Eraring Power Station
24th August 2023
Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (17:52): Over the past few months there has been a lot of speculation regarding the future of Australia's largest coal-fired power station, Eraring, which is located in my electorate. Eraring currently employs approximately 430 workers and has a combined capacity of 2,880 megawatts. Constructed with an anticipated 50-year operational life, Eraring was expected to operate until 2032, but last year Origin Energy announced plans to close the station in August 2025. For the record, I am a strong supporter of the transition to renewable energy. There is scientific consensus that climate change is a major threat to our future, and the future of our planet. I do not think there would be many in this House who do not recognise the need to transition from coal to clean energy as soon as possible.
Whilst the transition to renewable energy is imperative for environmental reasons, there are also strong economic drivers behind the corporate decisions to transition way from coal-fired energy. Increasing levels of low-cost renewable energy is making coal-fired power stations economically unsustainable. I acknowledge the work of both the current and former New South Wales governments in recognising the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions and transition to clean energy. But it is clear this transition is not happening fast enough. I do not doubt that those working with EnergyCo and related bodies are doing everything in their power to put in place the infrastructure needed to support the transition to renewable energy, but the fact of the matter is we are not in a position to fully transition at the present time, and we are unlikely to be there by August 2025.
Whilst I have not had the chance to see the Electricity Supply and Reliability Check Up, media reports suggest that it recommends that Eraring's operations be extended beyond the current proposed 2025 closure date to ensure energy reliability for New South Wales. I have said on record many times that we need to be pragmatic about the immediate future of Eraring. We currently do not have the transmission infrastructure in place to offset the current 2,880 megawatt capacity of Eraring and, until we can have confidence in the reliability of our renewable energy power system, the Government must do what it can to ensure that the New South Wales energy system is able to be supported by Eraring's energy supply.
Unfortunately, it may be the case that the State may have to bear some cost to ensure that Eraring remains operational for some time into the future. I advocated strongly against the privatisation of our power industry in the past. No doubt if these industries remained in government hands the transition process would have been far simpler. But we are where we are, and the importance of energy supply reliability to the people of New South Wales and their confidence in the transition to a renewable energy system, in my view, makes some costs necessary and unavoidable.
In addition to energy supply concerns, I also have concerns about the effect of the Eraring closure on the employees of Eraring and to other industries within Lake Macquarie and the local economy generally. There are many industries in my electorate—for example, the Mandalong and Myuna Bay collieries—that will be significantly impacted by Eraring's closure. For many years now I and others have been calling for the development of a transition policy framework to support workers, manage environmental issues and to diversify economies in mining regions. I acknowledge the tireless advocacy and excellent work of groups such as the Hunter Jobs Alliance and Hunter Renewal to ensure a strong post-coal economy and that environmental protections are there for the Hunter region. But despite the advocacy of these local groups and many of us here, I believe we are still woefully underprepared for the rapid shift away from coal-fired energy. The transition away from coal is happening as we speak.
I acknowledge the commitment shown by the Federal Government by setting up of the national Net Zero Authority, but I am concerned about the pace at which this work is happening. At a State level we also need to start futureproofing our local communities, workers and local economies for this transition. Importantly, we need to have a clear plan and framework for the management of environmental legacy issues, including ash dam remediation. I appreciate the steps that the New South Wales Government is taking to establish regional authorities, including a Hunter transition authority, and the commitment of the Minister for Natural Resources to broad community consultation around these bodies. It is imperative that these authorities are established as soon as possible and, importantly, they must have sufficient resources to effectively support workers and industries in our regions and to ensure environmental legacy issues are properly managed.