Peter Hannam, Environment Editor
Carbon emissions from the country’s main electricity grid have risen since the end of the carbon tax by the largest amount in nearly eight years.
Data from the National Electricity Market, which covers about 80 per cent of Australia’s population, shows that emissions from the sector rose by about 1 million tonnes, or 0.8 per cent, at an annualised rate last month compared with June.
That is the biggest two-month increase since the end of 2006, and came as a result of an increase in overall demand and a rise in the share of coal-fired power in the market, according to Pitt & Sherry’s monthly Cedex emissions index.
“It is highly likely that the trend directions of electricity demand, generation and emissions seen in the last two months will become set in place,” the consultancy said, adding that the emissions intensity of the power industry was rising after six years of falls.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt did not comment on the rise in emissions when contacted on Wednesday.
Australia’s bipartisan goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 5 per cent below 2000 levels by the year 2020. The government scrapped the two-year-old carbon price in July.
Greens leader Christine Milne said the figures are “yet more evidence that Tony Abbott has delivered for the big polluters”.
“Every tonne rise in emissions is another wad of cash in a coal baron’s pockets while driving extreme weather events that everyone else will pay the price of,” Senator Milne said.
The share of black and brown coal in the national market rose to 73.3 per cent from a historic low of 72.9 per cent in July, and will probably rise further as gas and hydro start to shrink.
The addition of new wind and solar energy capacity is also about to grind to a halt with the industry anticipating the Abbott government will take an axe to the Renewable Energy Target.
The latest emissions figures come as the 20-megawatt Royalla solar plant, the country’s largest solar farm to be added to the grid, was officially opened in the ACT on Wednesday.
About 370 megawatts of wind in NSW and Victoria and 170 megawatts of large-scale solar are under construction, but “after that, there’s very little in the pipeline”, Pitt & Sherry principal consultant Hugh Saddler said.
Emissions from the power sector account for the largest emissions share of any industry, making up about one-third of Australia’s total. The industry is expected to see a rise of millions of tonnes of emissions in coming months as gas in Queensland starts to be diverted to exports rather than domestic use and the main hydro plants scale back output.
If Hydro Tasmania’s production drops back to levels just after the last drought, output will be about 9 terawatt-hours a year – down from about 12TWh levels before the end of the carbon price.
“If that switches to brown coal, it will be nearly 4 million tonnes” of extra emissions annually, Dr Saddler said.
The share of gas in the market was little changed last month from July at 13 per cent, while hydro’s share dropped to 9.1 per cent from 9.3 per cent, Dr Saddler said.
Wind energy’s share last month eased to 4.6 per cent from 4.9 per cent a month earlier. A windy July saw record wind energy production in the country.