SUBJECTS: Energy in the Hunter, Liddell Power Station.
GARTH RUSSELL: We’re going to talk about energy. What’s more important to you - cheaper energy or renewable energy? It’s a question we are constantly debating of course. A report released by the Australian Energy and Market Operator has outlined that coal will continue to provide the cheapest electricity for the next 20 years. So with AGL’s Liddell coal fired power station in Muswellbrook closing in 2022, where does it leave us here in the Hunter? To discuss I’m joined by the Federal MP for Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon good morning.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Good to be with you Garth. I have thought about nothing else mate since you have mentioned you are in your active wear this morning.
RUSSELL: I’m sorry about that (laughter), it’s not a pretty picture.
FITZGIBBON: I meant that in a nice way.
RUSSELL: I’m sure you did, I’m sure you did. Joel this is a discussion I know we have had with you a fair bit, I guess it’s giving it a bit of a timeline in some ways when we talk about the next 20 years. Where do you see the Hunter at the moment with the closure of Liddell as far as being great provider of coal fired electricity in the next 20 years?
FITZGIBBON: Well Garth, let’s just first stick with coal. We export about 95 per cent or more of all the coal we produce so our coal industry in the Hunter is not effected by what we do in power generation. That’s just the first point. In power generation we will remain, I hope, the powerhouse of NSW for many decades to come. Obviously we have three huge generators still. Yes Liddell is due to retire in 2022. It was commissioned in the early 70s and it is an old girl. It only runs at partial capacity at the moment because it is so old and has so many technical problems so we just have to accept that Liddell will exit the system sometime in the not too distant future. But AGL is investing, or promising at least, to invest very heavily in its sister station in Bayswater just across the road. That will leave it in the system for 20 years at least I suspect for them to get a return probably up to 30 years, and Origin’s Eraring Power Station has had fairly recent upgrades and it will be around for a long time to come. So it’s good news and in the mean time we hope that AGL will progress its plans to invest heavily in new forms of generation around the Liddell site and that includes of course gas powered peaking station, large scale solar and of pumped hydro. So if we continue to encourage it to do that then we will certainly remain the powerhouse of NSW for many, many decades to come.
RUSSELL: With Labor wanting to see 50 per cent of our electricity generated from renewable sources by 2030 and we are talking only 10 years away really, basically. Do you think that can still happen? Do you think there is still the will to, I guess in a business sense and in a commercial sense to keep going down that road?
FITZGIBBON: Well to give your listeners a bit of a picture, Liddell when it was operating at full capacity was about 2000 megawatt hours, a pretty big power station. But in NSW alone we are not that far off producing 2000 megawatt hours of generation from renewable forms of electricity so we are sneaking towards big volumes coming from the renewable sector now. Last December I had a 7.5 kilowatt system put on the roof of my home and as your listeners drive around the suburbs and take more notice they will see they are popping up everywhere so the way in which we both generate and distribute energy over the coming decades will dramatically change. It’s sort of a full turn around. We had the big power stations on the edge of our capital cities where most of the consumers were then improvements to technology in transmission allowed us to put the power stations up here in the Hunter near the source of the coal. But now of course we are going to a more distributed system where the generation will take place close to where it is consumed, typically on the roofs of people’s homes so the whole system is changing but what will determine what we do in the end is those who invest. Now there are a few crazy politicians who want to use about $5 billion of taxpayers’ money to build a new coal fired generator when the private sector and indeed individual households are making the investments themselves. I’d rather see that money spent on the Muswellbrook or Singleton bypasses or many other projects around the Hunter and let the private sector run the electricity system. Some people like to hark back to the days of old. Interestingly in the recent ACCC report identified lots of gaming going on in the system and most of that gaming occurred in Queensland and was done by government owned coal fired generators.
RUSSELL: So one last question, do you feel, I mean what’s your feedback from constituents? I know a lot of people equate this with jobs here in the Hunter. But when you move around and talk to people in the region, do you still see a strong desire for renewable energy to be pushed harder and do you think that’s the way Labor would go if they were in power?
FITZGIBBON: Well people are voting with their feet. They are putting roof top solar on their homes everywhere. They believe in renewable energy. They are pretty smart and know the picture of the coal industry is not tied to power generation. As I said, most of our coal is exported. They know, particularly those who work in the industry, they know that Liddell is very, very old and it is impossible to keep it going forever so they are pragmatic about the thing, but they are really, really concerned about their electricity prices. The reason we are getting all these reports and we are having all these problems and prices are going up is because for the last five years or so we have not had an energy policy. The Abbott Government unravelled the policy of the former Labor Government and we have had this huge policy vacuum which has caused huge levels of investment uncertainty. People haven’t been prepared to invest and therefore we have had a lack of capacity and that is pushing prices up. It is really pretty simple.
RUSSELL: Thank you for your time this morning, thanks for talking to us.
FITZGIBBON: Always a pleasure Garth.