In energy only four things should matter to Hunter residents: affordable and reliable power, local jobs, and the health of our natural environment.
It’s pretty simple. Yet the energy debate has grown increasingly bizarre.
In recent months we’ve had a Prime Minister trying to bully a publically listed company into keeping an old electricity generator open beyond its economic life. In doing so the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull showed no regard for the interest of AGL’s shareholders and no respect for the five-year’s notice the company gave of its intention to close the plant. Nor did he care to recognise that the same company made it clear it intended to invest in and bolster the life of Liddell’s sister station (Bayswater) and to build a whole range of modern generation and storage technologies which will create local jobs for decades to come.
Along the way we’ve had calls for nuclear generation, the “nationalisation” of Liddell, and the construction of new and more efficient coal-fired generators. The first two of these propositions is just absurd. The third is not but it’s a matter entirely for investors and they are unlikely to put their money forward. The return on investment is simply not on offer.
The fact is that the technologies AGL intends to invest in are cheaper, more environmentally friendly, and offer a better return. The other point is, investment in only one or the other could occur in the Upper Hunter and there is no case for preferring one to the other in employment terms.
To suggest the future of our local coal mining industry is dependent on the construction of new local coal-fired power generators is plain silly. We burn very little of our coal locally. Rather, the strength of our local coal industry is linked to international demand for both steaming and coking coal and the price we secure for it.
Despite all of this as recently as last month the Turnbull Government seemed determined to frustrate AGL’s plans to invest in the Upper Hunter. In doing so it continues to place its own political fortunes ahead of our economic interests.
But just when I thought the debate could be no crazier, last week conservative politicians demanded AGL sell Liddell to a Chinese buyer. Now I’ve seen and heard everything!
This article was first published in the Hunter Valley News on 4 April 2018.