Resources minister Keith Pitt refuses to say battery storage is dispatchable

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Federal resources minister Keith Pitt has refused to acknowledge that battery storage can provide a dispatchable supply of electricity, in a train-wreck interview where Pitt attempted to justify the use of a ministerial veto to block a government loan to a Queensland wind and battery project.

In an extraordinary intervention, it was revealed last week that Pitt used his powers as resources minister to overrule a recommendation made by the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to provide a $280 million loan to the Kaban Green Energy Hub, located in the Atherton Tablelands in Far North Queensland.​

In a letter obtained by RenewEconomy, Pitt said that he was rejecting the loan on the basis that Kaban was not consistent with Morrison government policy, would not provide “reliable dispatchable and firm generation to the National Electricity Market”, and that he was “not convinced” the project would lead to lower electricity prices.

This is despite the Kaban Green Energy Hub including plans for a big battery of up to 100MW to be located next to the 157MW wind farm with a 100MW battery, and that it has secured a contract with the Queensland government’s CleanCo to purchase the electricity produced by the project, which will use its hydro resources to provide “firm” power contracts. The Kaban project, which is still expected to progress with alternative sources of finance, is set to create 250 jobs during its construction phase.

In an interview with Sky News on Monday, Pitt was asked to justify the veto of the government loan, given the inclusion of a big battery, but Pitt couldn’t bring himself to concede that batteries can be dispatchable.

“The NAIF made a recommendation and this is about loans. But the decision that I’ve made in terms of the veto is that we’re about affordable, reliable and dispatchable. So it didn’t meet the requirements for the government’s policy,” Pitt said.

“I’ve used the veto rights, which I have as minister. And I’ll table the statement of reasons for that decision in the parliament, which is in accordance with the legislation.”

Pitt wouldn’t confirm whether the application he reviewed for the NAIF loan included a battery component.

“I’m not going to get into the weeds of what is a commercially sensitive project. I’ve made a decision based on the application which was before me and unless the leader of the opposition can tell me you can go dial up the wind. This is an intermittent project,” Pitt told Sky News.

“I’m just asking can a battery backup a wind farm?” Sky News presenter Tom Connell pressed.

“Well, how big is it? How long is it run for what you wanted to do?” Pitt said.

Pitt couldn’t specify what he would consider to be a sufficiently large battery to backup a wind farm, simply saying that “this is pretty broad and hypothetical.”

Pitt then refused to include batteries in a list of the kinds of energy projects that he considered as being capable of firming a wind or solar project.

“[Wind is not dispatchable] unless it’s got other sources. It could be hybrid, it could be gas, it could be tied up with hydro. It could be pumped hydro, it could be diesel,” Pitt said.

Pressed on whether a wind farm could be dispatchable when combined with a battery, Pitt merely said “it could be any number of things.”

Pitt wouldn’t confirm whether he thought a sufficiently large battery could provide dispatchable power, nor would he confirm how large a battery would need to be to satisfy his requirements for dispatchable power.

“Can you tell me, though, what size, for a 157 megawatt wind farm, what size battery do you need to make a dispatchable?,” Connell asked.

“What I can tell you is that intermittent wind and solar, is not dispatchable,” Pitt answered.

It continues a long and worrying trend in the governing Coalition. Prime minister Scott Morrison, when treasurer, dismissed the Tesla big battery at Hornsdale as being as useful as the “Big Banana” and the “Big Prawn”. Pitt’s predecessor as resources minister Matt Canavan, compared big batteries to the Kardashians.

Labor’s shadow spokesperson for climate change and energy, Chris Bowen, said Pitt’s dismissal of battery technologies was indicative of a wider ideological view within the Morrison government.

“The globe’s climate emergency is Australia’s jobs opportunity – but here we have a minister actively intervening to stop the Commonwealth from backing new energy jobs in North Queensland,” Bowen said. “He owes North Queensland an answer – but he can’t give one because it doesn’t exist.”

“He’s so ideologically opposed to new energy he can’t mutter the word battery when being asked a simple question about why he’s hanging 250 jobs out to dry,” Bowen added.

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