The Yallourn Power Station in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley is to close in mid-2028, four years earlier than originally scheduled. A grid-scale battery will take the place of the 1,480-MW brown coal plant, which is regarded as one of Australia’s dirtiest power plants.
The plant, built in the 1970s, has suffered several outages in the last few years and this, combined with the rise in cheap renewables, means that at least one coal plant would be earmarked for decommissioning.
Plant workers aware
The plant’s workforce and that of a nearby coalmine learned about the planned closure in early March. EnergyAustralia’s managing director, Catherine Tanna, reassured the workers that the closure plan will have a $10 million workforce support package.
Calls for a government-supported energy transition
Climate campaigners said that while the closure was inevitable, it wasn’t as soon as the scientific evidence indicated. Campaigners are calling for a government-backed transition plan for the Gippsland areas affected by the closure.
Tanna added that EnergyAustralia planned to build a large battery, with a maximum capacity of 350MW and four hours of storage time, by 2026 so that there will be a secure energy supply by the time the plant finally shuts. At present, this battery is the world’s largest, but there may be larger ones coming online before 2026.
EnergyAustralia is, according to Tanna, committed to leaving coal power behind while bringing clean and reliable power to its customers.
Yallourn supplies one-fifth of Victoria’s electricity
The Yallourn plant supplies around 20% of Victoria’s electricity, which is also around 8% of the nation’s national grid supply. According to the Australia Institute, the plant has broken down 50 times in the last three years and closing it down will cut Victoria’s greenhouse emissions by 13% and the nation’s emissions by 3%. The closure will also leave just two brown coal plants in the state.
Latrobe mayor shocked by news
Sharon Gibson, Latrobe city council mayor, said she was shocked by the closure announcement, even though she’d heard the rumours. Gibson said that the area was still recovering from the Hazelwood closure four years ago and that there needs to be robust plans in place to make sure there’s a proper transition that leaves behind a stable and thriving community.
Workers at the heart of governmental response
Victoria’s climate change and energy minister, Lily d’Ambrosio, said the state government was keeping the workers at the heart of its response. This response includes a local workers’ transition and support service at Latrobe Valley Authority.
The world’s coal-fired power stations are reaching the end, says d’Ambrosio, and countries are switching to renewables, so this change can’t be ignored. The challenge is, she says, to create a modern energy network which maintains and creates thousands of jobs for the state.
A sense of relief among workers
Steve Dodds of the Gippsland Trades and Labor Council said that lots of workers were relieved as they’d heard rumours of the plant closing in 2025 as it needed major renovations. Dodds also called on the federal government to do more than it did after the Hazelwood closure and match fund state support rather than “throwing a few pennies” at the situation.
Solar and wind pushing out coal faster than expected
Australia’s solar and wind generation has grown faster than most experts predicted and this has placed financial pressure on the country’s remaining black and brown coal plants.
An analysis from Green Energy Markets and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) found that new solar and wind plants will add around 70,000GW of clean energy to the grid each year up until 2025. This is around a third of the national grid’s usage and this influx of cheap clean energy has driven wholesale power prices down, making consumers but dismaying fossil fuel power producers.
In Victoria, fossil fuel energy prices have dropped by as much as 70% and as coal-fired plants can’t ramp their output up and down, they can’t compete with the almost-free power generated during the daytimes. This means immense financial strain on coal-fired plants.
In response to the earlier-than-expected closures, the chair of the national Energy Security Board, Kerry Schott, is calling for a major overhaul of the rules governing Australia’s energy market. Advice from the ESB should be out later in 2021.