Liddell Power Station. By Webaware - Own work, Public Domain, link

Did The Guardian Just Almost Call for a Coal Plant to Stay Open?

Essay by Eric Worrall

“… The end of a relatively low-cost coal contract in 2028, however, could challenge Bayswater’s economics … A reduced operation, such as retaining just one or more of the four units, may be the result …”

‘It can’t be left to the market’: the closure of Liddell power station and uncertainty of the future

In the second of two features, we look at the plan for the site that became ‘history’ before being implemented, and what lies ahead.

When AGL Energy was in a tangle with the Turnbull government over the future of its Liddell power station in 2017, it drew up an extensive scheme listing how it would replace the coal-fired plant with equivalent generation capacity.

The Generation Plan proposed a mix of renewable energy, gas-peaking plants and battery storage, some of which would be on or near Liddell’s site in the New South Wales Hunter Valley. Its sister coal-fired power station, Bayswater, would also get an upgrade.

As events transpired, the then prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and Vesey both got rolled on the same day, 24 August 2018. “They lost their PM over energy and we lost a CEO,” one AGL insider says.

With Liddell finally shutting on 28 April, business leaders and local officials are hopeful alternative generation projects and manufacturing will eventually fill the site even if few of AGL’s proposed ventures have progressed.

Authorities, though, are confident Liddell’s shutdown won’t disrupt the power grid. The Australian Energy Market Operator forecasts the state “will maintain a reliable power supply”, says Penny Sharpe, the state’s new energy minister.

Vesey’s successor at AGL, Brett Redman, became much more cautious about the rush to invest in new renewables. Plans for a gas-peaker plant near Goulburn and one in the lower Hunter were scrapped altogether, while investments in new batteries and pumped hydro plants at Liddell or nearby have taken longer than expected, insiders say.

However, the area’s transition away from fossil fuels may need to speed up, particularly if Bayswater’s closure is brought forward and the mines start to shut. “The latest is 2033,” Brokhof says, referring to the shutdown timing of the 2,640MW plant.

The end of a relatively low-cost coal contract in 2028, however, could challenge Bayswater’s economics before then. A reduced operation, such as retaining just one or more of the four units, may be the result, people familiar with the plant say.

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The problem, the coal plant has been run into the ground, and the parent company seems to have gotten cold feet over their assurances to the community they would invest in local green projects – so much so, they dumped the CEO who was pushing the green investment plans.

The government money which everyone was expecting, but which may not have been actually promised, has also not shown up.

The local community, which is (was?) heavily economically dependent on the coal plant, who once had secure jobs, have now been left with empty promises to live on – with the exception of the permanent staff, who have apparently either retired or accepted other jobs in the company which owns the plant.

As I read this I kept thinking of a scene from “Atlas Shrugged” – businesses faltering and collapsing, with nothing to replace them, because impossible political demands were crushing the economy. The failed community still waiting after decades of being ignored, for new investment or government help. The vandalised remains of the ultimate solution to the world’s energy problems gathering dust in the corner of the abandoned ruins of the Starnes Factory.

I’m not saying the town of Muswellbrook in New South Wales, the site of the Liddell Power Plant, is a failed community. They are very much a vibrant community looking for a way forward, which made the mistake of thinking they could rely on promises of investment and support which have yet to materialise.

The left wing Labor / Green coalition which currently runs Australia, which is largely responsible for the hostile political environment which is driving Australia’s coal plants into the ground, might eventually be shamed into directly helping residents of the region directly affected by the Liddell plant closure. But I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.

As the Guardian almost hinted, with their suggestion part of the plant may remain partially open, only the continued availability of cheap, reliable power can genuinely sustain a regional manufacturing economy whose lifeblood is cheap power. Without the economic fundamentals place, all government money can achieve is an illusion of prosperity, which dries up and blows away as soon as fickle politicians turn their attention elsewhere.

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April 17, 2023 6:20 pm

Human nature never changes – we will always eagerly adopt / adapt anything that we perceive will make our lives better.

So why hasn’t it dawned on agw acolytes / wind & solar apostles that after 40 years or so, their “progressive” proposals aren’t being enthusiastically seized by the majority of people?

Could it be that they’re peddling a crock, and most people can see through it?

Reply to  Mr.
April 17, 2023 6:35 pm

As long as the government money keeps coming in, there is no real incentive to make changes.

Reply to  barryjo
April 18, 2023 12:32 am

It’s not government money. Its MY money.

Reply to  ThinkingScientist
April 18, 2023 4:44 am

Right. Governments don’t create income. They receive revenue in the form of various taxes, excises and duties. All of which is extracted from the bank accounts of individuals and businesses.

Reply to  SteveG
April 18, 2023 9:55 am

All of which is extracted from the bank accounts of PRODUCTIVE individuals and businesses.

There fixed.

April 17, 2023 6:24 pm

forecasts the state “will maintain a reliable power supply”, says Penny Sharpe, the state’s new energy minister.

This statement can mean different things to different people. The fact that Tomago can operate now means that the state can maintain power to all other consumers by reducing load at Tomago providing there are no other issues.

So is the grid still reliable if the largest load is reducing demand to keep the lights on in the NSW?

And that reduction in capacity comes at a very high price for other consumers to compensate Tomage for the mighty disruption that reduced power causes.

April 17, 2023 6:35 pm

I think that people will have to experience the full reality of life with unreliable “renewable” power systems. Real pain will need to be felt by the people who are pushing this (unfortunately, that also means that the people who can see how silly this whole thing is will also have to experience the pain). The sooner we do this, the less overall damage will be done, if we wait too long the whole system could collapse. It’s like one of those plate twirling acts, with a bunch of plates all simultaneously spinning on rods, precariously balanced and a small band of incompetent (at best) or deeply malevolent actors running around smashing the rods. If it all falls apart, it will be much harder to get things back together again, and the propensity for centrally planned responses that has been common for the last few decades will only make it much worse.

When you look at it all, you have to eventually come to a conclusion as to whether this is all just a long series of unfortunate events and bumbling incompetence (by those who proclaim themselves to be “the experts”), or whether things are going much more to plan, but that the plan is not exactly what they’re selling in the glossy brochures. There are only so many coincidences, and so many times that random errors fall the same way until you call shenanigans.

Reply to  MarkH
April 17, 2023 8:28 pm

South Africa is the future. There has been no sudden crash. Everyone just gets used to “load management” and the system of forecasting load management gets better.

Australia already has the system for the big industrial consumers to be compensated for reducing demand when generation is tight. Eventually those large consumers crash and leave the grid. Then the next level of smaller consumers get compensated for reducing demand as required. Before you know it, the daily load shedding schedule is being published by the popular press.

Everything that requires reliable power install their own generator and the grid just serves those people who cannot afford reliable power.

Leo Smith
Reply to  RickWill
April 17, 2023 8:53 pm

Interesting viewpoint. I suspect that the advent of affordable small reactors may lead to manufacturing plant running their own generation and exporting surplus to the grid.
Outside of government control. The bigger the mess government makes the more private enterporise can afford to sidestep it.

Reply to  Leo Smith
April 17, 2023 9:42 pm

Small reactors are still 500MW plus and arent really ‘affordable’ unless you are supplying the grids base load week after week
A single plant owner – forget it

Reply to  Duker
April 18, 2023 10:10 am


NuScale is at about 80 MW electric output per module.

Depending of government allowances, ONE reactor/heat source could be used independently at individual industrial locations. Or as many “modules” as necessary o provide the demand.

When a government finally comes to its senses and allows SMR, they could be sited ANYWHERE there is existing cooling towers and generation capacity and of course transmission lines to users. The reactor modules are just source of HEAT to be used as needed.

If the vessels are factory refueled and the fissile materials are never accessible on the sites where power is needed the whole “terrorists can make a bomb” BS goes away.

Of course the scary part now is the transportation to and from the factories by train due to the deterioration of the US train infrastructure. So much is being spent on BS unreliable “generation” and transmission lines to and from that crap that could be used for productive purposes.

Tombstone Gabby
Reply to  RickWill
April 18, 2023 9:18 pm

G’Day Rick,

“Before you know it, the daily load shedding schedule is being published by the popular press.”

“News 24 South Africa” has been showing ‘load shedding’ by area/location for at least the past two years.

Gary Pearse
April 17, 2023 7:12 pm

Voters need to suffer terribly to overturn this nightmare. I’ve tried to tell lefty friends and family (in Canada) that the brand name of the party they vote for is the only thing that hasn’t changed. The constituency has been outsourced to a Eurocentric globalization platform.

This is why a Trump-type is so feared and hated by the woke global elites rigging this ugly dystopia. Nothing is too big to fail for these doughty guys and the woke cancellation and shaming tactics bounce off their thick hides unnoticed. As soon as people come to realize that the best type to vote for may not be nicest guy whom you would like to befriend.

Tom Halla
April 17, 2023 7:24 pm

At least Australia, by and large, has less extreme weather than Texas. When our grid nearly crashed in Feb 2021, there was some 400 mm of snow on the ground, in a place where snow usually melts the same day it falls.
Weather dependent sources are just that.

Tom Halla
Reply to  Eric Worrall
April 17, 2023 7:50 pm

I used to live in Northern California, which was described as a place where a drunk could pass out under a Camellia tree in full bloom, and die of exposure.
Effing cold is cold. This was unusually cold even for an area open to winds blowing down from Canada. The

old cocky
Reply to  Tom Halla
April 17, 2023 9:13 pm

Didn’t Mark Twain say that the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco?

Reply to  old cocky
April 17, 2023 9:43 pm

Was he living on the street there . I remember he went broke

Reply to  Duker
April 17, 2023 10:30 pm

Yes, he backed the wrong version of the new printing presses.

It’s as if he invested in Betamax video cassette players, while the world went with VCR / VHS players.

Tom Halla
Reply to  old cocky
April 18, 2023 4:56 am

It was Rudyard Kipling, who was raised in India.

old cocky
Reply to  Tom Halla
April 18, 2023 1:47 pm

Thanks. Everything seems to get attributed to Mark Twain. Either to him or Yogi Bera.

old cocky
Reply to  Eric Worrall
April 17, 2023 9:16 pm

32 degrees will kill you as surely as -50, 

I dunno, Eric. I’m okay down to about 20 as long as I have warm clothes.

Oh, did you mean 32 Fahrenheit?

Ben Vorlich
Reply to  Eric Worrall
April 17, 2023 11:59 pm

This is a cautionary tale of fear, hype and the high cost of energy.

Woman, 87, died from hypothermia ‘for fear of high energy bills’, inquest hearsAn 87-year-old woman who repeatedly refused to put on her heating due to fears over high energy bills died from profound hypothermia after being found slumped in her home, an inquest has heard.

April 17, 2023 7:55 pm

Number one the government needs to get out of the energy generation and transmission business. They are not capable of that kind of enterprise, the communists/marxists/socialists have shown us this time after time. Wake up. Number two the coal plant operators should take an energy holiday and shut down their plants. In the meantime they should do an audit on them and decide which plants to upgrade or refit and which plants to replace. It is almost guaranteed Australia will be using fossil fuels for some time to come and if they have any sense they will start building nuclear.
Australia should sell their wind and solar plants to China, I hear they think a lot of them.

Reply to  Bob
April 17, 2023 9:46 pm

The contary is so. The generation that exists in Australia today and the grid that supports it was built as government enterprises from the 40s to the 90s.
They all sold it all off in parts and the current mess is because of the private enterprise mishandling the assets they bought
NSW sold the generators , the Grid and then the local lines

Reply to  Eric Worrall
April 17, 2023 10:21 pm

I dont agree with the various Labour governments on reliable vs renewable energy. Maybe Dan will recreated the SEC , Im not holding my breath.

Anyway how did your friends in the Anti covid measures/ street rioters fare in the election. A good hiding is what it should be called

Its a diversion from main point, that is the ‘reliable’ part of the system is largely government built and was only sold off to private companies

Blame the capitalist system for breaking it up

Reply to  Duker
April 18, 2023 4:49 am

“Anyway how did your friends in the Anti covid measures/ street rioters fare in the election. A good hiding is what it should be called”

An ignorant pathetic comment..

Reply to  Duker
April 18, 2023 4:53 am

“Blame the capitalist system for breaking it up”

That comment is even dumber — really? Blame the “system” — lol!

Reply to  Duker
April 17, 2023 10:49 pm

Government should never be in charge something like power generation for one simple reason. No entity should be self regulating. The government’s job is to regulate within strict bounds. If private industry doesn’t follow the rules they are punished for it. That is how it is supposed to work. The government never admits to failure or misbehavior, they simply move the goal posts or change the rules or spend oodles of our money convincing us that their failure was in reality a success.

April 17, 2023 9:40 pm

The labour -Greens isnt a coalition. Cant be as Labour has its own majority in House of representatives and labour Greens combined dont give a majority in Senate either.
No greens are ministers which they would be if a coalition

Was the previous Liberals-Nationals-One Nation a coalition to get things passed in Senate . of course not

Labour is quite happy to have its own batty ideas about ‘renewables’

April 17, 2023 9:43 pm

The reference to “Atlas Shrugged” is very apt – Ayn Rand was a prophet and didn’t even know it.

Reply to  PCman999
April 18, 2023 12:44 am

Lenin would have just been a popular author too if he stayed in Switzerland

Rosenbaum would have been just as bad dictator if she gained power through a minority as she too had an idealized quasi scientific sytem

Rod Evans
April 17, 2023 11:30 pm

Never click on a link to the Guardian. It makes them believe they are popular.
As far as closing down coal fired power plants goes, the (Western) world wide mass hysteria resulting in the demonization of CO2, is now so widespread no coal fired plant in the West is able to survive.
If you are a farmer with good agricultural land producing food you are under pressure to cease and desist from that activity and told to transition to renewable energy activities such as solar arrays. The fact they do not work for around 85% of the time is a mere detail.
Who needs energy anyway? There won’t be any food available, so there won’t be many people around in need of energy supply either.

Rod Evans
Reply to  Rod Evans
April 18, 2023 12:34 am

To round out my above comment here is a story from the Daily Telegraph today..
I particularly like the line that says ‘96% of the land will be available for grazing’ let’s hope grass grows at night when the solar arrays are not working otherwise the grazers will be struggling….

Ben Vorlich
April 17, 2023 11:51 pm

‘It can’t be left to the market’: the closure of Liddell power station and uncertainty of the future

The problem is that it isn’t being left to a free market. Government is messing up the market in a big way

Edward Katz
April 18, 2023 6:23 pm

Regardless of what leftist rags like the Guardian demand or recommend, all indications show that fossil fuels will remain the dominant energy sources for probably the next quarter century or longer. Figures from last year show that there are about 2400 coal plants in operation in 79 countries, and another 176 GW of generating capacity will be added in the near future, 52% of which is scheduled for China, already the world’s leading emitter. As for those dreamers who claim that old coal plants are being phased out, those 176 GW will more than make up for the closures. Except you’ll never hear The Guardian, CNN, the CBC, or any other media panic-mongers, make mention of these facts because to them only the gloom & doom scenarios deserve publicity.

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