On 10 January “The Advertiser” reported that the solar-thermal plant to replace the now demolished coal plant at Port Augusta has been given development approval. The proponents still need to organise finance and get their hands on the federal government $100 million “concessional equity loan” otherwise known as free money from us. I thought I would do some numbers to see whether the project is worth the hype, even though it is probably inevitable.
The promotional blurb for the “Aurora” project states a generating capacity of 150 MW and output of 500 GWh per year. If “Aurora” was a conventional generator its theoretical annual output would be 1,314 GWh so the capacity factor for the project is 38%. This is not much better than wind farms which average capacity factors of 30-35%. As a comparison, the now demolished Port Augusta power station had a capacity of 520MW and a capacity factor of around 90% so could produce about 4,100 GWh annually. This is around 8 times more than the solar-thermal project will provide.
The solar-thermal plant is quoted at $650 million, with $100 million coming directly from our pockets. The construction time is 2 ½ years from whenever they get the money finalised.
Over a proposed life span of 40 years it will produce 20,000 GWh – about 5 years’ worth of Port Augusta output – and will have a capital cost per MWh produced of $32.50 plus financing and operating costs.
There is much hype about the “storage” capacity and how this will make the plant “dispatchable”, (a term the famous “pet shop parrot” now uses whenever electricity is being discussed). Looking at data from plants already in existence in Nevada, the solar-thermal plants suffer the same issue as ordinary solar PV in that their output drops off in winter months. Plots show capacity factors dropping to 10% so output is around one quarter of summer output. There might not be sufficient “excess” power to store in winter months.
The coal fired station provided employment for 500 or so people in the Leigh Creek mine and Port Augusta power station and many others who made their livings supporting the power station or providing services for the families of these people. Leigh Creek is now a ghost town and Port Augusta has businesses closed and people out of work. They are also facing pollution from the overenthusiastic explosive demolition of the power station and the dust from the drying flyash lagoon.
The solar-thermal project is touted as employing 650 people over 2 ½ years for construction – most of whom will come from places other than Port Augusta – and an ongoing workforce of 50 people to operate it. Not much of a deal for those who now see no future.
Towards the end of the article Mr Kevin Smith, CEO of “Solar Reserve” is quoted as saying it is “a remarkable story of the transition of Port Augusta from coal to renewable energy – which won a competitive tender against fossil fuel”. I would imagine Alinta, owners of the Port Augusta power station, were not asked to “tender”, (if there ever was a tender process), because it used “dirty coal”. How can you “win” a tender against something that is excluded from the tender for “ideological” reasons?
Alinta were going broke because they had to get off the grid every time the wind blew but be ready to pick up the slack when it did not. This meant they continued to burn coal and employ people but their revenue base was severely reduced. They offered a deal to keep the plant going for $8 million per year but this was turned down by a government that has a fanatical fixation about “climate change” and “emissions reductions”. As a consequence the plant was blown up and sent to China as scrap metal.
4,100,000 MWh for $8 million is $1.95 per MWh, slightly less than a capital cost of $32.50 plus $80 for the RET subsidy, (it is “renewable” after all), and probably $20 for operations and maintenance giving $132.50 per MWh, without financing costs. This is 68 times the incremental cost for keeping Port Augusta open and produces 5 years’ worth of “equivalent” power over a 40 year life span.
I find it very hard to get excited by deals such as this and I suspect if others had access to the numbers they might get out on the streets with pitchforks and chase the perpetrators of this fiasco down the street.
It gets worse. When the penny finally dropped that our power system was imperilled the same government did deals for a battery, which has limited use and which we do not know the price of and some diesel fired gas turbines that use 80,000 litres of fuel per hour. The total cost, excluding the solar thermal plant is said to be $550 million of the SA taxpayers’ dollars. It will be added to the state credit card which we are ultimately responsible for.
Not only do the federal government think it is a good idea, Mr Xenophon, who is on a quest to “save” us, thinks so too and “struck a deal” when he was a senator in order to get the “concessional equity loan”. This does not bode well for us in regard to sane energy policy going forwards but the same can be said for the Liberals who seem clueless.
Meanwhile the good people of Port Augusta and Leigh Creek comb through the garbage cans trying to survive, wondering why their lives have been destroyed for absolutely no reason by a government that is supposed to do the right thing by its citizens. The rest of us deal with eye-watering power bills and the ever present threat of blackouts. Businesses shed staff or close up shop because their power bills increase past the affordable limit.
The pity of it is that all Australian politicians have become captive to the fantasy of the “greenhouse effect” even though it is just a theory, has not been proved and has been refuted by many scientists we never hear about. There is strong motivation for vested interests in “renewables” to hype their product while dining off subsidies that all consumers pay for in their power bills and no one dares stick their head up above the trenches point out that it is all pain and no gain.
It is insane. We are living in the madhouse.