Origin grilled over NT fracking plans, insists on track for 1.5°C scenario

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Origin Energy board faces fiery shareholders focused on NT fracking and sees coal-fired Eraring power station as valuable even under a 1.5-degree target.

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The Origin Energy board has insisted that the company is taking sufficient action to reduce the company’s greenhouse gas emissions footprint, and  has challenged shareholder activists to meet with the company to discuss outstanding issues,during an at-times fiery annual general meeting on Wednesday.

Origin has faced growing calls from shareholder advocates to accelerate its shift out of fossil fuel industries and reinvest the company’s assets in renewables and storage, and these issues were front and centre when the company’s board faced shareholders at the AGM in Sydney.

Origin has significant investments in Australia’s gas industry and has faced campaigns calling on the company to abandon plans to undertake substantial fracking activities in the Northern Territory Beetaloo Basin.

“Origin thinks it can steamroll ahead with its plan to frack the Beetaloo Basin, but its shareholders are demanding transparency,” GetUp’s First Nations Justice Lead Campaigner Larissa Baldwin said.

“We know that the Independent Fracking Inquiry found overwhelming opposition from Traditional Owners in the Northern Territory, and we know that the scientific evidence has dramatically changed in the 15 years since Origin claims its consent.”

A group of Aboriginal traditional landowners raised concerns during the meeting over the level of information provided and consultation undertaken around the project. Traditional owners are concerned about the impacts the project may have on the region’s water source and fears local communities will not benefit from the massive project.

Such was the focus on the Beetalo Basin project that Origin chairman George Cairns eventually refused to accept further questions from the group on the issue.

The Origin AGM considered a series of four contingent shareholder resolutions, addressing the company’s positions on energy transition planning, fracking, the Paris Agreement targets and the public health impacts of coal.

The resolutions had been promoted by shareholder advocacy groups including Market Forces and the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility.

Each of the resolutions were contingent on the AGM approving an amendment to the company’s constitution. As the constitutional amendment did not receive the necessary level of support, receiving just 6.78% of shareholder votes and falling short of the 75% support threshold, the four contingent resolutions also failed.

A motion calling on Origin Energy to set and report against a series of targets consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement received the most support, but gained just 7.90% of shareholder proxy votes cast before the meeting.

Cairns criticised the resolutions and clashed with shareholder advocates throughout the meeting and singled out a group of Aboriginal traditional owners for criticism after the group opted to leave the meeting early.

“Let me reinforce the views of your board; the shareholder resolutions have been requisitioned by two small groups of shareholders representing less than 0.02 per cent of Origin’s shares,” Cairns said.

“They do not reflect the views of the vast majority of shareholders, nor of your board. We have said publicly that many of the assertions lack scientific rigour, peer review, or are simply incorrect.”

In turn, shareholder advocacy group Market Forces hit out at superannuation funds which failed to back the climate-related shareholder resolutions.

“Well, it seems many investors – including Australian super funds – are happy to make public calls for climate action, but won’t make the same demands of companies they own shares in, where they actually have the power to influence action,” Market Forces said in a statement.

“Today, super funds failed to vote for a resolution to keep warming to below 1.5 degrees. They are using our retirement savings to bet on a dangerous future of climate catastrophe.”

Ahead of the AGM, Origin published an update scenario assessment of its generation portfolio under a 2 degrees and a 1.5 degrees warming scenarios, as the company seeks to demonstrate that it is incorporating climate change in its business planning.

Under such scenarios, significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will be required, along with a shift from fossil fuel energy sources to renewables.

According to the assessment, Origin believes that its current generation portfolio would see an overall increase in the value of its generation portfolio under the stringent Paris Agreement global warming limits.

The scenario assessment found that the net present value of Origin’s renewable energy and gas generators would increase under a 1.5 degrees scenario, more than offsetting reductions in the value of Eraring power station, the company’s only coal-fired generator.

Origin energy NPV warming scenarios

Origin Energy predicted that a prevailing carbon price of $80 per tonne would be needed under a 1.5 degree scenario, but due to a rapid shift towards renewables, expected only modest impacts on wholesale electricity prices. Despite the reduction in the asset value of the coal-fired Eraring power station, Origin said that the power station would remain an important part of the company’s generation fleet.

“While the value of Eraring would decline under both the 2°C and 1.5°C scenarios, it would retain a net positive value due to earnings in the early years. It would still be an important asset that provides secure and affordable baseload power in the short-  to medium-term,” the scenario assessment said.

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