A Liberal Kirkup government plans to close all publicly owned coal-fired power stations by 2025 as part of the “biggest jobs, renewable energy and export project in the nation”, meaning Muja and Collie would shut within four years.
WA Liberal leader Zak Kirkup said the plan was the largest renewable energy project in Australia’s history, with estimates of $400 million being injected by a Liberal government alongside private investments.
“The New Energy Jobs plan will help create tens of thousands of jobs right here in WA,” he said.
“We’ll bring back manufacturing and help create a renewable energy future, not only for our state but for the rest of the country.
“It will make sure we reduce power bills, it’ll make sure the state government has a net zero emissions target that is ambitious and it is bold, but it underpins where WA needs to be for the decades to come.”
Under the energy plan, WA would have a net zero carbon emissions electricity system by 2030, with all state-owned coal-fired power stations to be closed by 2025.
Central to the policy is a $9 billion, 4,500 megawatt energy project to convert water into hydrogen for export using solar and wind, and a 1,500 megawatt solar and wind energy project in the state’s Mid West that would provide electricity to Perth, the Wheatbelt, the Goldfields and the South West.
A $100 million fund would be set aside to help the new renewables industries open up to international markets, with a further $100 million to attract renewables companies to WA.
The policy does not set emissions targets for private mining companies.
Mr Kirkup said the plan would “guarantee fuel security” for the state by facilitating the transition to WA renewables.
The Opposition’s energy and renewables spokesman, David Honey, said major companies like BHP, Rio Tinto and Woodside had committed to achieving zero emissions in WA by 2050.
He hoped the plan would provide further incentives for private enterprise to move into renewables.
Mr Kirkup said the transition from coal mining into renewable energy would see $100 million invested in creating jobs via the Collie Training and Transition Fund.
“[It’s] a real plan to help retrain and upskill those workers in the coal industry and help them into a long-term secure job and give them the financial security that they need,” he said.
Mr Kirkup said transitioning to renewables was a necessary step for WA to take, so it could keep up with other countries already making the move around the world.
“Coal has been progressively wound down in WA and what we need to do is make sure we look after towns like Collie, make sure we have a plan for the future,” he said.
Dr Honey rejected suggestions the move to renewables would lead to higher electricity bills.
“I am confident we won’t see a significant change — if anything, we’ll see a reduction,” Dr Honey said.
“We’re confident that we’re not going to see a rise in energy costs.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has declared his goal is to reach net zero emissions “as soon as possible, and preferably by 2050”, although he has not committed to it.
Mr Kirkup said he expected to receive support for his energy policy from the Prime Minister and other state Liberal leaders, despite his emissions target for the electricity system arriving 20 years earlier.
He said WA could afford to be more ambitious with its energy targets than other states and territories.
“New South Wales obviously doesn’t have the vast resources, the vast opportunity like WA does to really capitalise on those energy projects,” Mr Kirkup said.
“That’s why we can be more ambitious, because WA has that natural advantage.”
WA Premier Mark McGowan said the Liberal policy could not be believed or trusted, and the public should “be very fearful” about the reality of the proposal.
“Suddenly the Liberal Party, that for ten years has fought any action on climate, any action on renewables, any action on hydrogen suddenly releases a policy embracing all of them,” Mr McGowan said.
Mr McGowan said the timeframe for the plan was not achievable.
“But in any event, should the policies that they announced … be implemented, all it would mean is many, many billions of extra debt, huge increase in family power bills, rolling blackouts across the state and huge job losses,” he said.
“Everyone should be very fearful about what they have just put forward … we don’t need reckless, inexperienced and dangerous people in charge.”
Mr McGowan said Labor’s approach to renewable energy in comparison was achievable and responsible.
Collie Shire president Sarah Stanley said while the transition to renewable energy was “absolutely inevitable” she questioned the proposal’s timeframe.
“The technology just doesn’t exist today,” Ms Stanley said.
“WA needs reliable power and we just don’t have the technology in today’s environment to deliver reliable, renewable electricity across the entire grid.”
Ms Stanley said she recognised the proposal provided support for the community but that the power station closure would be sooner than expected.
“The plan talks about an earlier closure of Collie Power Station that we weren’t probably expecting in that short period of time,” Ms Stanley said.
Australian Energy Council chief executive Sarah McNamara agreed the plan was unrealistic.
“The WA Liberals’ plan appears very ambitious in terms of its pace in the 2020s,” Ms McNamara said.
“The Whole of System Plan prepared by the WA government already recognises many technical challenges with integrating renewables at the rate expected from present settings, and the rate proposed here would open many new issues.
“Critical to a successful transition will be our ability to balance the competing principles of affordability, sustainability, and reliability to ensure that the pace of change is in the best interests of customers.”
Another industry group representing Australia’s upstream oil and gas sector, APPEA, said the Liberals’ proposal lacked detail.
“What we’d encourage is that the Opposition and the Government, on these really important announcements, they come and talk to the industry and have some consultation,” APPEA WA Director Claire Wilkinson said.