Home » Origin’s Gas and Electricity in Australia (Video)
Watch this video to find out how Australia’s largest energy supplier aims to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
Origin is Australia’s largest energy supplier, providing over four million homes and businesses with gas and electricity. It is a publicly listed company, established in the year 2000, and is based in Sydney with call centres in Australia and overseas. Origin Energy owns and operates coal, natural gas, solar and wind power plants, including six natural gas-fired power stations and one baseload station. It also owns five peaking stations for peak power use, generally during the height of summer and winter months.
The company has stated it aims to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and is actively investing in further renewable energy generation. Origin also offers carbon-neutral plans where emissions are offset elsewhere. However, today the company remains Australia’s fourth biggest climate polluter due to its large Eraring coal-burning power station in New South Wales (NSW) and its gas extraction and burning operations. For example, in the financial year 2019-2020, Origin generated 40 per cent of its power from coal and 38 per cent from natural gas. Wind and solar provided 13 per cent and hydropower 3 per cent. The claim that using carbon offsets to create “carbon-neutral” fossil fuel provision is also highly disputed and problematic.
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Origin Energy’s environmental performance
In March 2022, the Australian consumer advocacy group CHOICE found that Origin was one of the worst performers in their green electricity assessment, scoring the company with 1.5 stars out of 10. CHOICE suggested the reasons for this score included Origin’s investment and lobbying for fracking activities, including the Beetaloo, Canning and Cooper basins, as well as its plans to expand oil and gas mining in Queensland. While Origin announced in September that it would sell its stake in the Beetaloo basin project, overall this only shifts emissions rather than reduces them, said Harriet Kater from the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR). “This is just more greenwashing. Divestment is not a solution to reducing real-world emissions”, she said.
Furthermore, in July 2022, Origin was fined after pleading guilty to releasing almost 800,000 litres of contaminated water from its coal seam gas operations in Queensland’s Western Downs region. The offence, which took place in 2020, “presented a branding challenge for an organisation and industry desperate to project images of environmental wholesomeness”, reported the Brisbane Times.
However, CHOICE also recognises Origin’s investments in renewables and support of local energy trading. In 2022, Origin announced that it wouldclose its 2.8 GW (gigawatt) Eraring NSW plant – Australia’s largest coal-fired plant – in August 2025. This is seven years earlier than previously planned. “The reality is the economics of coal-fired power stations are being put under increasing, unsustainable pressure by cleaner and lower-cost generation, including solar, wind and batteries”, said Origin’s chief executive Frank Calabria following the announcement.
Origin’s Eraring coal-fired power station, NSW. Photographer: Nick Pitsas.
Origin Energy’s plans for greener electricity and gas
While Origin is currently an emissions-intensive energy provider, the company has plans for “multi-gigawatt” growth in renewable energy provision this decade to replace fossil fuels in its energy mix. The decision to fast-track the closure of the Eraring power station “is further demonstration of our progress in accelerating the growth of renewables”, said the company.
Origin has announced a number of renewable projects across Australia in preparation for a future without coal. Origin is already one of Australia’s largest buyers of utility-scale solar, with agreements to buy more than 680 megawatts (MW) of solar energy. These include power purchase agreements with the 56MW Moree Solar Farm in northern NSW, the 100MW Clare Solar Farm in northern Queensland, 60MW Yanco Solar Farm in south-central NSW and 900MW Yarrabee Solar Farm in NSW.
The company has also announced multiple renewable energy supply deals for the Stockyard Hill wind farm in Victoria. This will be Australia’s largest wind farm once it reaches full production of an anticipated output of 1,900 gigawatt hours (GWh) of renewable energy output per year. The deal is part of the company’s new Origin Zero business, which focuses on “cleaner” energy supplies to major customers.
In addition to ramping up solar and wind capacity, Origin is also investing in battery storage, including plans for the “Waratah super battery“. This huge 700MW /1400MWh capacity battery at the Eraring site will be the “biggest battery in the southern hemisphere”, said Matt Kean, the NSW treasurer and energy minister.
Origin is also establishing its share of the green hydrogen market to supply both the domestic and export markets. It forecasts the hydrogen market will increase by 500 per cent by mid-century.
Net zero by 2050: Is Origin on the right track?
Energy companies are some of the world’s biggest climate polluters and have a huge responsibility to reduce emissions as rapidly as possible to put the world on a safe path. Origin Energy has pledged to reach net zero emissions by 2050 in accordance with the Paris Agreement climate goals. However, significant doubts remain. Researchers from the University of Queensland, Oxford and Princeton developed a new framework, called Paris Compliant Pathways (PCP), to improve business transparency and accountability. The results found that as of August 2022, Origin is among the Australian utility companies currently not complying with Paris-aligned targets.
“Ensuring companies are aligned with their Paris Compliant Pathways is important for everyone, as we are already experiencing the devastating impacts of climate change”, said researcher Dr Matthew Ives from Oxford University. “But, it’s also very important for companies and investors who need to know their exposure to transition and litigation risk and the devaluation of a company’s assets.”
Origin’s gas expansions threaten the 1.5°C threshold
While Origin plans its future without coal, the company will continue to supply natural gas and invest in new gas fields. However, the United Nations (UN) and International Energy Agency (IEA) state unequivocally that no new fossil fuel investments are compatible with the 1.5°C limit. Origin claims it can abate its gas emissions using methods such as carbon offsets and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. However, in reality, carbon offsets rarely have any tangible benefit in terms of helping to mitigate climate change. They risk handing polluters a “get-out-of-jail-free card” while continuing to pollute, warns the World Economic Forum (WEF). CCS also has many problems, such as costs, energy use and scalability. Such issues bring into question the credibility of Origin’s net zero plans.
In August, Origin Energy received a shareholder resolution filed by the ACCR. The resolution calls for audited financial statements to include a scenario that limits global warming to 1.5°C, covering all business operations, including gas exploration. “In a 1.5°C scenario, which Origin states that it supports unequivocally, its exploration assets in the Beetaloo, Canning and Cooper basins would likely be rendered worthless”, stated ACCR. “A failure to reflect climate change in financial statements calls into question the governance of directors and the diligence of auditors.”
While Origin has since confirmed its divestment from Beetaloo, it still owns permits for exploration in Canning, Cooper and Browse basins. The company should now commit to winding these down rather than seeking further buyers, said Kater. Origin’s plans to replace coal with renewables, battery storage and green hydrogen demonstrate progress in climate action. But, without also phasing out natural gas, the company’s own decarbonisation targets and the 1.5°C Paris Agreement threshold are both at risk.
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