Can we safely burn waste to make fuel like they do in Denmark? Well, it’s complicated



The Amager Bakke power plant in Copenhagen, Denmark.
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Thomas Cole-Hunter, Queensland University of Technology; Ana Porta Cubas, University of Sydney; Christina Magill, GNS Science, and Christine Cowie, UNSW

When it comes to handling the waste crisis in Australia, options are limited: we either export our waste or bury it. But to achieve current national targets, policy-makers are increasingly asking if we can instead safely burn waste as fuel.

Proposals for waste incinerators are being considered in the Greater Sydney region, but these have been lambasted by the Greens and independent members of the NSW parliament, who cite public health concerns.

Meanwhile, the ACT government has recently put a blanket ban on these facilities.




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But are their concerns based on evidence? In our systematic review of the scientific literature, we could identify only 19 papers among 269 relevant studies — less than 10% — that could help address our question on whether waste-to-energy incinerators could harm our health.

This means the answer remains unclear, and we therefore call for a cautious approach to waste-to-energy technology.

One person, one year, 500 kilograms of waste

Australia’s waste crisis began in 2018 when China greatly reduced how much waste it imported. China’s waste market was handling about half of the world’s recyclable materials, including Australia’s.

On average, Australia produces roughly 500 kilograms of municipal (residential and commercial) waste each year. This aligns with the OECD average.

New Zealand in comparison, despite its strong environmental stance, is among the worst offenders for producing waste in any OECD country. It produces almost 800 kilograms per person per year.

Now, most recyclable or reusable waste in Australia goes to landfill. This poses a potential risk to both climate and health with the emission of potent greenhouse gases such as methane and the leaching of heavy metals such as lead into the groundwater. As a result, local governments may want to seek alternative options.

Burning waste in Denmark

“Waste-to-energy” incineration is when solid waste is sorted and burned as “refuse-derived” fuel to generate electricity. This can replace fossil fuel such as coal.




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The technology is on the rise among OECD countries. Denmark and Japan, for example, rely on waste-to-energy incineration to reduce their dependency on landfills and reach carbon neutrality.

In fact, Denmark’s waste-to-energy incinerator, Amager Bakke, is so well known it has become a tourist attraction, and is celebrated as one of the world’s cleanest waste-to-energy incinerators.

Amager Bakke provides electricity to around 680,000 people.

Every day, around 300 trucks filled with non-recyclable municipal solid waste are sent to Amager Bakke.

This fuels a furnace that runs at 1,000℃, turning water into steam. And this steam provides electricity and heat to around 100,000 households. Generally, people in Denmark warmly welcome it.

So what’s the problem?

In Australia and the US, community reception towards the building of new incinerators has been cold.

The big concern is burning waste may release chemicals that can harm our health, such as nitrogen oxide and dioxin. Exposure to high levels of dioxin can lead to skin lesions, an impaired immune system and reproductive issues.

However, control measures, such as the technologically advanced filters used in Amager Bakke, can bring the amount of dioxin released to near zero.

Another concern is that implementing waste-to-energy incineration may go against recycling schemes, due to the potential for an increased demand for non-recyclable plastics as fuel.

A truck dumping waste to get incinerated
Burning waste may release substances that can harm our health, such as nitrogen oxide and dioxin.
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Supply of this plastic could come from the waning fossil fuel industry. This would work against the goal of establishing a “circular economy” that reuses and recycles goods where possible.

An analysis from 2019 found that to meet European Union circular economy goals, Nordic countries would need to increase their recycling, and significantly shift away from incineration.

This concern is understandable given incinerators operate cleanest when fuelled at full capacity. This is because a higher temperature means a more complete combustion — a bit like less ash and smoke coming off of a well-built campfire.

A lack of evidence

As with many policy solutions, determining the safety of burning waste is complicated.

Our review found a lack of evidence to fully reject well-designed and operated facilities. However, based on the limited number of health studies we found, we support a precautionary planning approach to waste-to-energy proposals.




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This means we need appropriate health risk assessment and life cycle analyses built into the approval process for each and every incinerator proposed in the near-future.

The studies we found were all performed in the last 20 years. None were from the Nordic countries, however, where waste-to-energy incineration has been in use for many decades.

The reasons for the Nordic embrace of this technology are speculative. One reason may be that their level of economic development allows large capital investment for safe, state-of-the-art design and operation.

Mechanical claw grabbing a huge pile of mixed waste.
Waste incineration goes against the goals of a circular economy.
Shutterstock

Where to from here?

If councils are determined to pursue waste-to-energy incineration, we suggest they prioritise specific applications.

For example, we found the process with the most favourable life-cycle assessment (the most beneficial to health compared to traditional fossil fuel use) was the “co-incineration” of refuse-derived fuel for industrial cement.




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Currently, cement kilns are mostly fuelled by burning coal, and it’s difficult to reach the high temperatures required with traditional renewables. This means substituting coal for refuse-derived fuel could reduce the industry’s dependency on coal, when renewables aren’t an option.

Another solution is to focus instead on the waste hierarchy. This means first minimising waste production, maximising energy efficiency and maximising recycling and reuse of waste materials.

So, while we wait for more knowledge on how waste-to-energy incineration may affect our health, let’s focus on improving our waste hierarchy, rather than exporting our waste to feed a global crisis.The Conversation

Thomas Cole-Hunter, Research fellow, Queensland University of Technology; Ana Porta Cubas, Knowledge and Translation Broker- Centre for Air pollution, energy and health Research (CAR), University of Sydney; Christina Magill, Senior Natural Hazards Risk Scientist, GNS Science, and Christine Cowie, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Air Quality & Health Research and Evaluation, Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, University of Sydney; Senior Research Fellow, South West Sydney Clinical School, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Pumped hydro isn’t our energy future, it’s our past


Bruce Mountain, Victoria University and Steven Percy, Victoria University

It’s now beyond dispute that — for new electricity generation — solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy are cheaper than anything else: cheaper than new coal fired power stations, cheaper than new gas-fired stations and cheaper than new nuclear power plants.

The International Energy Association says so. Its latest World Energy Outlook describes solar as the cheapest electricity in history.

Solar costs 20% to 50% less than it thought it would two years ago.

Attention has turned instead to the ways to best meet demand when renewable resources are not available.

The government is a big supporter of gas, and as importantly, pumped hydro.

It has backed the $6 billion-plus Snowy Hydro 2.0 pumped hydro project (the world’s biggest) and Tasmania’s proposed $7 billion “battery of the nation”.

Pumped hydro is an old technology, as old as the electricity industry itself.

Pumped hydro is old technology

It became fashionable from the 1960s to 1980s as a complement to inflexible coal and nuclear generators.

When their output wasn’t needed (mainly at night) it was used to pump water to higher ground so that it could be released and used to run hydro generators when demand was high.

Australia’s three pumped hydro plants are old, built at least 40 years ago, and they operate infrequently, and sometimes not at all for years.




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Gas fired electricity generation, whether by turbines (essentially a bigger version of those found on aeroplanes) or by conventional reciprocating engines, has several advantages over pumped hydro including much smaller local environmental impacts and in many cases smaller greenhouse gas impacts.

They can be built quickly and, most importantly, if there is a gas supply they can be built close to electrical loads. There are 17 gas-fired peaking generators in the National Electricity Market, but none have been built over the past decade.

Batteries are cheaper

Batteries have advantages over both.

In 2017, Australia built the world’s biggest battery, but it since been overtaken by a Californian battery more than twice its size and may soon be overtaken by one 150 times the size as part of the Sun Cable project in the Northern Territory which will send solar and stored electricity to Singapore.

Part of Tasmania’s proposed Battery of the Nation project.

In a study commissioned by the Bob Brown Foundation, we have compared the pumped hydro “battery of the nation” project to actual batteries and to gas turbines.

The battery of the nation (BoTN) is a proposal instigated by the Australian and Tasmanian governments to add more pumped hydro to Tasmania’s hydro power system and used enhanced interconnectors to provide electricity on demand to Victoria.

We sought to determine what could most cost-effectively provide Victoria with 1,500 megawatts — the BoTN, gas turbines or batteries.

Partly this depends on how long peak demand for dispatchable power last. BoTN would be able to provide sustained power for 12 hours, but we found that in practice, even when our system becomes much more reliant on renewables, it would be unusual for anything longer than four hours to be needed.

Less than half the cost

We could easily dismiss gas turbines — the Australian Energy Market Operator’s costings have batteries much cheaper than gas turbines to build and operate now and cheaper still by the time the Battery of the Nation would be built.

And batteries are able to respond to instructions in fractions of a second, making them useful in ways gas and pumped hydro aren’t.

They are also able to be placed where they are needed, rather than where there’s a gas connection or an abandoned mine, cliff or hill big enough to be used for pumped hydro.




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We found batteries could supply 1,500 megawatts of instantly-available power for less than half of the cost of the enhanced Tasmania to Victoria cable alone, meaning that even if the rest of the BoTN cost little, batteries would still be cheaper.

Pumped hydro projects are being pulled

Origin Energy recently gave up on expanding the Shoalhaven pumped hydro scheme in NSW after finding it would cost more than twice as much to build as first thought.

Similarly, investor-owned Genex has repeatedly deferred its final investment decision on one of the cheapest pumped hydro options in Australia — using depleted gold mine pits in Queensland — despite being offered concessional loans from the Australian Government to cover the entire build cost.




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The final barrier seems to be obtaining subsidies from the Queensland Government to fund the necessary transmission lines.

Snowy 2.0 is proceeding, for now

Snowy 2.0 seems to be proceeding after the Australian Government pumped in $1.4 billion to get it going, and paid a king’s ransom to New South Wales and Victoria for their shares in Snowy Hydro.

Yet even before the main works are to start, credit rating agency S&P has down-graded Snowy Hydro’s stand-alone debt to “junk” and suggested the government will need to pump more money into Snowy Hydro to protect its debt.

Prime Minister Morrison has said recently that batteries can’t compete with gas generators , yet a couple of days later, his government announced support for a 100 megawatt battery in Western Australia, where gas is less than half the price it is on the east coast.




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Our analysis suggests neither gas nor pumped hydro can compete with batteries, and if the prime minister wants more of either, he will have to dip his hands deeply into tax payer’s pockets to get it.The Conversation

Bruce Mountain, Director, Victoria Energy Policy Centre, Victoria University and Steven Percy, Senior Research Fellow, Victoria University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Super-charged: how Australia’s biggest renewables project will change the energy game



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John Mathews, Macquarie University; Elizabeth Thurbon, UNSW; Hao Tan, University of Newcastle, and Sung-Young Kim, Macquarie University

Australia doesn’t yet export renewable energy. But the writing is on the wall: demand for Australia’s fossil fuel exports is likely to dwindle soon, and we must replace it at massive scale.

The proposed Asian Renewable Energy Hub (AREH) will be a huge step forward. It would eventually comprise 26,000 megawatts (MW) of wind and solar energy, generated in Western Australia’s Pilbara region. Once complete, it would be Australia’s biggest renewable energy development, and potentially the largest of its type in the world.

Late last week, the federal government granted AREH “major project” status, meaning it will be fast-tracked through the approvals process. And in another significant step, the WA government this month gave environmental approval for the project’s first stage.

The mega-venture still faces sizeable challenges. But it promises to be a game-changer for Australia’s lucrative energy export business and will reshape the local renewables sector.

Map showing proposed location of the Asian Renewable Energy Hub.
Map showing proposed location of the Asian Renewable Energy Hub.
AREH

Writing on the wall

Australia’s coal and gas exports have been growing for decades, and in 2019-20 reached almost A$110 billion. Much of this energy has fuelled Asia’s rapid growth. However, in recent weeks, two of Australia’s largest Asian energy markets announced big moves away from fossil fuels.

China adopted a target of net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2060. Japan will retire its fleet of old coal-fired generation by 2030, and will introduce legally binding targets to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

There are signs other Asian nations are also moving. Singapore has weak climate targets, but on Monday inked a deal with Australia to cooperate on low-emissions technologies.

Night scene in Japan
Japan wants to decarbonise its economy by using hydrogen.
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Export evolution

The Asian Renewable Energy Hub (AREH) would be built across 6,500 square kilometres in the East Pilbara. The first stage involves a 10,000MW wind farm plus 5,000MW of solar generation – which the federal government says would make it the world’s largest wind and solar electricity plant.

The first stage would be capable of generating 100 terawatt-hours of renewable electricity each year. That equates to about 40% of Australia’s total electricity generation in 2019. AREH recently expanded its longer term plans to 26,000MW.

The project is backed by a consortium of global renewables developers. Most energy from AREH will be used to produce green hydrogen and ammonia to be used both domestically, and for shipping to export markets. Some energy from AREH will also be exported as electricity, carried by an undersea electrical cable.

Another Australian project is also seeking to export renewable power to Asia. The 10-gigawatt Sun Cable project, backed by tech entrepreneur Mike Cannon-Brookes, involves a solar farm across 15,000 hectares near Tennant Creek, in the Northern Territory. Power generated will supply Darwin and be exported to Singapore via a 3,800km electrical cable along the sea floor.




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The export markets for both AREH and Sun Cable are there. For example, both South Korea and Japan have indicated strong interest in Australia’s green hydrogen to decarbonise their economies and secure energy supplies.

But we should not underestimate the obstacles standing in the way of the projects. Both will require massive investment. Sun Cable, for example, will cost an estimated A$20 billion to build. The Asian Renewable Energy Hub will reportedly require as much as A$50 billion.

The projects are also at the cutting edge of technology, in terms of the assembly of the solar array, the wind turbines and batteries. Transport of hydrogen by ship is still at the pilot stage, and commercially unproven. And the projects must navigate complex approvals and regulatory processes, in both Australia and Asia.

But the projects have good strategic leadership, and a clear mission to put Australian green energy exports on the map.

Red sand and tussocks of grass
Australia’s Pilbara region would be home to Australia’s biggest renewables development.
Shutterstock

Shifting winds

Together, the AREH and Sun Cable projects do not yet make a trend. But they clearly indicate a shift in mindset on the part of investors.

The projects promise enormous clean development opportunities for Australia’s north, and will create thousands of jobs in Australia – especially in high-tech manufacturing. As we look to rebuild the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic, such stimulus will be key. All up, AREH is expected to support more than 20,000 jobs during a decade of construction, and 3,000 jobs when fully operating.

To make smart policies and investments, the federal government must have a clear view of the future global economy. Patterns of energy consumption in Asia are shifting away from fossil fuels, and Australia’s exports must move with them.




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The Conversation


John Mathews, Professor Emeritus, Macquarie Business School, Macquarie University; Elizabeth Thurbon, Scientia Associate Professor in International Relations / International Political Economy, UNSW; Hao Tan, Associate professor, University of Newcastle, and Sung-Young Kim, Senior Lecturer in International Relations, Discipline of Politics & International Relations, Macquarie School of Social Sciences, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Explainer: what is the electricity transmission system, and why does it need fixing?



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Tony Wood, Grattan Institute

Shifting Australia to a low-emissions energy system is a big challenge. Much has been said of the need to change the electricity generation mix, from mostly fossil fuels to mostly renewables. Yet our electricity transmission network must also be overhauled.

The transmission network largely consists of high-voltage cables and towers to support them, as well as transformers. This infrastructure moves electricity from where it’s generated, such as a coal plant or wind farm, to an electrical substation. From there, the distribution network – essentially the “poles and wires” – takes the electricity to customers.

On Australia’s east coast, increased renewable energy generation is already stretching the capacity and reach of Australia’s ageing transmission network. New capacity is being built, but is struggling to keep up.

In his budget reply speech last week, Labor leader Anthony Albanese pledged to create a A$20 billion corporation to upgrade Australia’s energy transmission system. So let’s take a look at what work is needed, and what’s standing in the way.

Anthony Albanese, centra, with Labor frontbenchers
Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s budget reply speech included a $20 billion plan to upgrade transmission networks.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Starting with the basics

The electricity grid covering Australia’s east is part of the National Electricity Market (NEM). It’s one of the largest interconnected electricity networks in the world, and covers every jurisdiction except Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

The NEM comprises:

  • electricity generators (which produce electricity)

  • five state-based transmission networks, linked by interconnectors that enable electricity to flow between states

  • the distribution network (poles and wires)

  • electricity retailers (which sell electricity to the market)

  • customers, such as homes and businesses

  • a financial market in which electricity is traded.

The NEM’s transmission grid currently has a long, thin structure, running from the north of Queensland to the south of Tasmania and the east of South Australia. This reflects the fact that electricity has traditionally been produced by a small number of large, centralised (mostly coal and gas) generators.

Electricity transmission infrastructure
Electricity transmission infrastructure is expensive and complex to upgrade.

Who owns and runs transmission networks?

Australia’s electricity networks were originally built and owned by state governments, mostly during the latter half of the 20th century. Over several decades, interstate transmission interconnectors were built to share resources more efficiently across borders. The NEM was formally created in the late 1990s.

Between 2000 and 2015, several states either partly or fully privatised their transmission networks, leading to the mixed model of today. The transmission companies are monopoly providers, and the prices they charge are set by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER).




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The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) operates the national market and is responsible for transmission planning. In Victoria, AEMO also decides on transmission investments. In the other jurisdictions, that role rests with the transmission companies.

In the past, electricity companies made some infrastructure investments far beyond what was needed – mostly in distribution networks, but also in transmission. This so-called “gold plating” of networks led to inflated costs for consumers, who ultimately pay for the investments via their power bills.

A $50 note in a power socket
The cost of transmission upgrades is passed onto power consumers.
Julian Smith/AAP

Why do the transmission networks need fixing?

Renewables have increased the total NEM generation capacity from 40 gigawatts to 60 gigawatts since 2007. More than 30 gigawatts of renewable generators and 12 gigawatts of energy storage are expected to come online by 2040.

In mid-2017, a panel led by Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel recommended a plan be drawn up to create “renewable energy zones”. These would coordinate the development of new renewable projects with new grid infrastructure.

The zones were contained in AEMO’s 2018 “Integrated System Plan (ISP). It identified transmission projects that should start immediately, and possible future projects.

Two initial projects involve expanding the system’s capacity between Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. Possible future projects include a second interconnector between Victoria and Tasmania.




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But upgrading the transmission grid is easier said than done. The large size and cost of new transmission lines means planning and approval is subject to lengthy, intensive economic assessments.

What’s more, renewable energy generators are often built in regional areas, where solar and wind energy are plentiful. In many cases the electricity grid in those areas, designed in a different era, doesn’t have the capacity to accommodate them.

In September, the Energy Security Board (ESB), created by COAG energy ministers, said the transmission grid must be reconfigured along the lines of the ISP to suit the emerging mix of renewable generation and storage. This means upgrading existing interconnectors, and building new interconnectors and intrastate transmission from regional areas to coastal centres.

Transmission lines
The Energy Security Board has called for transmission infrastructure upgrades.
Shutterstock

Weighing the political promises

Labor leader Anthony Albanese last week released a A$20 billion “Rewiring the Nation” policy to upgrade the grid. It would establish a government-owned body to partner with industry, providing low-cost government finance for the upgrades.

The Morrison government, for its part, is also working on transmission solutions. It’s supporting projects prioritised in the ISP, including up to A$250 million allocated in this month’s federal budget.

Some states have separately accelerated their own high-priority transmission projects. However, none of the above measures effectively solve two big impediments to modernising the transmission network.




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First, the processes to identify, analyse and build transmission projects is too slow. Second, a state’s transmission infrastructure is currently paid for by consumers in that state – a poor fit for the increasingly integrated, and therefore shared, national grid.

Much work must be done to address these issues. Perhaps a government-owned national company could be established. It would own the shared transmission system, while AEMO would drive what gets built. Operations could be outsourced to a private company to deliver efficiencies.

Separating planning from owning would minimise the perverse financial incentives that led to past “gold plating”.

To minimise the risk of white elephants being built, strong, up-to-date benefit-cost assessments would be required.

Such alternatives will come with their own challenges. But the transition towards low emissions is too important for radical solutions to be ignored.The Conversation

Tony Wood, Program Director, Energy, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

People power: everyday Australians are building their own renewables projects, and you can too



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Dominique McCollum Coy, Monash University; Roger Dargaville, Monash University, and Shirin Malekpour, Monash University

In the town of Goulburn in southern New South Wales, an energy revolution is brewing. The community has come together to build its own 4,000-panel solar farm – everyday citizens are invited to buy shares in the venture and reap the rewards.

Goulburn is not alone: community-owned energy is an idea whose time has come. About 100 community energy groups operate across Australia – their projects at various levels of development – up from 25 groups in 2015.

The concept is gaining political attention, too. Independent MP for the federal Victorian seat of Indi, Helen Haines, in August moved a motion in parliament, calling on the Morrison government to support community energy, including establishing a new government agency. The bill is backed by fellow independent Zali Steggall.

At its core, community energy rests on the belief that everyday people should have power over how their energy is generated – including its environmental and social impacts. Big corporations should not control our energy systems, nor should they reap all the profits. So let’s take a look at how community energy works.

A solar farm
Projects such as the ACT’s Mount Majura solar farm allow citizens to take control of their energy needs.
Steve Bittinger/Flickr

What is community energy?

Australia’s first community-owned renewable energy project, Hepburn Wind, started generating power in June 2011. Since then, many more communities across Australia have banded together to manage their own solar, wind, micro-grid and efficiency projects.

The Goulburn project will be built in the Hume electorate of federal energy minister Angus Taylor, about 3km from the town centre. Earlier this year it received a A$2.1 million state grant, under the Regional Community Energy Fund.

Investors can reportedly buy A$400 shares, each covering the cost of a solar panel and the infrastructure needed for grid connection.

Community energy groups take various forms.




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Hepburn Wind and the Goulburn Solar Farm, for example, involve a community investment model in which local groups develop a project, then seek investors from the community to fund it.

This might involve forming a cooperative, or selling shares in the venture. The community organisation may take responsibility for delivering the project – including design, installation, and management – or may outsource this to an external company.

A second model involves raising money through donations, either via crowd-sourcing platforms or traditional means. The money is usually spent on installing a sustainable energy system at a local premises. For example in north-east Victoria, a First Nations-owned renewable energy project will deliver solar power to the office of a state government agency.

The third type of project involves a group of households coming together to find a renewable energy solution, such as bulk-buying solar energy.

Hepburn Wind is Australia’s oldest community energy project.

What are the benefits?

Community-owned renewable energy projects are a great way for everyday people to get involved in the transition to a low-carbon future. The benefits include:

  • local job creation and economic development

  • returns on investment for community shareholders

  • increased energy security, helping communities to avoid blackouts

  • more affordable energy

  • the creation of funds to reinvest in other community projects. For example in Scotland, dividends from renewables developments have been invested in electric public transport and local skills development

  • community building, in which towns develop a stronger identity, participate in communal activities and make collective decisions about their future.

Empowering the community

The energy transformation is not just about moving from fossil fuels to renewables. It’s also about changing who is responsible for, and benefits from, our energy system.

Inevitably, those in power, such as existing energy generators and their political supporters, will resist such change.




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We’ve seen this play out in Australia, which has triggered more than a decade of climate policy inaction. More recently, the Morrison government has pushed ahead with a plan for a “gas-fired” economic recovery, despite the harm this will cause to our emissions reduction efforts. These developments are clearly at odds with community support for action on climate change.

Traditionally, communities are often shut out of decision making on energy projects, including renewables. Communities often become dependent on both local political representation to voice their views, and the capacity of energy network operators to work with them.

People attend a community meeting
In community energy projects, locals are involved from the ground up.
Flickr

Communities must be empowered to take part in planning, and have ownership of projects. Our research, soon to be published, shows such empowerment involves helping communities develop the capacity and power to meet their own energy goals. This means developing new skills, working together and becoming equal decision makers.

Governments are central to this by helping communities deliver projects. The Victorian government’s Community Power Hubs are a good example. At three “hubs” – in Ballarat, Bendigo and the Latrobe Valley – various types of energy projects were implemented. Each sought to build local knowledge of, and participation in, community energy, and ensured the benefits stayed in the region.

Looking ahead

Australia’s growing community energy movement shows us what’s possible, but it needs more government support, especially at the federal level. Helen Haines’ proposal is a very good start.

The energy transformation will require massive investment, and most projects will be built in regional communities.

Empowering community energy is the ideal way to provide some of that investment, build stronger rural economies and ensure the benefits of the energy transformation are shared by all.The Conversation

Dominique McCollum Coy, Doctoral Researcher, Behaviour Change Graduate Research Industry Partnership (GRIP), Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Monash University; Roger Dargaville, Senior lecturer & Deputy Director Monash Energy Institute, Monash University, and Shirin Malekpour, Senior Lecturer and Research Lead, Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Malcolm Turnbull condemns Scott Morrison’s ‘gas, gas, gas’ song as ‘a fantasy’


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull has launched a swingeing attack on Scott Morrison’s gas-led recovery, labelling his threat to build a gas-fired power station “crazy stuff”, and his idea of gas producing a cheap energy boom “a fantasy”.

The former prime minister also claimed Morrison’s refusal to embrace a 2050 net zero emissions target was “absolutely” at odds with the Paris climate agreement. “That was part of the deal,” Turnbull said.

Morrison at the weekend would not commit to a 2050 target – endorsed by business, farming and other groups in Australia and very many countries – although he said it was achievable.

Turnbull also declared that Energy Minister Angus Taylor – who on Tuesday delivered his technology investment roadmap for low emissions – didn’t believe most of what he was saying on energy.

“Angus has got quite a sophisticated understanding of the energy market, and he is speaking through the political side of his brain rather than the economic side,” Turnbull told the ABC.

The energy/climate war was pivotal in Turnbull’s fall from the prime ministership in 2018, and from the opposition leadership in 2009. While Morrison is totally safe in his job, the battle over energy policy on the conservative side of politics has not been put to rest, although the prime minister is banking on his elevation of gas satisfying his Liberal parliamentarians.

Morrison’s gas policy, which the government spruiks as underpinning a manufacturing revival, is being seen as a walk away from coal.

It includes a threat to build a gas-fired power station in the Hunter region if private enterprise does not fill the gap left by the coming closure of the Liddell coal-fired station.

The debate about gas has produced an unexpected unity ticket between Turnbull and former resources minister, the Nationals Matt Canavan, on one key point – both insist gas prices won’t be as low as the policy assumes.

But Turnbull and Canavan go in opposite directions in their energy prescriptions – Turnbull strongly backs renewables and Canavan is a voice for coal.

While acknowledging gas had a role “as a peaking fuel”, Turnbull dismissed any prospect of a “gas nirvana”.

“There is no cheap gas on the east coast of Australia. It is cheap at the moment because there’s a global recession and pandemic and oil prices are down, but the equilibrium price of gas is too high to make it a cheap form of generating electricity.”

“The cheap electricity opportunities come from wind and solar, backed by storage, batteries and pumped hydro, and then with gas playing a role but it’s essentially a peaking role,” Turnbull said.

Writing in the Australian, Canavan said the Morrison gas plan would “keep the lights on but it is unlikely to lower energy prices to the levels needed to bring manufacturing back to Australia.

“If we were serious about getting [energy] prices down as low as possible, we would focus on the energy sources in which we have a natural advantage, and that is not gas. We face gas shortages in the years ahead.”

Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said about the government’s power station threat, that it would be “peculiar” to build a gas-fired plant “in the middle of a coal field”.

Turnbull said of last week’s announcement, “I’m not going to sing the song but it’s a gas, gas, gas”.

The roadmap was “gas one minute, carbon capture and storage the next”.

“What you need is to set out some basic parameters, which deal with reliability, affordability and emissions reduction, and then let the market get to work. That’s what Liberal governments should do. Unfortunately, it’s just one random intervention after another,” Turnbull said.

He lamented that, for whatever reasons, there was a “body of opinion on the right of Australian politics in the Liberal party and the National party, the Murdoch press, which still clings to this fantasy that coal is best and if we can’t have coal we’ll burn gas – I mean, it’s bonkers. The way to cheaper electricity is renewables plus storage, which is why the big storage plan that we got started, Snowy 2, is so important.”

Turnbull said that unlike his own situation when PM, Morrison was “in a position with no internal opposition”. “Now is the time to deliver an integrated, coherent energy and climate policy which is what the whole energy sector has been crying out for.”

Taylor told the National Press Club the government’s determination to get the gap filled, whether by private investment or a government power station, when the Liddell coal fired station closes in 2023 “is partly about reliability, but it’s primarily about affordability.

“If you take that much capacity out of the market, it’s a huge amount in a short period of time. We saw what happened with Hazelwood. We saw very, very sharp increases in prices. We’re not prepared to accept that.”

Asked whether the government’s resistance to committing to the 2050 target was more about appeasing the right wing of the coalition rather than about the target itself, Taylor said: “Our focus is on our 2030 target in the Paris agreement…and in a few years time we will have to extend that out to 2035 …

“What we’re not going to do is impose a target that’s going to impose costs on the economy, destroy jobs, and stop investment. The Paris commitment, globally, is to net zero in the second half of the century and we would like that to happen as soon as possible.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison government lays down five technologies for its clean energy investment


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Morrison government will tell its refocused clean energy agencies and the clean energy regulator to give priority to investment in five low emissions technologies and report how they are accelerating them.

The technologies are clean hydrogen, energy storage, low carbon steel and aluminium, carbon capture and storage, and soil carbon.

The government last week announced it would legislate to extend the remit of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) beyond renewables.

On Tuesday it will indicate the “priority low emissions technologies” they, and the Clean Energy Regulator (CER) – which is responsible for administering the government’s emissions reduction fund – should concentrate on.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor, in a Tuesday speech on low emissions technology, will say the government is putting technologies into four categories. Apart from the priority low emissions technologies, the other categories are emerging and enabling technologies, “watching brief” technologies, and mature technologies.

Priority technologies “are those expected to have transformational impacts here and globally and are not yet mature,” Taylor says in his speech, released ahead of delivery.

“They are priorities where government investments can make a difference in reducing costs and improving technology readiness.

“Technologies where we, as a government, will not only prioritise our investments but where we will streamline regulation and legislation to encourage investment.

“Investors will have confidence that identified priority technologies are of long-term strategic importance for the government.”

Emerging and enabling technologies, such as those for energy efficiency and infrastructure for electric and hydrogen vehicle charging/ refuelling, will also be included in the mandate of the government’s investment agencies.

In the “watching brief” category are those that are for the longer run or are longer odds, such as direct air capture and small nuclear modular reactors. (There is a moratorium on nuclear power in Australia at the moment but the government is watching developments in Europe and the United Kingdom.)

Notably, key renewables and key fossil fuels are in the “mature” category, which includes coal, gas, solar and wind.

The government says it will only invest in them where there is market failure or where such investments secure jobs in key industries.

Last week Scott Morrison threatened to build a gas power station in the Hunter region if private investors left a supply gap for when the Liddell coal-fired station closes, while he also indicated renewables could now stand on their own feet.

Taylor will release an overarching technology roadmap, which he says “arms the government with “four levers to enact change”: an investment lever, a legislative lever, a regulator lever, and international co-operation and collaboration.

“The roadmap will guide the deployment of the $18 billion that will be invested, including through the CEFC, ARENA, the Climate Solutions Fund [which will evolve from the Emissions Reduction Fund] and the CER.

“This will turn that into at least $50 billion through the private sector, state governments, research institutions and other publicly funded bodies. That will drive around 130 000 jobs to 2030,” Taylor says.

The legislative level “is about flexibility and accountability.

“We don’t currently have that. Our agencies are restricted by legislation and regulation to invest in the new technologies of 2010 not the emerging technologies of 2020.”

The regulator lever “is about enablement”.

Taylor says the government’s plan is not based on ideology but “balance and outcomes”.

The government is announcing several “stretch goals” (see table for details). Stretch goals are the point at which new technologies become competitive with existing alternatives. The government announced the hydrogen stretch goal earlier in the year.

“Getting these technologies right will strengthen our economy and create jobs,” Taylor says.

“This will significantly reduce global emissions, across sectors that emit 45 billion tonnes annually.

“Australia alone will avoid 250 million tonnes of emissions by 2040.”

He says “Australia can’t and shouldn’t damage its economy to reduce emissions”.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘A dose of reality’: Morrison government’s new $1.9 billion techno-fix for climate change is a small step



Dean Lewins/AAP

Frank Jotzo, Australian National University

The Morrison government today announced A$1.9 billion over ten years to develop clean technology in industry, agriculture and transport. In some ways it’s a step in the right direction, but a far cry from what’s needed to drive Australia’s shift to a low emissions economy.

The big change involves what the money is for. The new funding will enable the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to support technologies such as green steel production, industrial processes to reduce energy consumption and somewhat controversially, carbon-capture and storage and soil-carbon sequestration.

This is a big move away from ARENA’s current investment priorities. Importantly it means ARENA will continue to operate, as it is running out of money now.

However technology development alone is not enough to cut Australia’s emissions deeply and quickly – which is what’s needed to address the climate threat. Other policies and more money will be needed.

Interior of steelworks
Cutting emissions from industry will be a focus of the new spending.
Dean Lewins/AAP

New role for ARENA

ARENA will receive the lion’s share of the money: A$1.4 billion over ten years in guaranteed baseline funding. ARENA has spent A$1.6 billion since it was established in 2012. So the new funding is lower on an annual basis. It’s also far less than what’s needed to properly meet the challenge, in a country with a large industrial sector and huge opportunities for zero carbon production.

To date, ARENA’s investments have focused on renewable energy supply. Prime Minister Scott Morrison today said the renewables industry was enjoying a “world-leading boom” and no longer needs government subsidies. Critics may be dismayed to see ARENA steered away from its original purpose. But it is true solar parks and wind farms are now commercially viable, and technologies to integrate large amounts of renewables into the grid are available.

So it makes sense to spend new research and development (R&D) funding on the next generation of low-emissions technologies. But how to choose what to spend the money on?

A few simple principles should inform those choices. The spending should help develop new zero- or low-emissions technologies or make them cheaper. It should also enable the shift to a net-zero emissions future, rather than locking in structures that continue to emit. The investment choices should be made by independent bodies such as ARENA’s board, based on research and expert judgement, rather than politically determined priorities.

For the industrial sector, the case for supporting zero-emissions technologies is clear. A sizeable share of Australia’s total emissions stem from fossil fuel use in industry.




Read more:
Government targets emerging technologies with $1.9 billion, saying renewables can stand on own feet


In some cases, government-supported R&D could help lay the foundation for zero-emissions industries of the future. But in others, what’s needed is a financial incentive for businesses to switch to clean energy or zero-emissions production methods, or regulation to require cleaner processes.

Green steel is a perfect example of the positive change that is possible. Steel can be made using clean hydrogen and renewable electricity, and the long term possibility of a green steel industry in Australia is tantalising.

Steel being made
Steel could be made cleanly using hydrogen instead of coking coal.
Dean Lewins/AAP

A future for fossil fuels?

The government’s support for carbon capture and storage (CCS) will be highly contested, because it’s a way to continue using fossil fuels at reduced – though not zero – emissions. This is achieved by capturing carbon dioxide before it enters the atmosphere and storing it underground, a technically feasible but costly process.

CCS will not perpetuate fossil fuel use in the energy sector, because renewables combined with energy storage are now much cheaper. Rather, CCS can be an option in specific processes that do not have ready alternatives, such as the production of cement, chemicals and fertiliser.

One step further is so-called “carbon capture and use” (CCU), where carbon dioxide is not pumped underground but turned into products, such as building materials. One program announced is for pilot projects of that kind.




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Yes, carbon emissions fell during COVID-19. But it’s the shift away from coal that really matters


A different proposition is the idea of hydrogen produced from coal or gas, in which some resulting emissions are captured. This method competes with “green” hydrogen produced using renewable electricity. It seems the government for now intends to support fossil fuel-derived hydrogen.

Reducing fossil fuel use, and using CCS/CCU where it makes sense, will not get the world to net-zero emissions. Emissions from other sources must be cut by as much as technically possible, at justifiable cost. Remaining emissions must then be negated by drawing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Such “negative emissions” can be achieved through technological means, and also by permanently increasing the amount of carbon stored in plants and soil.

The new funding includes support for increasing the amount of soil carbon. This method may hold promise in principle, but in practice its effectiveness is uncertain, and hard to measure. At the same time, the large emissions from agriculture are not yet addressed.

Gas flaring from an industrial plant
Reducing the burning of fossil fuels is not enough to get to net-zero emissions.
Matt Black Productions

A piecemeal effort

The spending amounts to A$140 million per year for ARENA, plus about A$500 million all up through other programs. A dose of reality is needed about what this money can achieve. It will create better understanding of options, some technological progress across the board and surely the occasional highlight. But a much greater effort is likely needed to achieve fundamental technological breakthroughs. And crucially, new technologies must be widely deployed.

For a sense of scale, consider that the Snowy 2.0 scheme is costed at around A$5 billion, and a single 1 gigawatt gas power plant, as mooted by the government for the Hunter Valley, would cost in the order of A$1.5 billion to build.

As well as additional spending, policies will be needed to drive the uptake of low-emissions technologies. The shift to renewables is now happening in the energy sector without government help, though some hurdles remain. But we cannot expect the same across the economy.

Governments will need to help drive uptake through policy. The most efficient way is usually to ensure producers of emissions pay for the environmental damage caused. In other words, putting a price on carbon.

The funding announced today is merely one piece of a national long-term strategy to deeply cut emissions – and not a particularly big piece.




Read more:
Carbon pricing works: the largest-ever study puts it beyond doubt


The Conversation


Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate and Energy Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Government targets emerging technologies with $1.9 billion, saying renewables can stand on own feet


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has unveiled a $1.9 billion package of investments in new and emerging energy and emission-reducing technologies, and reinforced its message that it is time to move on from assisting now commercially-viable renewables.

The package will be controversial, given its planned broadening of the remit of the government’s clean energy investment vehicles, currently focused on renewables, and the attention given to carbon capture and storage, which has many critics.

The latest announcement follows the “gas-fired recovery” energy plan earlier this week, which included the threat the government would build its own gas-fired power station if the electricity sector failed to fill the gap left by the scheduled closure of the coal-fired Liddell power plant in 2023.




Read more:
Morrison government threatens to use Snowy Hydro to build gas generator, as it outlines ‘gas-fired recovery’ plan


Unveiling the latest policy, Scott Morrison said solar panels and wind farms were commercially viable “and have graduated from the need for government subsidies”.

The government was now looking to unlock new technologies “to help drive down costs, create jobs, improve reliability and reduce emissions. This will support our traditional industries – manufacturing, agriculture, transport – while positioning our economy for the future.”

An extra $1.62 billion will be provided for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to invest.

The government will expand the focus of ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to back new technologies that would reduce emissions in agriculture, manufacturing, industry and transport.

At present ARENA can only support renewable energy and the CEFC can only invest in clean energy technologies (although it can support some types of gas projects).

The changes to ARENA and the CEFC will need legislation.

The government says it will cut the time taken to develop new Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) methods from two years or more to under a year, involving industry in a co-design process.

This follows a review of the fund, which is a centrepiece of the Coalition’s emissions reduction policy. The cost of the changes is put at $24.6 million. The fund has had trouble attracting proposals from some sectors because of its complex administrative requirements.

Other measures in the policy include a new $95.4 million Technology Co-Investment Fund to support businesses in the agriculture, manufacturing, industrial and transport sectors to take up technologies to boost productivity and reduce emissions.

A $50 million Carbon Capture Use and Storage Development Fund will pilot carbon capture projects. This technology buries carbon but has run into many problems over the years and its opponents point to it being expensive, risky and encouraging rather than discouraging the use of fossil fuels.

Businesses and regional communities will be encouraged to use hydrogen, electric, and bio-fuelled vehicles, supported by a new $74.5 million Future Fuels Fund.

A hydrogen export hub will be set up, with $70.2 million. Chief Scientist Alan Finkel has been a strong advocate for the potential of hydrogen, saying Australia has competitive advantages as a future hydrogen exporter.

Some $67 million will back new microgrids in regional and remote communities to deliver affordable and reliable power.

There will be $52.2 million to increase the energy productivity of homes and businesses. This will include grants for hotels’ upgrades.

The government says $1.8 billion of the package is new money.

Here are the details of the package:

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

No, Prime Minister, gas doesn’t ‘work for all Australians’ and your scare tactics ignore modern energy problems


Samantha Hepburn, Deakin University

The federal government today announced it will build a new gas power plant in the Hunter Valley, NSW, if electricity generators don’t fill the energy gap left by the Liddell coal-fired station when it retires in 2023.

The government says it’s concerned that when the coal plant closes, there’ll be insufficient dispatchable power (that can be used on demand) because the energy sector is focused on accelerating renewable energy at the expense of reliability. So electricity generators are required to come up with a plan to inject 1,000 megawatts of new dispatchable energy into the national grid.




Read more:
Morrison government threatens to use Snowy Hydro to build gas generator, as it outlines ‘gas-fired recovery’ plan


This is tantamount to an ultimatum: if we must have renewables, then prove they generate the same amount of electricity as fossil fuel or we will go back to fossil fuel.

The government’s joint media release has this to say:

This is about making Australia’s gas work for all Australians. Gas is a critical enabler of Australia’s economy.

But under a rapidly changing climate, the issue is not just about keeping the lights on. We not only want energy, we also want to breathe clean air, have enough food, have clean and available water supplies, preserve our habitat and live in a sustainable community. So no, gas doesn’t “work for all Australians”.

Adapting to a new energy future is a complex process our national government must not only support, but progress. It should not be hijacked by fossil fuel politics.

Scare-tactics won’t resolve the climate emergency

The government’s scare tactic completely ignores the two fundamental imperatives of modern energy.




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4 reasons why a gas-led economic recovery is a terrible, naïve idea


The first is the critical importance of decarbonisation. Energy production from fossil fuels is the most carbon intensive activity on the planet. If we are to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and stay within 2℃ of global warming, we cannot burn fossil fuels to produce energy.

The government shouldn’t revert to outdated fossil fuel rhetoric about “reliable, dispatchable power” during an accelerating climate emergency.

The second is it’s in the public interest to support and invest in energy that’s not only environmentally sustainable for the future, but also economically sustainable. Demand for fossil fuels is in terminal decline across the world and investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure may lead to stranded assets.

We need to address the ‘energy trilemma’

The question the government should instead focus on is this: how can the government continue to supply its citizens with affordable, reliable electricity but also maintain a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and high air quality standards?

Answering this question involves addressing a three-part set of tensions, known as the “energy trilemma”:

  1. sustainable generation that is not emission intensive
  2. infrastructure reliability and
  3. affordability.

The energy trilemma is a well-known tool in the sector that powerfully communicates the relative positioning of each tension. No single axis is necessarily more important than the other two. The aim is to try to balance all three.

Constructing a new gas plant seeks to address the second pillar at the expense of the first. This isn’t good enough in the face of the climate emergency.

Gas fired electricity can emit methane. Over a 20-year period, methane is 84 times more effective than carbon dioxide in trapping heat, and 28 times more effective over 100 years.




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Australia has plenty of gas, but our bills are ridiculous. The market is broken


The affordability pillar is also important. Morrison says constructing the plant will prevent energy price spikes. But research clearly confirms renewable energy generation is cheapest.

What is it with the federal government and gas?

After first informing us gas will help bolster the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic, this new announcement makes it clear the federal government is firmly wedded to gas.

This may be because the federal government regards adherence to gas as a compromise between the renewable sector and the demands of the fossil fuel industry.

In any case, we cannot and must not revert to fossil fuel energy generation. We must abandon past behaviours if we’re to adapt to a changing climate, which is set to hit the economy much harder than this pandemic.

Most Australians have derived their assumptions about energy security from fossil fuel dependency, because this is what they have known. The good news is this is changing.

Increasingly, the global community understands it’s not sustainable to burn coal or gas to generate energy just because we want to be “sure” we can turn the lights on. Consumer preference is shifting.




Read more:
Why it doesn’t make economic sense to ignore climate change in our recovery from the pandemic


This is something BP recognises in its 2020 Energy Outlook report, which outlines three scenarios for the global energy system in next 30 years.

Each scenario shows a shift in social preferences and a decline in the share of hydrocarbons (coal, oil and natural gas) in the global energy system. This decline is matched by an increase in the role of renewable energy.

I’ll say it again: renewable energy is the future

The technology underpinning renewable energy production from clean, low-cost generation such as wind, solar, hydro-electricity, hydrogen and bio-mass is advancing.

Renewable energy generation is sustainable, better for the environment, low in emissions, and affordable. Reliability is improving at a rapid rate. A recent report indicates electricity generated by solar photovoltaic (PV) and onshore wind farms from 2026 will overtake the combined power production from coal and gas.

The combined solar and wind capacity will grow to an estimated 41.4 gigawatts in 2023 from 26.4 gigawatts this year. By contrast, coal and gas capacity will shrink to 35.3 gigawatts in 2023 from 39.1 gigawatts this year.

The report is based on the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) Step Change Scenario, which models a shift to renewables. It includes rapid adjustments in technology costs and a “well below 2℃” scenario as part of its 20-year planning blueprint.




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Here’s what the coronavirus pandemic can teach us about tackling climate change


Yes, there are challenges in shifting from a centralised grid and developing new transmission capacity.

But these are the challenges we need to be investing in. Not a new gas plant that’s likely to be a stranded asset in the not-too-distant future.The Conversation

Samantha Hepburn, Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law, Deakin Law School, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.