Interview with David Speers, Sky News


26 August 2019


DAVID SPEERS: The Government says it does have an energy and emissions policy that's going to bring down emissions and bring down energy prices, but look, there are no actual requirements on any businesses to lower their emissions. The Government's approach, of course, is to spend taxpayers' money - paying individual businesses to lower their emissions. It's also from today, offering tips, advice, to small business owners who want to lower their energy use with a new portal. I spoke earlier to the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction about this, Angus Taylor.

Angus Taylor, thanks very much for your time this afternoon. You've launched the Business Energy Advice Program today. This is something you announced six months ago. Who is going to be providing the advice and what sort of tips can business get?

ANGUS TAYLOR: There's two parts to this service - all of which is just focused on getting a fair deal for energy for small businesses. The two parts are a live consultation service which is being provided by the New South Wales Business Chamber, and a benchmarking service that allows small businesses to look at data which is relevant to their region and their sector to compare their costs with what a good benchmark might be. So, if I'm a cafe in South Western Sydney I can look up other cafes - or the average of other cafes - in South Western Sydney and see what would be a good price, or good energy cost, and then get advice on how to get my energy cost down. There's a real opportunity here for small businesses to switch and save - to switch plans, switch providers. We know it is small businesses more than any others that are being hit with very high standing offers, traditionally. We've brought those down through the Default Market Offer - the price caps that were brought in on 1 July - but there's still a big opportunity for small businesses to reduce their costs by comparing themselves with others in similar regions in their sector.

DAVID SPEERS: Now look, when it comes to advice, you're always getting plenty as the Minister when it comes to lowering power bills and getting emissions down as well. Can I ask you about the news today that the industry superannuation giant IFM Investments has announced emissions reduction targets for a whole bunch of its assets - airports, ports, Ausgrid, the energy network. It wants to strip about 200,000 tons of carbon dioxide from its assets by 2030. What do you think of this? Do you welcome it or is this the sort of corporate environmentalism that the Government sometimes frowns upon?

ANGUS TAYLOR: David, you know, we are on track to reach our Kyoto 2020 obligations easily - by about 367 million tonnes at last count - and we have a plan down to the last tonne to reach our 2030 Paris targets. If private sector organisations want to pursue additional targets, that's up to them. They're free to go ahead. These are not abatement numbers, or reductions that we've accounted for in our forecasts so it'll be in addition to those. But what I would say is it's very important when any private sector organisation pursues carbon emission reduction that they're not imposing costs on others. So, they're thinking hard about how they firm up intermittent sources of electricity - how they make sure they're not pushing the costs of firming off onto other consumers. That's a very, very important part of what all private sector organisations that want to pursue their own targets should make sure they're doing. Of course, that includes state governments, and we haven't always seen state governments making sure that when they put in place, what can be quite reckless, or very reckless renewable energy targets, that they make sure that it's for firm energy. Not just energy when the sun shines and the wind blows.

DAVID SPEERS: Better be clear on this one - you're saying IFM should come clean about the cost involved here and how this might impact on reliable energy?

ANGUS TAYLOR: There's two sources of potential cost in pursuing these targets, David. One is costs on their consumers, and they should be clear if they're going to impose costs on their consumers. Secondly, costs on others. If they're going to put in place extra solar or wind they have to make sure that that's firmed up. That they're not passing those costs of making sure that they've got power in place when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine - that those costs aren't being imposed on others, that they're absorbing the costs of pursuing those targets. So these are very important things. The treatment of the cost is very, very important in pursuing private targets. Pushing those costs onto others and claiming that you're achieving those targets is not good enough.

DAVID SPEERS:Just one more on this - you as the Minister, saying they need to come clean on those factors - if they don't, is this something you welcome or is this something you object to?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, David, we will always welcome initiatives that drive - energy efficiency initiatives - that drive better outcomes in our energy system, emissions reduction. Of course, that's a good thing. I mean, that's what we're pursuing here today with the BEAP program with small businesses. Energy efficiency, lower costs of energy is a fantastic thing, so we're always going to welcome it David. What's crucial is the costs are clear and they're not being passed off onto third parties without being transparent about it. That is absolutely essential in pursuing these sorts of programs.

DAVID SPEERS: You mentioned the states and their own renewable energy targets. You've been quite critical of Victoria for setting a 50 per cent target by 2030 without enough focus on the reliable, dispatchable power needs that are going to be there. In fact, I understand you have issued some figures today about what the cost of this may be to the Victorian users.

ANGUS TAYLOR: David, just if you take into account the amount of solar and wind they've got to get invested into their system, it's going to cost close to $19 billion to consumers in Victoria. This is a very significant number. On top of that, that intermittent power has to be firmed up with gas, hydro to a very small extent - they might be able to do some of it with batteries - but most of it is going to have to be gas and hydro. They've got a ban on onshore gas exploration and development. I don't know how the gas is going to work, and they've got no plan to firm this power up. These are very significant costs being imposed on electricity consumers in Victoria. Sadly, it's also contagious. Some off those costs will be worn in New South Wales, South Australia and elsewhere, so it's crucial that when state governments or private sector organisations pursue these targets they come clean on the costs and who is going to wear those costs. That hasn't been the case in Victoria. They've supported the premature closure of their traditional coal-fired power stations. We saw that with Hazelwood. They've banned onshore gas exploration and development, and they're pursuing a target which is going to cost another $19 billion to the households and business of Victoria. They need to come clean on this. Now, we stand ready to support all state governments to make sure we've got reliable, affordable energy, but state governments have to do their bit as well, and in Victoria this is a very real issue.

DAVID SPEERS: I'm interested when you say they need to back this up with dispatchable power. You talk about gas and hydro. I don't think you mentioned coal there. Why is that? Is their realistically not much prospect of a new coal-fired power station being built in Victoria?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, no, my point is we don't want premature closure of our existing gas and coal-fired power stations. I mean, we've got enormous amounts of coal in Victoria right now-

DAVID SPEERS: [Talks over] I'm just asking - is there any chance now of a new coal-fired power plant in Victoria?

ANGUS TAYLOR: There's no plan for one because we know that we've got a Victorian Government right now, amongst other things, that wants to push them out, David. Right now, the priority in Victoria has to be avoiding premature closure of their existing generators. Now, backing up the huge amount of investment that they want to pursue, $19 billion worth of investment in intermittent sources of energy, is going to be a major challenge for the Victorian Government, and that will need gas and hydro at the very least, but it will also need ensuring that we don't have premature closure of their existing power stations. If the Victorian Government wants to start shutting those power stations and replacing them with power that is only there when the sun shines and wind blows, the lights will go out – it is as simple as that - the lights will go out and the prices will go up.

DAVID SPEERS: These generators are getting older, and just last week the energy market operator pointed to the problems there at the Loy Yang A coal-fired station, the Mortlake Gas generator as well. These problems are, they're not running at full capacity, this could mean blackouts in Victoria for more than a million households and businesses. So, what needs to be done right now to try and prevent another summer of blackouts?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I've already said to you that we need to ensure, in Victoria, that there is not premature closure of their gas and coal-fired power stations, as we saw with Hazelwood. We need to release the moratorium on gas. The Victorian Government has a moratorium on onshore gas exploration development, regardless of the technology - that includes conventional gas sources - and work with us to ensure that the existing coal and gas-fired generators stay in the market. As we've seen in South Australia and New South Wales where we've seen the life extension of Liddell in New South Wales and Torrens A in South Australia. This is absolutely crucial. Now, in the very short term, AEMO's putting together a reserve to get us through the summer in Victoria, but if that cocktail of policies that I've described from the Victorian Government continues on, the challenges will continue, David.

DAVID SPEERS: A final one - your critics would say the states and the corporate sector, which we've talked about today as well, wouldn't need to be doing all this on their own in an ad hoc way if we had a national emissions policy that generated the certainty for investment to happen, to keep some plants open, to invest in new ones. Are we likely to see that?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we have one - we've got a 26 per cent emission reduction target and we've laid out to the last tonne how we're going to achieve it. But when you have a state government or federal Labor who are talking about much higher targets, that deters investment. Higher emission reduction targets will deter investment in dispatchable power. We've got to get the balance right here, there has to be a balance between intermittent sources of power. Look, we had the highest investment per capita in the world, times two, in solar and wind in 2018. We're seeing enormous investments. There's no shortage of investment in our electricity sector. It's got to be balanced though with dispatchable power, David.

DAVID SPEERS: We do also have some of the highest emissions per capita as well still in Australia.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, our emissions in electricity are coming down at a rapid rate. We've got the highest investment in renewables in the world - in the world - David. Times two. If you halved our investment, we'd still be the highest in the world. But the balance is crucial. What we've got in Victoria is, on top of that investment we're seeing, they're saying they're going to do another $19 billion worth and they've got no plan for dispatchability for ensuring that when you flick the switch, the lights come on, and that is just plain irresponsible.

DAVID SPEERS: Angus Taylor, Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction. Thanks very much for joining us today.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks, David.

Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction