The Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor distributed a media release on 19 April 2022 stating that:
“Energy consumers would be left $560 per year worse off by 2032-33, on average across the country, under Labor’s plan to increase the size of the transmission network to almost $100bn.”
The claim refers to the Australian Labor Party’s (ALP) Rewiring the Nation policy, which was first announced in October 2020. The claim relies on modelling from an unspecified source that hasn’t yet been released to the public.
The ALP’s Rewiring the Nation policy involves the creation of a new body, the Rewiring the Nation Corporation (RNC), to invest $20 billion to modernise the electricity grid. The policy is designed to bring forward the construction of high-voltage infrastructure by lowering financial and planning barriers to unlock the commercial development of large-scale renewable energy resources.
Rewiring the Nation is the major initiative in the ALP’s Powering Australia Plan, which also includes $200 million to install 400 community batteries, $100 million for the development of shared ‘solar banks’, and a commitment to reduce the emissions of the Australian Public Service to net-zero by 2030.
Modelling conducted by RepuTex Energy on behalf of the ALP found that the Powering Australia Plan would reduce average residential electricity bills by $275 in 2025 and $378 in 2030. The modelling also found that the plan would reduce emissions by 440 million tonnes between 2023 and 2030, increase renewable energy penetration to 82 per cent by 2030, create $76 billion in total investment and create 604,000 direct and indirect jobs.
The Australian Energy Market Operator’s (AEMO) Integrated System Plan (ISP) provides a comprehensive plan for the efficient development of the National Electricity Market out to 2050.
In the 2022 Draft ISP, AEMO found that for Australia to meet its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, which was committed to by the Morrison Government in October 2021, it will need to:
To connect all this new generation to consumers, AEMO found that more than 10,000 km of new transmission infrastructure will be required around the country.
While this will require significant investment, there are several factors that will result in net benefits for consumers. Firstly, the vast majority of this new transmission will be used to connect new renewable energy projects to the grid. As renewable energy is now the lowest cost form of generation in Australia, even when considering additional integration costs such as storage and transmission, this will deliver far cheaper electricity to Australian consumers than the current alternatives.
Secondly, much of the new renewable energy capacity will be concentrated in renewable energy zones. This will significantly lower the cost of transmission by enabling optimal development planning from the outset, reducing the amount of infrastructure required, and reducing risk premiums for those constructing the new transmission and for those connecting to the grid.
Thirdly, transmission investment allows for power to be shared more effectively between states. This helps to unlock the best renewable resources to deliver the lowest cost energy nationally while maintaining reliability of supply. It also supports more competition between generators in different states. All of these factors will help to reduce energy prices for consumers over the long run.
Other analysis by AEMO has found that even if we ignore these marked benefits for consumers, we are simply going to need additional transmission investment to keep the lights on.
For example, as recently discussed in its update to the Energy Statement of Opportunities, AEMO has found that the transmission investment supported by the NSW Energy Roadmap, in conjunction with the huge influx of private capital from the renewables sector, will be critical to maintaining NSW reliability in the medium term, once the Eraring coal-fired generator retires in 2025.
More generally, AEMO has found these kinds of thermal coal retirements may occur sooner than currently expected. Under the central ‘Step Change’ scenario that informs the 2022 Draft ISP for instance, AEMO finds that approximately 14 GW of thermal coal may exit by 2030. Put simply, we have to build more transmission investment to bring in the renewable energy that will replace the rapidly exiting coal generators.
As a result of these factors, AEMO forecasts that the transmission projects outlined in the 2022 Draft ISP will deliver net market benefits of $29 billion – equating to 2.5 times its investment – for all who produce, consume and transport electricity in the market.
While some questions remain around the energy price reductions and jobs created by the ALP’s Powering Australia Plan, the fact that the policy is accompanied by extensive publicly available modelling conducted by a highly reputable industry analyst gives it a strong level of credibility.
In comparison, the figures released by Minister Taylor are unsourced and provide no methodology as to how they were calculated or the assumptions on which they were based.
In addition, the findings of AEMO in the 2022 Draft ISP show that the considerable transmission investment required for Australia to meet its international emissions reduction commitments will deliver significant net benefits to consumers.
As a result, the Clean Energy Council finds that Minister Taylor’s claim that additional investment in the transmission network by the ALP will result in a significant price increase for energy consumers to be implausible.