The plants are “peakers” in the industry jargon, on hand to deal with extreme summer and winter demand in NSW. The state’s peak demand was only 11,500 MW at the start of the decade. Now it is more than 14,000 MW and by 2016 it is expected to be more than 17,000 MW – and, as every pollie knows, voter angst about future global warming problems is as nothing compared with how they react to blackouts in the depths of winter or when the thermometer hits 40 degrees C.
The peakers’ clean little secret is that, given the right carbon pricing environment (about $20 per tonne will do it), they can be converted to baseload supply relatively cheaply and, in their most modern guise, emit only 30 percent as much greenhouse gas per megawatt hour of electricity production as a conventional coal plant. They also use a great deal less water for cooling.
Nice Mr Rudd’s proposed emissions trading scheme promises a taste of nirvana for the gas-fired generators. Their problem is that nasty Mr Rudd’s intention to also give wind power a big boost through the enlarged renewable energy target threatens to see the air farmers eat their lunch over the next decade because power retailers will be required to take the green stuff to the tune of a fifth of their sales.