Transcript - ABC Radio Newcastle - Thursday 4 May

SUBJECTS: Hunter Energy Forum, energy supply in the Hunter.



HOST JENNY MARCHANT: Australia is in the midst of an energy crisis, well that’s the warning from the energy market and the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. There are warnings we have been sending too much gas off shore leaving our domestic supply short. Many want a swift transition from coal forced power to renewables, something that will require cooperation from all levels of Government and something that some people think is not happening a quickly as it should. Today in Newcastle, a bunch of energy industry experts are coming together to talk about the future of power supply in our country. The Federal Member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon will be there. Good morning.


MARCHANT: You’ve been touring businesses in the Hunter with Senator Kim Carr and other local politicians. What are you hearing about their energy concerns?

FITZGIBBON: These are people who are high energy users, both electricity and gas and they are all saying that if something is not done, then they are basically going to go out of business and all these local jobs will be lost. The real tragedy about the whole thing is that in many respects the horse has bolted and no matter what the Government does today or tomorrow, they are still going to be struggling to ensure supply meets demand. So the idea of having Kim Carr up here and then having the forum tonight is to accelerate the conversation and make people aware how bad this situation is and how urgent it is that we do something about it.

MARCHANT: You are saying that to an extent the horse has bolted. What will be the result of that? Will we see an effect on local businesses in the years ahead due to actions that may or may not have happened in recent times?

FITZGIBBON: Well if we don’t act at all, ultimately it means people are paying so much more for their energy that they can’t remain in business, or even worse in a sense, are unable to secure reliable supplies of energy. So we need to act and we need to act very quickly. What has caused this? Well of course a whole range of issues, but more than anything, a lack of policy direction from Canberra. You see people won’t invest in anything, whether it be a coal fired generator, a wind turbine a solar panel or even gas generation if they don’t know what Government policy is going to look like in the future. Whatever your listeners might have thought about Julia Gillard’s framework which started with a carbon tax and morphed into an Emissions Trading Scheme, it gave certainty in the way people knew what lay ahead. It was legislated all in place and was all done and dusted. Tony Abbott came along and ripped all that up. Since then, everyone has been waiting to see what the next phase is, but the next phase hasn’t come and therefore no one is investing. They are falling off in renewable investment and they certainly aren’t building coal fired generators and they aren’t building gas fired generators either. We have supply dropping off and demand growing and that leads ultimately to higher prices.

MARCHANT: If energy hungry businesses, such as the aluminium industry, is concerned about the future of power supply and how it will affect their business, why can’t they invest in their own power generation? They are big employers and big profit generators why can’t they take matters into their own hands and secure their own future?

FITZGIBBON: Well, say someone like Garbis Simonian from Weston Aluminium  who is speaking tonight or Edward Throsby at Throsby Meatworks, they employ up to 200 people, their business are very large scale but they don’t have the capital backing or the fundraising capacity to build generators at that sort of expense. Coal fired generators now are an investment over a 50-year period. It’s part of the reason people are not building them now because no one knows what the energy sector is going to look like in 50-years, so this is big money. Most businesses stick to their area of expertise, they stick to engineering et cetera. They do not typically segue off into energy, they leave that to others and I think rightly so.

MARCHANT: Well could that not be a new industry that pops up to support these people? Why not for instance, harness technology like we are seeing coming out of the University of Newcastle with smaller power generators capable of powering residential neighbourhoods or something like that. Maybe that will be considered in the future?

FITZGIBBON: The world is moving very quickly and that may be the case, but the one thing is that they don’t know what the Government policy is going to look like from one day to the next so the first things we need to do is get a uniform National Energy Policy then we need to deal with the network problems in the electricity sector. We need more baseload power and that’s why we need to make the transition to gas and the Hunter is very well placed to do that. We have the land, we have the skills we have the transmission lines, the location, but we also need to get more gas to market and that means stopping these people exporting all our gas and having Asia pay less for the gas than we do for our own gas and of course getting more coal seam gas out of the ground. Now I know it is controversial, but Jenny, there are plenty of places where you can extract coal seam gas without any threat to agricultural land or to water tables, like the Pilliga for example where Santos has a project which has enough gas to meet half of NSW’s energy needs. Now why aren’t we getting that gas out of the ground? It is just crazy.

MARCHANT: Would you consider there are parts of the Hunter that would be suitable for coal seam gas?

FITZGIBBON: I do. I believe there are a number of areas in the Hunter where you could extract coal seam gas without posing any threat to agricultural land or water tables. If there is a threat, then don’t do it. That’s a pretty simple equation, but there are plenty of areas where we can do it safely.

MARCHANT: Mr Fitzgibbon, I look forward to speaking to you in the coming days. It’s an exciting week ahead of course with the budget on the way. Looking forward to talking to you about that in a couple of days time, but thanks very much for your time this morning.

FITZGIBBON: Thanks Jenny.

MARCHANT: Thank you. That’s the Federal Member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon who is taking part in that discussion around energy and the future of the supply of energy in Australia. That is being hosted by the Newcastle branch of the Australian Institute of Energy. It is on at Fort Scratchley at the function centre there this evening a little bit later on. They have people from within the industry, academics and all kinds of speakers taking part in that as you heard, Garbis Simonian Weston Energy CEO will be there, so lots to come in terms of discussion about power and how this region, traditionally a big region for coal generated power might fit into the future of power supply in Australia.


Joel Fitzgibbon visited Throsby Meatworks this week with Senator Kim Carr to speak with owner Edward Throsby about their energy concerns. 

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