In the Australian state of Victoria, where Brisbane is located, the Hazelwood coal fired generating plant supplies 20% of the state’s total electrical power. Hazelwood is owned by French utility company Engie, which has announced that it will shutter the plant and the coal mine that feeds it. In its place, Engie is seeking bids from commercial developers to build solar energy farms to replace the electricity that previously derived from the Hazelwood facility.
Is Engie doing this because it has suddenly got religion and wants to help save the world? That may be part of it. Last year, the company announced plans to transition away from coal toward renewable energy sources at most of its facilities worldwide. But in the end it comes down to simple economics. Solar is cheaper than coal. End of story.
Engie has not released any details about whether the solar power development process will include measures that will allow the storage of electrical energy from solar panels so it can be used later in the day when the sun sets. Such time-shifting strategies are essential to avoid the need for so-called peaker plants — fossil fueled generating stations that sit idle all day until the demand for electricity begins to ramp up in the late afternoon and into the early evening.
Closing the Hazelwood facility will eliminate about 500 jobs in the area. But the local government has already budgeted a $266 million dollar package of support benefits for those workers, including retraining for other employment. Some of them will surely be able to find work building the solar facilities to come or operating them once they are completed. Support for unemployed workers is something that many countries, including the US, typically fail to provide as technology causes alterations in the local economy.
Engie has not revealed if any companies have submitted proposals for the new solar facilities as of yet, saying it “has only just gone to the market” with the request for bids.