A rush to take advantage of the carbon price has given renewable energy its largest share of eastern Australia's electricity market since at least the Whitlam years, with black coal fired plants losing the most ground.
Rising hydro power exports from Tasmania leading up to the possible end of the carbon tax and new wind farms pushed the share of renewable energy in the national electricity market (NEM) up to 9.6 per cent for hydro and 4.4 per cent for wind last month, analysts Pitt & Sherry said. The firm's latest Cedex report also showed a sharp drop in output from black coal fired power plants. Coal's share of the NEM fell to 74 per cent.
"The effect on NSW generators is quite severe," the report said, noting Bayswater and Liddell, the two big state-owned power plants, averaged just 60 per cent and 45 per cent loads, respectively, over the past few months.
Eraring, owned by Origin Energy, had loads averaging less than 40 per cent, while Queensland's main state-owned power plants operated with 30 per cent to 65 per cent loads, the Cedex report says.
Tasmanian Hydro "have been running their storages down a fair bit" to make the most of the carbon price, said Hugh Saddler, Pitt & Sherry's principal consultant.
Carbon emissions have dropped by 15 million tonnes, or 8.5 per cent, across the NEM since the carbon tax kicked in at the start of July last year, Dr Saddler said.
Even with its low relative cost, Victoria's brown coal share of the NEM's supply has retreated to 22.4 per cent, from 24.8 per cent for the year before the carbon price.
The Senate is debating the government's plan to repeal the carbon tax. The Coalition argues it will deliver a "Christmas bonus" of as much as $500 a household a year.
While industry groups have stated that such savings may not be immediate, shifting consumer habits indicate the impact of the carbon tax - and earlier tariff increases - has been largely been absorbed as users cut back demand.
The Cedex report said while real average power prices rose 17 per cent from 2009-10 to 2011-12, actual electricity spending rose by only 2.4 per cent. More recent data for 2012-13, for instance, showed household power demand extended the sharp decline, with a similar response becoming evident for gas, as prices start to shoot up.
"Households are being very sensible ... they are keeping their expenditure fairly constant," Dr Saddler said. Minimum energy standards for appliances played a role, as had the focus on energy prices.
People were paying more attention to their energy bills and are thinking "maybe I can do a few things", he said.