Subjects: Energy policy.
HOST: Chris Pyne and Anthony Albanese on the line. Good morning to you both.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Good morning gentlemen.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning.
HOST: Now guys, there’s about a dozen coal-fired power stations in Australia that are facing a pretty uncertain future, which is obviously feeding into insecurity about the reliability of our power supply, not to forget the cost component as well.
Starting with you, Chris Pyne. Is the Government’s inability to resolve the question of a clean energy target playing into the fears for the future of these stations?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well no. It’s not. There were 50 recommendations in the Finkel Review. We’ve adopted 49 of them and we’re doing more work on the 50th, which is the Clean Energy Target so that is not making the slightest impact.
What the Government has done however is making an impact. Gas prices are coming down and that is starting to flow through to prices and what we have is a pragmatic, all-of-the-above approach. So yes, obviously we want more wind and more solar power like the solar thermal station at Port Augusta that we are backing but, at the same time, we need more storage, more pumped hydro like the Snowy Hydro 2.0, that we are behind. And of course we want to keep the coal-fired power stations open to provide baseload power until those renewables are fully on stream and able to provide baseload power. Whereas Labor, on the other hand, they want to close the coal fired power stations, which is what we have seen in South Australia with Northern Power, and that means higher prices and unreliable supply.
HOST: Is there a bit of a weird position now though, where you’ve got AGL, the biggest power company in Australia, basically declaring that coal is dead and the Government is effectively saying to AGL; hang on, you can’t do that, we’ve got to keep this Hunter Valley Plant up and running. Does that raise the possibility that the Government itself might actually have to step in with money to keep it afloat?
PYNE: Well look AGL doesn’t really mind if Liddell closes because it forces up the price of electricity and that means they make more profit. So let’s not sort of hold AGL up as some kind of knight in shining armour and they are not getting out of coal until 2050. So there’s a lot of government relations and PR going into AGL’s public statements.
The truth is Liddell needs to be kept open for at least another five years, in order to provide that thousand megawatts of power, otherwise we’ll have a more unreliable supply and higher prices and that is why the Government is pragmatically saying; sure we will be transitioning out of coal over a period of time, but we still need to have baseload power.
That is the difference between us and Labor who have rushed headlong into this wind and solar power in South Australia, and closed the Northern Power Coal Station and that’s why we have the highest prices and the most unreliable supply in the developed world.
HOST: Albo is the position of Labor simply that you want us out of coal as soon as possible?
ALBANESE: No it’s not. What we need is certainty; we need certainty through a clean energy target. Coal will continue to play a role as part of the energy mix for the foreseeable future. But as Christopher just acknowledged, the future is in renewables, it’s in gas, it’s in battery storage, it’s in hydro. And what we have really is just childish statements from a Government that has stopped governing.
The sort of statements that Labor’s closing Liddell. It is Coalition governments that have privatised the electricity networks. These are private companies that are making decisions based upon the market. If you want to get more investment in the market you need certainty, and that’s what the Government isn’t doing by walking away from the clean energy target.
Now we read in the paper that after months of prevarication, after a very clear recommendation from Finkel from a report that was commissioned by the Government for the Government, it’s walking away from the key recommendation because when Tony Abbott says boo they all hide under the desk.
PYNE: What a load of rubbish, I mean, you know Labor has run out of arguments when they start reaching back to privatisation of the 1980s.
ALBANESE: But it’s a market. It’s a market Christopher. Labor isn’t closing Liddell, Labor is in Opposition in NSW and federally and you come up with the childish statement.
PYNE: What about Northern Power in South Australia…
ALBANESE: Well have a look at…
PYNE: Labor was cheering when Northern Power closed.
ALBANESE: The market, the private company…
PYNE: Rubbish. Northern Power said that one of the reasons they closed was because they couldn’t compete with wind and solar.
ALBANESE: When it comes to Liddell, Liddell is at the end of its life. That’s what AGL are saying, that’s what all the experts are saying. AGL actually do have a plan for transition. They have a plan to put energy back into the grid; they have been working on that…
PYNE: Well they haven’t publicised this plan.
ALBANESE: It’s called a private company that has fiduciary obligations to the board and they’ve been working it through with certainty, with a very clear date for when closure will happen in 2022.
HOST: Albo, I want to jump in. Albo, do you regard South Australia as an example of the clean energy system working well?
ALBANESE: Well certainly there have been issues, but what we have seen is that South Australia is leading the world on areas like the largest battery, that will occur. There were incidents last year regarding the extreme weather event that blew over the transmission towers. That can’t be the blame of the South Australian Government. That was a weather event…
PYNE: You need to come to South Australia.
ALBANESE: And what we saw from the Coalition Government, and we’re still seeing it federally, is these childish statements of refusing to act like adults and actually put in place the certainty that should be there. When Tony Abbott ran for office we were told that everyone’s power bills would come down by $550. In NSW over that time…
PYNE: They did.
ALBANESE: They have increased by almost $1000.
PYNE: I’m sorry, Labor asked this question in Question Time yesterday and…
ALBANESE: By almost $1000.
PYNE: Excuse me, the Prime Minster was able to stand up and point out that the ACCC confirmed, that when we scrapped your Carbon Tax, another one of your brilliant ideas, prices fell by over $550. It was the highest drop in prices in recorded (inaudible).
HOST: Just finally…
ALBANESE: It shows how far out of touch you are if you’re suggesting that power prices…
PYNE: You’re so out of touch.
HOST: Gentlemen. Sorry guys. I want to wrap it up by putting it back to you Chris Pyne. We all know what Malcolm Turnbull’s position was back in 2009 when he was the leader of the Liberal Party.
He believed that the Government did need to put a price on Carbon to provide certainty for the industry. Is it not the case now that because of internal politics he is spooked about doing anything that even vaguely resembles that?
PYNE: Absolutely not. What we are focused on is trying to get downward pressure on prices and more reliable energy, and that means battery storage, it means pumped hydro, it means having a pragmatic all of the above approach and it does not mean what Labor did in South Australia. Which was to helter skelter go into wind and solar power without any battery storage and blow up the Northern Power Station.
ALBANESE: It needs certainty.
PYNE: Literally to blow up the chimneys so it could never be commissioned again. They thought that was a great success. Labor thinks that the South Australian power system is a great success. We’ve all described it as an experiment. Mark Butler described it as a hiccup.
ALBANESE: You are in your fifth year and you’ve…
HOST: Thank you gentlemen. All right we’re going to leave it there guys, Chris Pyne and Anthony Albanese