Climate control: Stanwell CEO quits, days after going public on ‘life after coal’

The government-owned electricity generator Stanwell has lost its chief executive just days after he revealed the company was setting a new course that included temporary mothballing of its coal-fired generators and possible early closure.

Apr 27, 2021, updated Apr 27, 2021
Stanwell chief executive Richard Van Breda

Stanwell chief executive Richard Van Breda

The new policy, revealed by In Queensland last week, lasted until Friday when the Stanwell board said it had reluctantly agreed to accept the resignation of chief executive Richard Van Breda.

It came after energy and renewables Minister Mick De Brenni squashed any suggestion of early closures of the coal assets.

“Let me make it clear, there are no plans to decommission any of our publicly-owned generation assets in Queensland ahead of their time,” De Brenni said.

“In fact, Queensland needs significantly more generation to meet our aspirations for growth of our manufacturing and resources sectors.”

However, in response to a question on notice from the Greens Michael Berkman, De Brenni also said the former Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy had analysed the viability of coal-fired generation in north Queensland.

“The analysis found such a power station would only be theoretically economically viable under sustained high prices and with no threat of carbon pricing over the life of the plant,” he said.

That appeared to be in response to Federal Government plans for a coal-fired power station in Collinsville, a scheme that many believe to be unviable because of costs.

Berkman said it appeared Van Breda “got the boot” for daring to show some honesty.

“To have the Stanwell CEO talking about the likelihood of early closures and the need for a plan for displaced workers is embarrassing for a Government that has no just transition plan to speak of,” Berkman said.

Opposition energy spokesman Pat Weir said the Government appeared to have no plan about how to deal with the energy transition and predicted Queensland would face shutdowns with its coal generator fleet within a few years. He said Callide B and Tarong 1 were the most likely.

The Government has a target of 50 per cent of energy generated by renewables by 2030.

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“There are serious concerns within the industry about how we get those targets,” Weir said.

The problems for Van Breda started when he told a Gladstone energy conference that the company was starting to meet with the community to prepare them for life after coal.

“Our Tarong and Stanwell power stations will continue to play an important role as Stanwell’s portfolio transforms,” Van Breda said.

“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.”

“Eventually though, we do recognise that we will need to withdraw units from service, and this may well happen before their technical end of life.”

Van Breda has been reported saying the decision to stand down from the role had been his own.

Stanwell said its board would appoint an acting CEO and the process to recruit a permanent CEO would commence.


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