Interview with Leon Byner, FiveAA, Adelaide

Media release

30 October 2019

E&OE

LEON BYNER: Well emblazoned across news bulletins today on AA and across the country and newspapers was an extra billion dollars to be pumped into the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to turbo charge - I'm reading their release - to turbo charge development of next generation electricity production and upgrade the transmission network to future proof the grid and drive prices down. Well that's the mission statement.  Now, what is interesting is that somebody that you would expect to be a natural detractor of the Morrison Government has given this quite a degree of endorsement. I'm talking about Malcolm Turnbull, because I saw his tweet not long ago where he says: “Good call by Scott Morrison to put an extra $1 billion into the CEFC Australia; worth recalling that it was the Abbott government's policy to abolish it. One of my first decisions in 2015 was to retain it - good progress”. Then he goes on to say that “emissions electricity deliverable by renewables plus storage, including pumped hydro, electrification is at least a good start but more is needed”. Angus Taylor, are you fairly happy about Mr Turnbull's almost endorsement this morning?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well look, I'm always happy to get endorsement, Leon, but look, the most important thing here is the endorsement we want is lower prices and keeping the lights on. That's the thing that really counts. Of course, we know that getting more supply into the market, as I've said on your show in the past, dispatchable power - whether it's pumped hydro or gas - and we've got four different projects we're working our way through right now in South Australia - is crucial to doing that. This fund will provide the support in order to get those projects into the marketplace, as well as important transmission projects which provide extra supply when it's most needed.

LEON BYNER: I want to explain this because I've been talking to people like Bruce Mountain and other experts today and they've made the point - and this is a good thing for SA. That in all this business of more interconnections, SA is going to be a more generating power state where we're going to export electricity. So whilst we're looking to import electricity available from either New South Wales or Victoria or Queensland, the fact is that more often than not, because we've embraced renewable energy far quicker than anybody else, we have much become an export state. What's your comment on that?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well it depends on the time of day. I mean obviously, transmission can help to shore up a grid, but it's not a silver bullet. On its own, it can't solve the problem. You've still got to have enough local generation when it's really needed. That's the point about this fund, it provides the mix. South Australia, of course, has a much more variable generation supply now than it used to have. It's very dependent on solar and wind now. Transmission can help to shore that up at times, but you know, when you have an extension cord, of course, that extension cord has got to be to a reliable generator and in Victoria right now we've got reliability falling. So transmission can help but we've got to have that local supply and that's why we're so focused on it.

LEON BYNER: Alright. Minister, is it still your prognosis that we're in danger of blackouts because all the experts have said this-

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yes. Yes. Look, the situation in South Australia is improving rapidly because we've got a state government there that is working closely with us to get this extra supply into the marketplace. We've even got a new generator which is in construction right now and we're seeing other initiatives in South Australia that we know will help to firm up the grid. So the improvements are tangible, but the risk is still there and we need to get some extra supply into the local market as well as transmission work that's going on and that's what this fund is all about. The other part that gives you is that that supply puts downward pressure on prices and that's absolutely crucial.

LEON BYNER: People still, as you know, e-mail and ring us and say my bill still hasn't come down yet. What do you say to that?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, on average, bills have been coming down but not everyone is seeing that - we recognise that, there's more work to be done.

LEON BYNER: Why is that? Can you explain why that is?

ANGUS TAYLOR: It depends on the individual circumstances. If it's a small business, they might have had a contract that's a couple of years old - individuals are on different contractual situations and different suppliers. But we do know from the data that on average, they are coming down. It is important to shop around. A lot of people haven't done that or some people haven't done that and it's important to do that. But look, we are working to make sure we bring down bills for everyone. That's the focus here, Leon.

LEON BYNER: So do you still think, I'm talking about your big stick legislation, where's that in the scheme of things?

ANGUS TAYLOR: It has passed through the House of Reps - it was supported by Labor after opposing it 14 times in the last Parliament, but they've now decided to support it. They've seen the light.

LEON BYNER: So if you get it through the Senate, through the crossbenchers, what difference will it make to people listening now?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Again, it sends a very strong message to the big energy companies that they've got to do the right thing and that means lower prices and keeping the lights on. We've set a target price across the National Electricity Market of about 7 cents a kilowatt hour for wholesale electricity and we're saying to the big energy companies - it's very simple - either you work with us to get the prices to that level or we'll make sure more supply comes into the market and more competition comes into the market to achieve that.

LEON BYNER: Got to ask you about gas.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Sure.

LEON BYNER: Because Professor Samantha Hepburn and many others are saying, look, we've got to do a reservation policy just like WA. What do you think? Good? Yes? No?

ANGUS TAYLOR: We're working on that now. In fact, we've got a review going looking at a reservation policy for future gas developments right now. We still though ultimately, what's going to solve the gas problem which is important for electricity as well, is more supply. We do need more supply coming into the market particularly in the south - particularly in Victoria actually, we're suffering for not enough gas-

LEON BYNER: But see, we've overcommitted to overseas contracts unfortunately and that's meant, you know, it is absurd that we've got to send gas away and then bring it back.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Right, but look, I'll be frank about this, in the southern states that is an issue, but we just haven't had enough supply coming out, particularly in Victoria. We've got Bass Strait running down and we've got a moratorium in Victoria.

LEON BYNER: In SA, we're sitting, we're sitting on the home of Santos.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Sure.

LEON BYNER: Where we've got all this energy under our feet and yet it's as if we don't have it. You get that, don't you? People are trying to fathom well how can that be? What do you say?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well I say that we need more supply. I mean that is the answer to the gas problem. Now, should we have reservation? Yes, we're looking at that now. We had Julia Gillard standing up on the LNG trains, the export facilities up at Gladstone back when she was Prime Minister, declaring there's a great victory, without thinking about what happens to domestic gas. It has been an issue - there's no doubt about that. We deal with this situation, we have, and looking forward there is a strong case for reservation on future projects. In the meantime, we've got to get more supply into the market. Nothing else will solve the problem down in the southern states than getting more supply in.

LEON BYNER: Alright. Angus Taylor, Energy Minister on a very important issue for you, of course.

Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction