The main union representing workers at the doomed and decrepit Liddell power station has welcomed AGL Energy’s plan to transition the asset to a clean energy hub, even as conservative politicians insist on a forced sale of the asset to another buyer.
“AGL has made the right call in deciding to repurpose the Liddell site for battery storage, pumped hydro storage and gas turbine energy production without abandoning its workers in the process, the Electrical Trades Union of Australia says.
“AGL Energy is doing the right thing in choosing to transition to the technologies that will be powering Australia through the 21st Century.
“It appears at this stage that AGL has struck the right balance in securing the future of jobs in the power industry as it goes through the revolution from fossil fuels to renewable energy.”
The position of the ETU, which has 300 workers at the site, is in stark contrast to the position of the Turnbull government, which is insisting that the near 50-year generator stays open, and is sold to another party if AGL doesn’t want to do that.
This is despite studies that show that keeping it open will be more polluting, more expensive, and more dangerous to workers due to safety issues.
What’s more, documents obtained by Environmental Justice Australia under the Freedom of Information has revealed special rulings that mean Liddell is allowed to pour vast amounts of toxic nitrogen oxides (NOx) into the atmosphere.
The exemption from NSW air pollution regulations means it can emit NOx at up to 14 times the concentration allowable in the US, and almost twice the official concentration limit allowed for NSW power stations of Liddell’s age.
The support of the ETU is crucial, as this will. AGL, by giving seven years notice, has. That was not the case in Port Augusta, where Alinta, the company the government wants to buy the asset, gave short notice of the closure.
Replacement assets and jobs – from the likes of the 220MW Bungana solar farm, the 212MW Lincoln Gap wind farm, plus storage, and the 150MW solar tower with molten salt storage are under or about to start construction.
ETU National Secretary Allen Hicks says coal will continue to play a role in Australia’s energy production and the steel industry for some time, “but the evidence is clear” that the jobs are moving into renewables.
“Unions and the industry want secure jobs for decades to come, but Frydenberg thinks he can bully us into propping up energy technology that is fast becoming obsolete,” Hicks said.
“AGL is right now showing leadership in how it is embracing industry change without neglecting the livelihoods of workers. Australia’s business leaders should take note.
“AGL’s current support for a just transition for workers should be the norm, not the exception, in corporate Australia.”
The focus on a just transition is a critically important one, even if it is mocked by conservative commentators.
Andrew McCarthy, moved from Melbourne to the heart of the Latrobe Valley to set up Gippsland Solar, a solar and storage company that now employs more than 50 workers.
In this fascinating discussion on our Solar Insiders podcast, McCarthy explains how both his attitudes have changed since the move, as have the attitudes of the workers at the brown coal generators. It is worth a listen.
You can find it here, or go to your favourite podcast platform.
ITK analyst David Leitch also jumps into the Liddell issue on the Energy Insiders podcast, and describes it as nothing but theatre, for and by the absurd.
You can hear his comments on the matter at the end of the Energy Insiders podcast posted here, which is worth a listen in any case because of the fascinating transition that is being contemplated in WA, where they made the big mistake in reinvesting in an old coal plant.
As Labor’s Mark Butler pointed out, the reason Liddell was sold to AGL in the first place was because the Liberal NSW Government, supported by the Liberal Federal Government as part of their Asset Recycling program, privatised Liddell.
They were told then by the ACCC that this would lead to a “substantial lessening” of competition, and so higher prices.
Butler’s team dug out these quotes from the time:
Treasurer Scott Morrison said: “The efficiency gains through privatisation of the New South Wales electricity network will place downward pressure on electricity prices” [Speech – 18 November 2015]
And Finance Minister Cormann and prime minister Malcolm Turnbull had both proclaimed the virtues of private ownership of state owned businesses. Now they want to tell which businesses should own what and at what price.
And let’s be clear about one thing: Yes, AGL picked up Liddell for nothing as part of the deal with the NSW government, which was stupid enough to sell the complex at a cheap price and with legacy coal supply contracts rusted on.
In effect, it was a massive subsidy, pocketed by AGL and its shareholders, for coal generation in the state, in the same way it did when it sold Vales Point to private owners for just $1 million.
The fact that AGL was clever enough to buy it at nothing, doesn’t mean it would value the asset at nothing, in the same way most people would not value a gift at zero.
The fact that members of a Coalition government would seriously suggest the government intervene and force the sale of an asset at a price nominated by an opportunistic buyer beggars belief.
But so does its ability to combine the worst of the trump administration and the Maduro presidency in Venezuela. So much for the innovation nation.