Victoria’s Hazelwood shuts down for good

Victoria’s Hazelwood brown coal power station shut down the last of its 8 units at 4pm on Wednesday, the latest and the most powerful symbol of the vast and rapid change in our energy system.

Just one day after Hazelwood closed, a new $1 billion solar PV and battery storage plant was being unveiled for South Australia, with its proponents insisting that construction would begin later this year.

On top of that, the former boss of Hazelwood, Tony Concannon, had announced that the combination of solar and storage was already cheaper than baseload gas plants, and would therefore be cheaper than any new coal generators too.

And if that wasn’t enough, the owner of the South Australia electricity network was predicting that the cost to households of solar and storage would fall to just 15c/kWh within 5 to 10 years, less than half the cost of grid-based electricity.

This is where the myth of “cheap coal” finally unravels. Coal dominates Australia’s electricity generation, still accounting for around 70 per cent of total generation, yet consumers pay a ridiculously high price for their electricity, because if they are not being screwed by generators and retail margins, they are paying huge “transport” costs to the networks.

The whole concept of our energy systems, as chief scientist Alan Finkel points out, is in the midst of change. Where once the perfect grid was seen as centralised and dominated by huge generators the future is entirely different.

Audrey Zibelman, the progressive new CEO of the Australian Energy Market Operator, says the future will be “decentralised”, based around local generation, and it will be quicker, smarter, cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable than the current set-up.

Hazelwood’s owners, Engie, also see a future where half of all demand is met by electricity sourced from homes and businesses, mostly with solar and storage. And they see the future of large-scale generation will also be in solar, which is why they tendered for proposals earlier this year.

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Giles Parkinson