Liddell, Australia’s oldest coal-fired power plant, shuts down

Article by Kerry Hebden

AFTER more than five decades of operation, Australia’s oldest coal-fired power plant, Liddell, has been shut down as the site prepares to become a hydrogen hub. 

Built in 1971, and with operations beginning before the Sydney Opera House officially opened, Liddell provided about 10% of the electricity used in New South Wales (NSW), Australia’s most populous state with over 8m residents. 

It was the first of its kind to be located inland and far from the abundant saltwater supplies traditionally used for cooling purposes. As a result, Lake Liddell was constructed for cooling and water storage. 

It’s owner AGL said it would take about two years to demolish the now de-commissioned facility, which would free up the site for the next stage in its life, as the Hunter Energy Hub, a low-carbon integrated industrial energy hub focused primarily on producing hydrogen. 

Damien Nicks, CEO of AGL, said: “Liddell has also played a significant role in powering Australian lives, on average, supplying enough electricity for more than one million homes over its lifespan. Today marks the end of one chapter for the site, but also the beginning of another with our plans to transform the site into the Hunter Energy Hub. The world is changing, and so is AGL.” 

AGL said it was also exploring other clean energy projects to support the site transition including wind developments, pumped hydro, solar generation, and green manufacturing. 

The closure however comes amid concerns about increased electricity prices. The average NSW wholesale electricity price peaked at A$228.86 (US$153) on 1 May, up from A$96.40 in the week prior to the Liddell shutdown. There are also fears that new renewable energy generation projects are not coming online fast enough to plug the gap left by the closure of fossil fuel power plants. 

AGL for example has brought forward its expected closure date for the 800 MW gas-fired Torrens Island B power station in South Australia from 2035 to 2026, while Origin Energy’s black coal-fired Eraring power station is scheduled to be shut in the next couple of years. Similarly, the Yallourn power station in Victoria is due to retire in mid-2028. 

Controversy surrounding the multibillion-dollar NSW Snowy Hydro 2.0 development is also rife, following the recent announcement that the federal government-owned facility will be delayed by up to two years and face another cost blowout. 

Billed as key to underpinning Australia’s transition to a renewable energy future at the lowest cost to consumers, the country’s largest renewable energy project may now not be fully operational until December 2029, while its A$5.9bn budget, up from A$2bn in 2017, could also face another significant increase. Likewise, Snowy Hydro’s gas-fired Kurri Kurri power station will be delayed by at least a year. 

But, Australia, which has long been one of the world’s largest coal producers and exporters, has yet to loosen its grip on using fossil fuels. Origin Energy has reported a three-year extension to the operation of the 180 MW gas-fired Osborne power station in South Australia to 2026, and the 123 MW gas-fired Bolivar power station in South Australia is now considered committed, and is modelled as available over summer 2022-23, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) said. 

A string of long duration storage projects across the country to help bolster energy requirements are also in progress, AEMO said. This includes the Waratah Super Battery Project scheduled for operation from late 2025, and RWE’s Limondale battery energy storage system. Both are located in NSW. 

Article by Kerry Hebden

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

Recent Editions

Catch up on the latest news, views and jobs from The Chemical Engineer. Below are the four latest issues. View a wider selection of the archive from within the Magazine section of this site.