Special report: The pace of coal plants shutting down in Australia could mean the country’s fleet could be gone before 2040. The transformation is enormous – and seems inevitable

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For a glimpse into the future of coal power in Australia, go west. The country’s last major investment in coal-fired electricity was in Western Australia in 2009, when Colin Barnett’s state government announced a major refurbishment of the Muja AB station about 200km south of Perth, far from the gaze of the east coast political-media class.

The plant was 43 years old and mothballed. Reviving it was meant to cost $150m, paid for by private investors who would reap the benefits for years to come. But costs and timeframes blew out. An old corroded boiler exploded. The joint venture financing the project collapsed; a wall followed suit. The bill ultimately pushed beyond $300m, much of it to be stumped up by taxpayers – and once completed, the plant was beset with operational problems. It ran only 20% of the time.

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