to be cut from support for research in to carbon capture and sequestration. The proposal was announced the day after Gillard had made a speech talking up the then $1.5 billion Solar Flagships program.
Management consultants Deloitte say that Australian electricity generators are in a period of unprecedented uncertainty after 14 years in a relatively constant investment climate and they warn that power supply security is more uncertain now than it has been since the 1970s.
This perspective has been voiced in a report authored for Deloitte by Jon Stanford and Karen Masnata (who has since moved to PricewaterhouseCoopers) and repeated in a commentary by Michael Rath, national leader for energy and water, and Stephen Reid, national leader for oil and gas.
Deloitte also warn that, while the federal election will soon be out of the way, the forthcoming State elections in Victoria (November) and New South Wales (March next year) mean that it is unlikely there will be resolution any time soon on a range of policies impacting on generation investment decisions.
Irrespective of the need to address decarbonisation, Deloitte point out, a growing proportion of national electricity capital stock, networks as well as generation assets, is reaching its use-by date and needs to be enhanced or replaced this decade. The firm says about $40 billion needs to be found by 2014 to refinance or augment existing generation and to develop new plants.
“The appetite of investors to commit to such funding is affected significantly,” the consultants warn, “by boardroom perspectives of whether the likely returns from investment are commensurate with the risks involved.
“This is not least because substantial opportunities for new ventures exist in Asia and further afield.”
Factors affecting decision-making, they add, include uncertainty over how earnings may be compromised by uncertain carbon price increases, the emergence of new technologies offering lower emissions and the prospects that governments may change policies affecting some existing technologies under political pressure.”
A record global installation of solar photovoltaics last year has lifted the total capacity worldwide to 22,000 MW – about 44 percent of Australia’s generation capacity.
While the PV input is miniscule in the total scene of international electricity supply, the 2009 performance represents a substantial income for manufacturers and installers.
The European Photovoltaic Industry Association in a survey of the PV market says 7,200 MW of rooftop panels using the technology was installed globally last year. Europe remains by the far the largest market, with 16,000 MW capacity, of which Germany has 10,000 MW. Meanwhile, Spain, which set the world pace in 2008 when 2,600 MW of PVs were installed, crashed back to only 68 MW last year, slightly more than Australia at 66 MW, as the the combined impact of the global financial crisis and a severe cap on government support skittled the boom.
The European association hopes that 2010 installations will set another new record, amounting to almost 9,000 MW with the Italian market, encouraged by new government policies, delivering a rise in capacity of up to 1,200 MW. The recently-announced feed-in tariff cuts in Germany, on the other hand, are expected to dampen the solar boom there.
The major upside from the advancement of solar PV sales, the association claims, is that costs decrease by about 20 percent each time cumulative production doubles. It predicts this will help to drive the technology’s costs down substantially.
How much of the renewable energy target could be met from marine energy? It is a question posed by the organisers of EcoGen 2010, the clean energy conference being held in Sydney from 5 to 8 September.
Realistically, says Gilbert George, a director of Ocean Power Technologies Australiasia, given the conservative nature of the power generation industry and the state of technology development and commercialisation, the answer is about 500 to 1,200 MW.
Japan, he points out, is targeting commissioning 1,000 MW of wave power by the end of the decade.
AGL Energy says its most recent modelling demonstrates that greater use of wind power will displace the need for combined cycle gas baseload generation in the eastern seaboard market. According to company executive Tim Nelson, the addition of 10,000 MW of wind power will reduce the requirement for gas-fired capacity by 1,700 MW.
Meanwhile the Victorian government’s new “Energy Future” report claims that it will require a carbon price of $45 per tonne to enable a wind-powered generator to compete with an existing coal-fired plant.
Offshore wind power is too expensive and is unlikely to be pursued in Australia for some time, according to the Victorian Government.
The State’s “Energy Future” report says Victoria now has 428 MW of onshore wind capacity, generating 1,125 GWh of electricity a year, and the government has approved development of further 1,554 MW.
Compensation needs to be paid to the electricity sector under an emissions trading scheme to ensure that major cities do not run out of power, according to Federal Climate Change Minister Penny Wong. Vying with Greens deputy leader Christine Milne in the ABC Television program Q&A, Wong said it would not be economically efficient to shut down parts of the sector via a carbon charge and to disrupt supply. One of the more difficult areas of policymaking, she said, involved the transition to a cleaner energy sector while ensuring continuity of supply.
Finding a pointer to the real impact of the global financial crisis on Australian business is not easy, but there is an evidence trail in the yearbooks of the Energy Supply Association and its predecessor the Electricity Supply Association.
The data trail shows that national business demand was 103,366 gigawatt hours in 1996-97 and that it rose to 128,471 GWh in 2002-03 and 143,439 GWh in 2007-08. But in 2008-09, the latest available information, corporate demand fell back to 143,174 GWh after averaging a rise of 3,643 GWh over a decade – that’s the impact of the GFC.
Residential demand, on the other hand, goes right on rising, averaging an increase of 1,170 GWh overa decade and reaching 59,881 GWh in 2008-09. Perhaps more tellingly, aggregate peak load on the eastern seaboard continues to move upwards, reaching 38,796 MW in 2008-09, an increase of 3,500 MW on the previous financial year.
Meanwhile, Queensland, where the largest power demand increases are to be found, is presenting a policy challenge to the State government, which has committed to cutting emissions by a third by 2020.
According to the government’s energy plan, 9,000 GWh of zero emission energy can be expected to be delivered to Queensland’s consumers each year by 2020 as a result of $3.5 billion investment in 2,500 MW of new renewable generation being installed this decade.
The challenge lies in the government’s prediction that demand will rise from 44,500 GWh a year in 2008 to 69,000 GWh in 2020 – leaving it with the need to deliver another 15,500 GWh a year, most of which is expected to be supplied by coal seam gas-fuelled generation, which will drive greenhouse gas emissions up, not down.
Whatever else can be said about politics in this country, Australia does not do dull federal elections, as the present contest is demonstrating.
Supporting the view that a week is a long time in politics, the opinion polls a fortnight in to the campaign are suggesting that what appeared to be a relative stroll for Julia Gillard and the ALP when she called on the Governor-General to request permission for an election could turn out to be an extra-ordinary success for Tony Abbott and the Coalition. All this, of course, could change again in the last three weeks of the campaign.
The situation is the more extra-ordinary because you would have been hard-pressed back in December to get better than evens from a bookmaker on a Labor win when the Liberal parliamentary membership narrowly revolted against Malcolm Turnbull.
If the Labor leaks in July about the Rudd cabinet to the media are to be believed, what changed the political environment and, literally, the government leadership, was focus group analysis undertaken as a preliminary to calling a February or March election to capitalise on the Liberal’s position. The feedback allegedly showed a strong public reaction to the impact of emissions trading on their budgets and a positive reaction to Tony Abbott’s fulminations against a “great big tax on everything.”
That Rudd & Co panicked and cut and ran from pushing forward the ETS, abandoing plans for an early election, and that this ultimately fed negative views in the community to such an extent that Labor powerbrokers, aided and abetted by some union figures, used Julia Gillard to drive Rudd from office is now history. Whether public antipathy to this “execution” and to a very poor first-term policy management record, as well as to a stuttering campaign, serve to evict the ALP from office after only three years remains to be seen.
However, as several items in this newsletter underscore, for the electricity industry, especially generators, and for consumers, the severe uncertainty now shrouding investment and the likelihood of ongoing antipathy to soaring energy bills is creating a climate where future power reliability is being called in to question.
To quote Deloitte, whose opinions are canvassed above, “while the situation may not be dire, it certainly supports a perception that power supply security in eastern Australia is more uncertain now than it has been since the 1970s.”
Again, to quote Deloitte, the political problems won’t dissipate after 21 August because there are elections to come in two importan regions, from the perspective of power supply and demand: Victoria and New South Wales.
As the consultants observe: “Only a narrow window is available to resolve the policy and regulatory issues this decade if power supply constraints are to be avoided.”
From this writer’s perspective, the better political option for the electricity industry is the downfall of the ALP not only federally but in New South Wales. Defeat in both constituencies would sweep away “policymakers” whose inability to pursue good process and to maintain a sensible way forward are now a real threat to national and State interests.
In the case of NSW, one need go no further than the report card on infrastructure delivered by Engineers Australia, and covered in this issue, to find grounds for giving no mercy at the polls to a government that has been in office for more than 15 years.
At the federal level, the performance of Gillard and the ALP since the over-throw of Rudd and in the opening fortnight of the federal campaign with respect to energy-related issues can only be described as appalling, not least with the proposal for a “citizens’ assembly” to consider carbon policy, an idea that would have been considered a good joke as part of the popular television series “The Hollowmen” but is a travesty of governance in real life.
Australia cannot afford to have people with this kind of mindset presiding over government, whether in Canberra or the State capitals.
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