THE NSW government's Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap - which sets out a way to replace the state's ageing coal-dominated power grid with renewable sources of electricity - has been broadly endorsed as a concrete step forward in this country's protracted energy debate.
And that it is.
For those who are disengaged from climate change, or who don't really mind where their electricity comes from, the government is saying it can keep the lights on, and encourage the private sector to build some $32 billion worth of power infrastructure over the next 10 years or so, while delivering cheaper power prices.
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That's not lower power prices than now, necessarily, just not as high as the government's consultants say they could be if things are allowed to unfold in a do-nothing "business as usual" manner.
Time will tell whether the government's power price projections, and its estimates of job-creation and economic growth, come to fruition.
Important as they are, however, it can be argued they are a secondary consideration beside the real thrust of the Roadmap, which is how to overcome the unavoidable variability of solar and wind as power sources.
To replace our present reliance on baseload coal, a renewable grid must have enough stored capacity to generate at least eight to 12 hours of electricity without sun or wind.
The caution from Tomago Aluminium - that South Australia's "big battery" would run the smelter for just eight minutes - shows the sheer scale of the task.
Tomago is the state's biggest user of electricity, but even then, it accounts for just 10 per cent of the state's power needs.
Battery technology will no doubt improve, but the Roadmap proposes pumped hydro as the major storage mechanism.
Existing weirs and old open-cut mine voids will likely provide some capacity. Pumped hydro projects have been compared to farm dams, but the Roadmap puts this in perspective, noting their combined capacity needs to exceed the $5.1 billion Snowy 2.0.
Even though most will be "off river", an environmental movement that opposes new dams for drinking water will be asked to endorse them as the price for getting rid of coal.
The Roadmap returns to parliament tomorrow, Tuesday, November 17, with a push to declare the Hunter a renewable zone.
Even if most of our coal goes overseas, the clock is ticking on our power stations.
And on our region's future.
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