Shire matters with Mark Speakman: Green with envy

Mark Speakman MP with Anthony Roberts MP at the Broken Hill solar farm.
Mark Speakman MP with Anthony Roberts MP at the Broken Hill solar farm.

In the midst of a gloomy 2020, here's a bit of good news - the solutions for cheaper energy and the solutions for cleaner energy now coincide.

Four of NSW's five remaining coal-fired generators will reach the end of their technical lives and close by 2035, starting with the Liddell Power Station in 2023. They will need reliable replacement.

The NSW Government's Electricity Strategy identifies wind and solar as now the cheapest forms of new electricity generation in Australia. These technologies are the most environmentally friendly. But what happens when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing?

When paired with batteries, pumped hydro or gas-fired generators to form "firmed renewables", they can reliably supply electricity when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing, and are the lowest cost option to replace power stations as they close.

The overcrowded transmission grid is a major obstacle to new generators coming on board. Part of the NSW Government's strategy is to upgrade the grid to connect new regional "Renewable Energy Zones" (REZs) with the major population centres.

There is overwhelming private sector interest in these REZs. When the Government recently announced the first one, a 3 gigawatt Central-West / Orana REZ, it received 113 registrations of interest, totalling 27 gigawatts. This REZ will be the modern-day equivalent of a traditional power station, capable of powering 1.3 million homes.

Last week the Government announced a second REZ - an 8 gigawatt New England REZ, able to power 3.5 million homes. This will support 2,000 construction jobs and 1,300 ongoing jobs to maintain the site.

When we talk about energy, it's easy to get lost in the numbers, the technicalities or the ideology. But the reality is, there's plenty to celebrate about these new zones and cheaper, cleaner, more reliable energy to support NSW households and businesses.