Transcript - Radio Interview - ABC Newcastle 1233 - Wednesday 28 February 2018

SUBJECTS: AGL’s announcement about Bayswater Power Station, Liddell Power Station.

JENNY MARCHANT: You probably flick the light switches at your place and don’t give a thought to where that power comes from. But a few recent discussions have certainly given us pause to think about where our power might come from in the future and are the big coal fired power stations like those we see in our region the way ahead? We know Liddell Power Station is due to close in 2022 despite the Federal Government asking AGL to keep it open longer. This morning AGL has announced it will spend more than $200 million replacing turbines at Bayswater just across the road there near Muswellbrook. They are looking to replace turbines and they are saying they will be able to increase electricity supply without increasing coal consumption or emissions. We are keen to find out how that would happen and what’s the new technology they will be putting in and exactly how is the power going to be generated and what will be happening from here. We have asked AGL to explain and expand on those points and they have been unavailable to speak to us yet. They will be speaking to the media a little later this morning so we will have answers to some of those questions in a couple of hours time. Someone though with a keen eye on what goes on with our local power stations is the Federal Member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon who joins me now from Canberra. Good morning.

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Great to be with you Jenny.

MARCHANT: What do you make of this announcement from AGL?

FITZGIBBON: Well it is really good news. It’s anticipated. My determination is to ensure that AGL invests heavily in the Upper Hunter and in doing so maintain jobs for many decades to come. The idea of extending the life of Liddell for five years was a though bubble and a very silly one. It’s not capable of chugging on forever but this a sensible investment in a younger power generator and one which will allow it to operate for at least a couple of decades more and will allow it to run more efficiently and in a more environmentally friendly way. But this is just one part of a broader investment. We want them investing in a gas peaking station, large scale solar, hopefully pumped hydro and battery capacity and just ensures we remain the powerhouse of NSW.  

MARCHANT: Does a $200 million investment in a coal fired power station put that investment towards different energy technologies on the back burner?

FITZGIBBON: No it doesn’t – not according to AGL, that’s not the promise they have given to me. They are very serious I believe in, as soon as they possibly can, investing in renewable technology as well. So we will maintain our capacity in generation terms but we will be doing it in a cleaner way, even at Bayswater and we can start transitioning the jobs away from traditional power stations and into the new technology. In the meantime at least AGL has guaranteed anyone at Liddell, when it eventually is decommissioned, will have an opportunity to work at Bayswater.

MARCHANT: Have you had discussions with AGL on where they are up to in terms of gas peaking, large scale solar and battery power and so on? Have you had discussions about whether or not they are moving towards those steps in the Hunter?

FITZGIBBON: I have had those discussions and they have all been very encouraging. I don’t doubt their commitment. They seem very keen and they know to remain competitive in the market they need to be able to generate power more efficiently and to meet changing consumer demands or expectations. They need to be able to generate a large part of their mix from renewable sources. I think that’s what they are committed to and I’m very pleased they remained committed to the Upper Hunter.

MARCHANT: Okay so your sense is there is a commitment there. Are there concrete plans though? Are you aware of exactly what they are planning?

FITZGIBBON: The last I time I spoke with them they were still running the numbers and making sure they are delivering maximum return for their shareholders which is of course their first obligation. But they are very serious and we have had in-depth discussions and I don’t feel I’m authorised to share them. I understand they have a press conference later today and they will expand on some of those things later.

MARCHANT: AGL has said in its media release this morning that this upgrade at Bayswater is part of a plan to replace the 100 megawatt capacity identified potentially around the closure of Liddell and they say this could provide enough energy for up to 100,000 homes. Do you see that coming through the system and working up through the pipeline there will be enough to reach that shortfall?

FITZGIBBON: I do. This is the dopiness of Malcolm Turnbull’s response – I mean AGL did the right thing. They didn’t have to foreshadow five years in advance they were going to decommission Liddell. They could have just waited for the day and just shut it. They did the responsible thing and said, look we are going to shut this in five years but by the way, we are going to develop a plan in the meantime to ensure that capacity is replaced with other means. That seems to be what they are doing.

MARCHANT: What about the local workforce? This particular work at Bayswater will create 90 jobs through each turbine’s replacement and there are four turbines there. What about though transitioning people say from Liddell towards clean power. Are you seeing that happening and is there more that can be done to help that process?

FITZGIBBON: Well AGL say they are committed to it and I will remain on their case to ensure they have the appropriate incentive to continue with that focus but that will happen over time. In the first instance- there are two basic categories of workers at Liddell - those who will be approaching retirement age and they will be very keen to secure a redundancy which AGL has also guaranteed. They close the station, there is no more work and you get a redundancy and that makes a large part of the workforce very happy. There will be others who are younger and keen to continue on and AGL has said they will be accommodated, as people retire at the Bayswater, they will be accommodated on the Bayswater site. And of course in the longer term we will make sure people have the skills necessary to take up the opportunities in the new forms of generation.

MARCHANT: Thanks very much for your thoughts this morning. Good to talk to you.

FITZGIBBON: It’s a pleasure Jenny.

MARCHANT: That’s the Federal Member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon. His electorate takes in the Bayswater and Liddell Power Stations.
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