16/02/2021 - 15:42

Honey and Johnston clash on costings

16/02/2021 - 15:42

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Bill Johnston has amped up Labor’s attack on an ambitious energy plan proposed by the WA Liberals, but opposition energy spokesman David Honey says he’s under no illusions it will be easy.

Honey and Johnston clash on costings
Bill Johnston (left), David Honey and Greens energy spokesperson Tim Clifford at the debate today. Photo: David Henry

Bill Johnston has amped up Labor’s attack on an ambitious energy plan proposed by the Liberal Party WA, but opposition energy spokesman David Honey says he’s under no illusions it will be easy.

It follows a promise by the Liberal Party WA last week to close coal power stations and replace the power with a government underwritten 1.5-gigawatt renewable precinct in the Mid West.

Extra transmission lines, more storage requirements and new gas capacity are among the challenges that would increase the cost of the Liberal proposal, Energy Minister Bill Johnston said at an Australian Institute of Energy debate today.

While the Liberal announcement last week included $1 billion for a new transmission line and a battery, as well as $400 million of incentives for businesses, Mr Johnston warned it could cost as much as $16.7 billion.

“I was quite horrified to see the Liberal Party’s announcement last week,” Mr Johnston said.

“It’s not possible for two members of parliament and a staffer to write a genuine plan.”

He said the policy was a Kimberley canal moment, referring to an announcement by then Liberal leader Colin Barnett in 2005 proposing to build a canal to bring water to Perth.

“It’s not a genuine attempt to deal with climate change,” Mr Johnston said.

The biggest items in the Labor costings were a $5.4 billion, 30-year power purchase agreement; $2.5 billion of additional battery capacity; and about $4.7 billion of write-offs and contract variations.

Business News reported last week that an offtake deal for 1.5GW of solar and wind could cost about $230 million a year, with the length of the agreement unclear; Labor’s numbers imply $180 million annually.

Speaking at the debate today, Dr Honey said a Liberal government would not cancel contracts.

He said he understood the move would not be trivial, and particularly questioned the long term viability of coal power in WA, which has come under pressure from intermittent renewable supply eating market share.

“They’re (no longer) baseload, they’re swing, and they’re up and down like a yoyo,” Dr Honey said.

“Those power stations are being destroyed.”

He said his experience in industry running boilers showed that it was expensive and damaging to turn boilers up and down, or on and off, rapidly; which was happening to the coal fleet.

Much of the detail of the policy is yet to be clarified.

A shorter term offtake for only a portion of the new renewable hub’s power would cost substantially less, while new gas and storage capacity could be incentivised through the reserve capacity market and not need public funding.

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