Interview with Fiona Wyllie, ABC NSW Statewide Drive


28 October 2019


FIONA WYLLIE: Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Energy Minister Angus Taylor have unveiled a plan to protect Australians from blackouts and to slash power bills by improving the technology connecting the nation's east coast power grids. The Energy Minister Angus Taylor joins us now on Statewide Drive. Good afternoon, Minister.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks for having me, Fiona.

FIONA WYLLIE: Firstly, what is happening with these two upgrades?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well look, it is two upgrades. One of which is between New South Wales and Queensland, and that'll be underwritten jointly between the New South Wales and Commonwealth Government. And there's a second upgrade, which is being done in parallel by TransGrid from Snowy out into the rest of New South Wales, which will open up Snowy to provide more capacity, more supply into the market when it's most needed. Now both projects are very important because they'll provide extra supply on the days we most need it, particularly in summer. The Queensland Interconnector, for instance, will provide 190 megawatts on those peak days but it can also provide extra supply right throughout the year to put downward pressure on prices. So we get the bonus of not just high reliability of the system, but crucially, downward pressure on wholesale prices, which of course is something we all want to see. Those wholesale prices are the ones that industry buys from and so many regional businesses are dependent on that affordable power supply.

FIONA WYLLIE: So this is getting more Snowy Hydro out before Snowy 2.0?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Exactly right. So one of the projects does get more Snowy out before Snowy 2.0. In fact, it's not well understood that one of the things constraining Snowy at the moment is the transmission connections. It has the potential to put more supply into the market with better transmission. But we also know there's lots of potential to make use of Queensland as a very good power supply as well in New South Wales.

FIONA WYLLIE: Because Queensland used to struggle with blackouts a lot. Have they had a real upgrade over, I'm talking, gosh, 30 years ago?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well look, in terms of supply, they are best positioned of any of the east coast states with the possible exception of Tasmania, which has a lot of hydro in their dams. Queensland is well positioned, so connections up to Queensland to get extra supply into the market is important and can improve reliability and affordability, which is why this project is so important. And what we're really doing with this underwriting is accelerating it. There'll be private sector investment, but we're accelerating the process whereby it will happen so the interconnect can be in place by 2021.

FIONA WYLLIE: What's this costing the Government?

ANGUS TAYLOR: It is an underwriting agreement jointly between New South Wales and the Commonwealth where the underwriting is for $102 million. Now we don't actually expect them to pay that, but what that's doing is it's allowing the private company to get moving straight away, and we're absorbing some of that risk for them. Our expectation is that it won't be called upon, but it enables us to get this project done quickly with private sector money.

FIONA WYLLIE: Okay, so you're going guarantor?

ANGUS TAYLOR: We're essentially going guarantor, exactly right.

FIONA WYLLIE: Today, Minister, a wind farm around Goulburn was rejected because of aesthetics. What are your thoughts on wind farms? Are you a fan? Do you like how they look? Has there ever been any research on how people feel about wind farms and turbines, how they look?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well look, I'm not aware of that particular project you just talked about even though it's in my electorate, obviously, but look, it's one of those things, different people have different points of view. At the end of the day, as Energy Minister, I'm interested in getting the balance right in the system. So we can absorb a certain amount of variable renewable energy, which is household solar - and there's lots of that, about one-in-five houses has that across Australia - wind and largescale solar, and we're seeing more and more large scale solar going into place, particularly towards the north but that has to be balanced up with coal and gas and hydro, of course, and Snowy 2.0 is part of that. I mean aesthetics and the community is an important issue for any new project, whether it's a wind farm or a new gas generator, or any project, when you go through the development process the local community has to be brought along. These are issues that need to be considered.

FIONA WYLLIE: Because some of your colleagues, of course, were famous for saying how ugly they found wind farms on their drive from Sydney to Canberra. Are you in that camp too, that you find them ugly?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Oh look, it's just not something I've ever engaged in, Fiona. You won't see me talking about that. Look, I'm much more interested in making sure local communities are brought along when there are developments. If there's strong resistance from the local community that needs to be considered. That's an important issue. There's no doubt about that. But at the same time, when it comes to the energy side of this, we've got to have balance in our system. As Energy Minister, I know that if we get the system imbalanced, so there's too much variable renewable energy, not enough dispatchable power, and we've seen that particularly in South Australia and Victoria, then we destabilise the grid, prices go up, and we lose reliability.

FIONA WYLLIE: I'm talking to the Energy Minister Angus Taylor, and you've been under a lot of personal political pressure over the incorrect material you gave on the flight expenses of Sydney City Council. Can you tell Statewide Drive how those numbers were so inflated?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well look, Fiona, I've made a statement on this on the 25th of September and I'm not going to provide a running commentary. I've said in that statement: On the 9th of September, my office accessed a report from the City of Sydney website, and that was what was used. So I really have no more to add to that.

FIONA WYLLIE: Well Minister, thank you very much for joining us today.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks, Fiona.

Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction