So how clean and renewable is the ACT’s power plan to combat climate change?
Well, it’s the best in Australia on any measure says the ACT Government. Wind and solar energy investment, more and more battery storage, and divesting in fossil fuel companies.
The investment includes a subsidy to achieve the 100 per cent renewable energy supply by 2020. This subsidy will peak at $5.50 a week for every household in 2020.
All in all a commendable effort. Just don’t mention Dalton. Dalton you ask?
Eighty kilometres north of the ACT, a proposed $1.5 billion gas-fired power station at Dalton, if approved, will be Canberra’s dirty (not-so-)little secret. Canberra’s electricity utility, the one that pays the territory regular dividends, is in partnership with AGL, which is proposing the new gas-fired power station.
When all that solar and wind energy and battery storage fall short of meeting base load demand it will be this gas-fired plant and other fossil-fuel generators feeding into the national grid that keep the power on in Canberra.
It is reasonable to allow a phase out period of coal and gas while renewables scale up for the job ahead, but how much slower will that transition be due to AGL’s new gas-fired power station at Dalton?
Nine years ago ActewAGL abandoned plans for a gas-fired plant in Tuggeranong. Then a bigger one at Williamsdale, about 45 kilometres south of the city was proposed and deemed important. It too was scrapped.
AGL says renewable energy still needs a back-up source for peak demand and that gas is the best transition option, emitting less greenhouse gases than coal.
About 100 people live in Dalton, a quiet village three kilometres from AGL’s proposed gas-fired peaking plant. Mike Stone returned to Dalton from Canberra after a career in the public service. He lives off-grid in a cottage near his great grandfather’s 180 year-old wood slab building which he restored.
AGL’s revival of a huge gas-fired peaking plant, with up to six jet turbines and 45m – high exhaust stacks is a nightmare for villagers. AGL says it will modify its original plan lodged in 2012, but no one knows what the latest modification will be.
“The village is horrified,” Mr Stone says. “We thought it was all over. AGL was not on my radar when I moved back here three-and-a-half years ago to invest my life savings into my dream to live a more simple and sustainable life.’’
Mr Stone says AGL’s fossil-fuelled power plant across the ACT border is inconsistent with its commitment to Canberrans. “How can AGL be a respected partner in the Canberra energy plan under these circumstances?’’ he said.
AGL is now asking NSW planning for a two year extension to its 2012 development approval because of industry developments over the past five years.
“Dalton in the last five years has changed too,” Mr Stone says. “It is on the map as the next Murrumbateman or Gundaroo. We have had over $15 million worth of real estate investment here since AGL suspended the project in 2012.
“These families bought land and built their homes with no knowledge of AGL’s plans. They may well have borrowed more than what their property will be worth if the project proceeds. Many planned developments have also been put on hold. Land sales have stopped.”
“There are no trees, there are no hills between the town and the proposed site. There is no buffer visual, or acoustic – the plant will overlook the town,” Mr Stone says. “ Many homes have direct line of sight of the proposed power station. Several homes are within 2 km.”
In recent times climate change campaigners like the ACT Conservation Council and 350.org have convinced the ACT Government to divest in fossil fuel companies, including AGL. But they won’t comment on AGL’s partnership or gas-fired power aspirations for Dalton. Acting Climate Change Minister Mick Gentleman was invited to comment and declined. Minister Shane Rattenbury is on leave.
Do you think the government is being hypocritical being in partnership with AGL, saying nothing about a new, dirty big fossil fuel plant in Dalton while claiming to be Australia’s leader in renewable energy?
Captions: top, this sign outside the Dalton hotel shows how people feel about AGL’s gas-fired power plant. Above, Mike Stone values his sustainable lifestyle at Dalton. Photos: John Thistleton.