Australia’s third-largest greenhouse gas emitter and Queensland’s largest power generator, Stanwell Corporation, has revealed plans to transition its business from fossil fuels to renewables, including curtailing the output of its coal-fired power plants.
The Queensland government-owned corporation operates three coal plants, including two – Tarong North and Stanwell – regularly touted as among the youngest in the country and not scheduled to close for several decades.
In a statement released ahead of a “game-changing” future energy summit in Gladstone on Wednesday, Stanwell chief executive officer Richard Van Breda said the speed of the national energy transition means the corporation “must” now shift its focus towards new energy technologies.
He said Stanwell wanted to take early steps to bring governments, unions, workers and communities together to plan for the transition and to assist workers into retraining, redeployment or retirement.
“Australia is undergoing a major energy transition and it’s happening at a rapid pace,” Van Breda said.
“The energy market is shifting from fossil fuel generation to renewable energy and storage.
“Over the coming years, Stanwell will respond to the renewable energy needs of our large commercial and industrial customers through new low- or zero-emission generation technologies. We will also strive to play a central role in the emerging green hydrogen industry.
“Our Tarong and Stanwell power stations will continue to play an important role as Stanwell’s portfolio transforms. We will operate our coal-fired power stations much more flexibly, in response to market requirements.
“This may include seasonal storage of our generating units, or placing units into standby mode so they can be quickly returned if the market needs them.”
Van Breda’s comments are part of a broader shift in the energy conversation, particularly in Queensland, where transition had often been framed as a trojan horse for industrial and mining job losses.
As the global market signals it might shift away from fossil fuels more quickly than expected and communities begin to understand the real opportunities presented by new green industries, the conversation appears to have subtly shifted to a more positive story.
Van Breda said the corporation recognised the changes the business “must make in order to remain relevant to our customers” would affect the futures of employees and communities around power stations.
“We are therefore taking early steps to bring our people, communities, unions and government together put plans in place,” he said.
“These plans will help ensure that as we eventually retire our assets from service, our people have choices in relation to retraining, redeployment and – where it is their preference – retirement.
“The plans our host communities develop in partnership with government, local councils, industry and advocacy groups will ensure the long-term economic resilience of their regions. While the communities themselves must own these plans, we will engage with them throughout the planning process, playing a supporting role and sharing our future plans.”
The two-day summit in Gladstone will bring together power companies (including state government generators Stanwell, CS Energy and CleanCo) and heavy industry players including Rio Tinto, government bodies, unions, environment groups and traditional owners.
Amanda Cahill, the chief executive of summit host The Next Economy, said buy-in from energy companies and industry was “the game changer” for the conversation about transition.
“Industry can see the opportunities on the horizon and they want to take advantage of that,” Cahill said.
“It’s quite remarkable how the mood has shifted even in the last six months; people are really excited and relieved that this conversation is coming together, so I think we’re going to see really tangible outcomes in terms of what needs to happen.
“There’s an acknowledgement that everyone needs to come together around this so we can plan for the future. And without that planning we’ll end up seeing some unintended negative consequences, instead of being able to take advantage of the economic opportunities.
“Regional leaders across industry, government and civil society are tired of waiting for state and federal governments to lead on this issue. The region wants to see better coordination and funding from both the state and federal governments to better manage the energy transition.”