Interview with Steve Price, 2GB


13 September 2019


STEVE PRICE: Well, new figures out today and we're continuing, as we see, to rely heavily on fossil fuels for power. Now, these stats might come as a shock to our friends, Richard Di Natale and Adam Bandt from the Greens. Listen to this: 81 per cent of electricity generated by coal, oil and natural gas last year, renewables account for 19 per cent, hydro 6, wind 6, solar almost 4 per cent. Federal Minister for Energy is Angus Taylor. He's on the line from Canberra this afternoon. Minister, thanks for your time.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks for having me, Steve.

STEVE PRICE: We'll go into the debate in a moment. Just on those figures, why is solar so low?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it's growing fast but the utilisation of the solar cell is about 10 per cent, particularly for household solar, so it plays a role. But you've got to remember that we still rely heavily on coal, and to a lesser extent gas, for our electricity. The idea that we can close down our coal fired power stations and still get access to affordable reliable electricity is just a myth. The Greens would have you believe that but it's just plain wrong. In fact, our challenge now- we do have more and more renewables coming into the system. Our challenge is to make sure we've still got that baseload power, the coal and gas power, that we need to keep the lights on and keep prices down. We are very, very focused on that, Steve.

STEVE PRICE: Well you ought to tell the Victorian and South Australian Governments. I mean, Dan Andrews in Victoria keeps paying for everyone's solar panels on the roofs of public housing and all sorts of other places. Yet, I presume that's countered and it's still just 4 per cent.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we can absorb a certain amount of solar in the system, and renewables more generally. But once it gets above a threshold, it starts pushing the coal out of the system and the lights go out and the prices go up. That's exactly what we've seen in South Australia with the 50 per cent target they had there under the former Labor Government. We're seeing it now in Victoria with Daniel Andrews. He's got the same target. Labor wanted the same target federally at the last election. We're now seeing in Victoria, the wholesale prices have been pushed up by this strategy. Hazelwood closing was an absolute disaster in Victoria and that's why we are very focused on working with the New South Wales Government to ensure we don't have a repeat of that with Liddell, Steve.

STEVE PRICE: With Hazelwood, that would account for the decline in the use of brown coal, would it, Minister?

ANGUS TAYLOR: 100 per cent. The Hazelwood closure has reduced the usage of coal in Victoria but the problem it's created is there was an immediate change in the bidding behaviour of the big generators. The wholesale prices essentially doubled and Victorians are paying the price. Not only that, we saw last January, the January just passed, that a large number of households and businesses lost their power and we're looking down the barrel of a really tough summer in Victoria again. So, these are policies that have been proven to fail. We've got to have a sensible approach to this. Coal and gas still play an important role. If people want to put solar on their roofs, go for your life. But we've got to have balance in the system, Steve.

STEVE PRICE: Get onto Labor's mess over carbon tax and their policy in the moment. We're told of course that electricity prices, as part of this report, fell in the June quarter, Minister, to their lowest level since September 2017. I just want to play for you though one of our callers that we had less yesterday about his bill and get your reaction. Here he is.


CALLER GILL: I'm with AGL and my normal electricity bill for a quarter is around 400, and last quarter it came in at 1200.

STEVE PRICE: Whoa. Same as me.

CALLER GILL: Yeah. And that's after a 32 per cent discount that I've got with them. I complained. They asked me to go and read the meter, which I did, and then they said: well, there's nothing wrong with the meter, it matches what we've got in front of us, and I said: yeah, but that doesn't solve the problem.


CALLER GILL: And then, all they would do- they wouldn't negotiate. All they offered me was a payment plan to pay off the $1200, and then it gets better, because then they said: by the way, your 32 per cent finishes in October and you're now going to get 8 per cent off this new reference rate, which is actually going to cost me more than what I'm paying now.

[End of excerpt]

STEVE PRICE: That's Gill in Maroubra. I'm disputing a bill from Red Energy where my quarter on quarter electricity bill, Minister, has gone up 245 per cent from $350 to $1200. So clearly, a lot of electricity bills are not going down. They're going up.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well look, Steve, everyone's bill is different and we're very happy to take those bills on and take a look at them, by the way, and we do that all the time to help out if there has been some untoward behaviour by the energy companies, and we have seen that in the past, there's no question about that. But look, what we have seen from 1 July is the standing offers have come down, the Vinnies report that's come out today is showing that very, very clearly. That's good news. We've also seen that the market offers, there's downward pressure there. I've got to say, what we're seeing though is that the big three energy companies are not offering the best deals, and often it is worthwhile having a look outside of those big incumbents. There are better, sharper deals available from others, and it's worth having a look at those. We're going to keep putting downward pressure on these prices Steve, it's not going to happen overnight. But you know, as I say, in your case and in the case of that listener we're happy to have a look at that bill. If there's a problem with the meter reading, there's been some changes in the rules around that, so we're very happy to have a look at that if it's going to help.

STEVE PRICE: Yeah. Red Energy to their credit are going to look at it for me, but I'm certainly not going to pay a 245 per cent increase. Where's Labor on their emissions? I mean, they're now talking about dropping their target of 45 per cent, cut in emissions by 2030. Are they now backtracking, are they?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I have no idea where they are, Steve. This is the point. I mean, the last election of course they had a 45 per cent emission reduction target, almost halving- an attempt to almost halve the emissions without explaining who is going to pay for it and how they were going to do it. They've realised now that that was a toxic policy. It was an economy wrecking policy, and one that they couldn't explain. So there's calls coming from parts of the Labor Party to drop it. Stephen Jones for instance is saying that it should be dropped, Pat Conroy- on the other hand, you've got Joel Fitzgibbon saying that they should commit to a carbon tax. So they are all over the shop, and it's why, frankly, they are not talking about policy in the Parliament at the moment. It's just- it's smear campaigns. They've got nothing better to do. They can't agree on anything. Our task now is just to get on with the job of doing the real things that matter to Australians, like electricity prices, because we know Labor's in complete chaos.

STEVE PRICE: Yeah. Someone ought to remind Joel that he represents miners in Newcastle, but that's another question. There's a global student protest planned for next Friday, and we've got the Teachers Federation in New South Wales going along as volunteers, urging students to walk out of classrooms next Friday. What do you make of that?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, my view on this has always been the same, is that during school hours, kids should be at school. That's certainly my view with my children. I've got two still at school and I think they should be at school during school hours. Look, I've got no problem with kids wanting to take a position on a political issue, go for your life. That's how our democracy works, Steve. But I do think during school hours, kids should be at school.

STEVE PRICE: What you mentioned the smear campaign and Labor's questions in Question Time about Gladys Liu this week. Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison- says he and Scott Morrison wouldn't back her if she was a security risk. Are you worried about the Member for Chisholm?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well look, no. I mean, you know, the Prime Minister came in very strongly supporting her yesterday. The only thing- evidence of anything that the Labor Party has, is that she's a member of the Australian Chinese community, along with 1.2 million other Australians. I mean, this is just typical Labor where they're running a smear campaign without facts and without evidence, and frankly it was dismissed as it should have been, hit for six frankly, by the Prime Minister in Question Time yesterday.

STEVE PRICE: Appreciate your time as usual, Angus Taylor, thanks a lot.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks Steve.

Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction