Opinion: Joel Fitzgibbon | Every new job in region is a welcome one

CLOSURE: The 2000-megawatt Liddell Power Station will close in 2023.
CLOSURE: The 2000-megawatt Liddell Power Station will close in 2023.

The federal government recently announced it would lend Snowy Hydro the money it needs to build a new gas/hydrogen-powered electricity generator in Kurri Kurri.

I've been fighting for the establishment of more local generation capacity since AGL announced the 2000-megawatt (MW) Liddell Power Station will close in 2023. Strangely, there are those who are fighting to stop this $600 million worth of local investment.

I'd hoped AGL would build a local gas-peaker and it had plans to do so. But politics got in the way when the government started bullying AGL and warned both generation and energy retail companies it would take a "big stick" to them if they didn't act in a manner that suited the government's political narrative.

As a result, the private sector was scared of making generation investments in a market now infected with the risk of government intervention. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking towards the Liddell closure and the loss of the 1300 MW she is capable of providing these days - or should I say, some days. If the loss of Liddell's synchronous power is not replaced in a timely way, the lights will go off and our industrial plants will grind to a halt.

Some argue that we need more renewable energy, and the Hunter is leading the country on that front with local proposals for pumped-hydro, solar, and batter storage projects. But the key word here is "synchronous," the reliable, grid-stabilising power only big, rotary generators like coal, gas and hydro generators can deliver.

Enter Snowy Hydro's Kurri Kurri generator at 660 MW and Energy Australia's new 300 MW gas-peaker in the Illawarra. Do the maths, 1300 MW out and 960 MW in. It is believed the remaining gap can be filled with renewables and, hopefully, with a pumped-hydro project in the Upper Hunter. The upgrade underway at the Bayswater power station will help too.

Some argue that the capacity gap is not anywhere near 1300 MW. It is true the calculation is not as simple as it first appears because we are trying to predict what investors, consumers and technology might do in the future. But given how critical reliable and affordable electricity supplies are to our economy and community, over-estimating is much better than underestimating how much electricity we'll need when Liddell closes. Remembering, more coal-fired generators will close in future years as they come to the end of their physical and economic lives.

It's bizarre that those opposing the Kurri generator are doing so on the basis of carbon emissions.

Joel Fitzgibbon

In any case, if you are going to build a new generator you look not just at the supply gap, but the capacity which offers the best financial return. Snowy has decided a power station with a capacity of around 600 MW will do so. This is important because the dividends will go to the government, as will the loan repayments.

It's bizarre that those opposing the Kurri generator are doing so on the basis of carbon emissions. Kurri's emissions will be half per unit of energy than Liddell's. And the Snowy Hydro plant will be built to run on hydrogen when that fuel source is an option.

Some complain about the few jobs the project will create but all production is less labour-intensive than it once was. How many ongoing jobs do renewable energy projects create? Every additional job is a welcome one.

Joel Fitzgibbon is the Federal Member for Hunter