WALEED Aly has laid into Josh Frydenberg over power bills, with The Project co-host telling the energy minister: “This is a failure of policy.”
After news households face a $50 million bill just to keep the lights on and fridges running this summer, the Channel 10 star was blunt with the minister: “I love a candlelit dinner as much as the next sensitive new-aged guy, but given this was entirely foreseeable and we have rolling blackouts this summer, doesn’t this necessarily mean it’s your fault?”
The energy market operator has warned blackouts could hit at least two states as we enter a blistering summer with coal-fuelled power stations closing down and a lack of reserve electricity suppliers.
The Australian Energy Marketing Operator, which manages the national power system, said in a report delivered to Mr Frydenberg on Monday that the existing network will fail. It warned the country would need to pay businesses with private gas and diesel generators to be on standby to provide emergency power.
“This was all foreseeable,” Aly told the minister. “That’s why we have policy to try to generate interest and investment in renewables and you’ve trashed it.”
Mr Frydenberg insisted it wasn’t his fault, and that the greatest concerns in the report were over Victoria and South Australia, where the state governments had overseen the closure of coal-fired power stations.
He said the Government was now focusing on trying to keep 45-year-old Liddell power station in NSW open for longer to generate emergency power — but Aly said it wasn’t good enough.
“It feels like magical thinking to me,” he said. “They’ve said they’re going to close this down … A company decision made on commercial grounds. That’s what’s coming to us.”
Mr Frydenberg said there was “record investment in renewables” with “$7 billion worth of investments under way”, but Aly was unmoved. “It should be far further long than it is,” he said. “We should have that renewable power right now ready to go.”
Mr Frydenberg this morning acknowledged on ABC radio that having a network of private generators on standby could cost up to $50 million, which would be passed on to energy users.
“Well, $50 million spread across the Australian consumer base is not a lot of money in the scheme of things,” he said. “And in return, you are going to get sufficient capacity to helpfully avoid any disruptions to energy supply. So this is the reality that we find ourselves in.”
And things could get even worse, with AEMO warning: “A strategic reserve of around 1000 megawatts of flexible dispatchable energy resources is required to maintain supply reliability in South Australia and Victoria over next summer.
“New mechanisms to deliver these reserves must be identified and in place in time for 2018-19.”
Electricity giant AGL has now come under enormous pressure to cave to Government pleas to keep a large NSW coal-fired power station open.
Malcolm Turnbull noted the hefty profits electricity generators such as AGL have been making. “I make no observation other than to say that the principal beneficiaries of the recent — well, the only beneficiaries, frankly — of the recent increases in electricity prices have been the electricity companies,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Canberra.
AGL wants to close the Liddell power station in the Hunter Valley by 2022 but the Government has called for the coal-fired facility to be kept open for another five years at least, suggesting energy shortfalls over the coming two summers could be worsened by its closure.
AGL chief executive Andy Vesey tweeted yesterday: “We’re getting out of coal. We committed to the closure of the Liddell power station in 2022, the end of its operating life.
“Keeping old coal plants open won’t deliver the reliable, affordable energy our customers need.”
The Prime Minister said AGL had told him it was prepared to “discuss the sale of the power station to a responsible party”. The Snowy Hydro 2.0 project will not be available in time to fill the gap.