Electricity use fall cuts emissions

Weak demand for electricity across eastern states has sparked a "dramatic fall" in greenhouse gas emissions from Australia's power stations, according to the latest review of data by consultants Pitt & Sherry.

While demand for base-load electricity from black coal-fired power stations has been in retreat for about three years, the decline has extended to two of Victoria's emissions-intensive brown coal-fired plants, Hazelwood and Yallourn.

Hazelwood, one of the country's oldest and dirtiest power plants, was operating at only 67 per cent capacity in November, down from the mid-80 per cent range in May and June, said Hugh Saddler, principal consultant in the Climate Change Business Unit of Pitt & Sherry.

The data, analysed from half-hourly reports to the Australian Energy Market Operator, also show Yallourn was operating at just 56 per cent last month, even after it said it was mothballing one of its four units. That ratio is down from 90 per cent capacity use in December last year, Dr Saddler said.

In NSW, power stations were operating between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of capacity, with Eraring down to 44 per cent and Bayswater 64 per cent last month.

The slide in coal-fired power generation means the government should meet its goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 5 per cent from 2000 levels by 2020, he said.

Total emissions from energy use for the year ended September 2012 were 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide lower than in the year ended July 2012. Falls in energy demand since then should translate into further falls in emissions.

The analysis found electricity demand fell 2.5 per cent last month, compared with the year to November, led by a more than 5 per cent decline for NSW. South Australia and Tasmania had falls of about 3 per cent, with Queensland and Victoria registering small demand falls.

Higher electricity prices appear to be an important prompt to the drop in demand.