SUBJECTS: Liddell Power Station, AGL, Bayswater Power Station.
JENNY MARCHANT, ABC NEWCASTLE: Joel Fitzgibbon is the Federal Member for Hunter and his seat takes in the Liddell Power Station. Good morning.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: G’day Jenny, good to be with you.
MARCHANT: And I wonder this morning whether you would support the sale of Liddell Power Station?
FITZGIBBON: Well first of all, let me say I believe this is a Prime Minister playing catch up and thinking more about the next election and his failures in energy than the concerns about the Hunter. Look, I have no problem with Liddell operating for a few more years, in fact I would welcome that, but whether AGL can come to a commercial arrangement with a buyer is an entirely different matter. The most important thing, there is no point in keeping Liddell going for a another two or three years beyond 2022 if it is going to crowd out investment plans for new generation technologies which will create jobs for many more years to come, in fact, for decades.
MARCHANT: Are you referring specifically to AGL’s plans to replace their Liddell output with at least in part, renewable energy.
FITZGIBBON: AGL and others. AGL does have significant plans for renewable technologies – pumped hydro and large scale solar and of course they are going to upgrade Bayswater which means we will continue to use coal fired electricity in the Upper Hunter for many, many years to come. But this can have a chilling effect on investment. AGL is doing it’s due diligence still on all these investments plans and this will be an upset to them and they will be scratching their heads today wondering what the Prime Minister is prepared to do next and whether he is prepared to for example to subsidies a company to buy a coal-fired generator so you have got to watch what you wish for and again, there’s not much point extending Liddell for a couple of years and the jobs it would maintain if it’s going to cost hundreds of jobs for decades to come.
MARCHANT: The statement from Alinta says they recognise the need to transition to a lower emissions energy sector but that needs to be pragmatic. It seems they are saying, yes there needs to be that investment but in the meantime maybe we can keep Liddell going for another five to seven years. How does that send a chilling effect, I think in your words, to people looking to invest in renewable energy?
FITZGIBBON: Well there is only so much demand in any market and anyone seeking to invest will look at what that supply and demand equation looks like in the future. The Prime Minister can’t have it both ways. He says that his National Energy Guarantee, so-called, is technology neutral and doesn’t favour one technology over another. That part of his arrangement is correct. We want the investment community making the decisions about what is the cheapest form and the cleanest form of energy in the future. At the same time, he is on the phone begging people to buy a clapped out coal-fired generator to save him at the next election. It is just inconsistent and in fact it is hypocritical.
MARCHANT: If we can leave aside the politics in Canberra and what may or may not be going on there, and look at what this impact might have in the Hunter region. If Liddell was purchased by Alinta or somebody else, would you want a commitment towards the reduction of emissions and upgrading technology there?
FITZGIBBON: First of all Jenny you can’t put aside the politics because this is pure politics and again we need for the market to decide where our future generation will come from. We want the cheapest form and the most reliable form and of course we want the most environmentally friendly form. And of course we want new generation that’s going to create jobs well into the future. We know coal has a limited life so why is the Prime Minister trying to distort those investment decisions? Why is he risking pushing renewable energy away or elsewhere because he has a political imperative so it is impossible to –
MARCHANT: Well Alinta is saying they were approached by Manufacturing Australia and they have not made any reference to the Prime Minister and his office being involved here.
FITZGIBBON: Come on Jenny, we know what’s happening here in fact it has been reported, in fact I heard the Alinta spokesman (inaudible) he’s spoken to both the Prime Minister and the Energy Minister. We have had a six year energy policy drought. As a consequence we have an energy crisis looming and the Prime Minister and his Energy Minister are scrambling to send a message to the community that they are doing something about it. But AGL did something that no generator company has ever done before. They gave five years notice of their intention to close Liddell. They could have just waited until 2022 and just closed it without any notice -
MARCHANT: If we can go back to potential local impact of Liddell if it were to continue operating, would you want a commitment that there would be a reduction in emissions for whatever extension of life there may be?
FITZGIBBON: Well I doubt Alinta is well placed to make any such commitment. Liddell is such an old generator and so inefficient. It only works at half capacity most of the time because the systems can’t handle the excessive steam pressure. It is old and inefficient. We have seen reports just this week about the extent to which the coal fired generators are polluting our natural environment and impacting our air quality. Remember Jenny, and I just want to make this point. This is not a debate about coal. Ninety eight per cent of the coal we produce in the Hunter is exported to overseas markets. Only a very small amount of the coal we produce goes to Liddell and Bayswater and in fact it goes there by obligation from coal companies who were forced to do so, supply that coal as a condition of their consent. We would be getting more for that coal on an export market. Please, let’s separate the two. This is just a debate whether Liddell runs to 2022 or 2025 or whatever the Prime Minister has in mind. Now that’s fine, but not if it denies the opportunity to build new technologies that will create jobs for many years.
MARCHANT: Joel Fitzgibbon is with me, the Member for Hunter on 1233 ABC Newcastle. You said to me originally you had no problem necessarily with an extension of life at Liddell and that you would welcome it as long as it didn’t stifle investment in renewables and yet you have just made comments about it being clapped out and about old technology. Those statements seem to be at odds.
FITZGIBBON: If they can keep it running for a few more years commercially, that is fine. But I am concerned about the workforce too because AGL has made a commitment to transition everyone who would lose a job at Liddell in 2022 to Bayswater, because it is within the same company, or indeed if they want to they are guaranteed redundancy. This will create enormous uncertainty for those employees now because some will be hoping for a redundancy, they might be approaching retirement years and others will be hoping to transition to Bayswater. Now, if Liddell falls into the hands of another company, that really confuses the issue for those employees and it will be very interesting to ask employees at Liddell about what they think about it.
MARCHANT: No doubt, and if we do have employees listening I would be happy to hear from them. Joel Fitzgibbon, thank you for talking to us this morning. Joel Fitzgibbon, the Member for Hunter speaking to you on 1233 ABC Newcastle this morning.