Interview with ABC – Afternoon Briefing, Greg Jennett

Media Transcripts

Ted speaks with ABC’s Greg Jennett regarding the impact that the closure of Liddell power station will have on energy availability and prices.

Greg Jennett: Before its complete retirement this month, Shadow Energy Minister Ted O’Brien joins us now from nearby Kurri Kurri in New South Wales. Ted, welcome back to the program. AGL as owners of Liddell are describing this as the orderly and responsible closure and transmission, lots of thought has gone into it. What gives rise to your concern that this might somehow unsettle supply in the grid?

Ted O’Brien: Right. I think they’ve put an enormous amount of effort into the closure. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to come here to the Hunter on the eve of Liddell closing down because this does mark the beginning of what I believe will be the most turbulent era in Australia’s energy history. And that is because we have 80% of our baseload power exiting the grid by 2035 that begins with Liddell and unfortunately, we are going to see a system close without any guarantee of a replacement that only gives rise to greater risk in the reliability of the grid. And that’s what I’ve been hearing here on the ground in the Hunter. Businesses and households like are very concerned not just about prices going up. We all know they are going up. But what’s going to happen when more and more baseload power stations close without replacements being online in time.

Greg Jennett: But where you are Ted is a point in in all of this, isn’t it? Kurri Kurri is going to be the site of the interim solution, gas fired, peaking plant and if it all works out, technically, that’s supposed to transition itself over to hydrogen power after, you know, eight, eight years or so. So these transition plans are in the system locked in, aren’t they, to very much cater for the closure of Liddell and others nearby?

Ted O’Brien: Greg, on Liddell, I think you’re right in that the coalition government when it was in power, did have a plan. Number one, we convinced AGL to extend the life of Liddell and number two, we knew that we needed to have gas and that is why we made the investment in the Kurri Kurri gas plant. But here is the problem. Since Labor has come to government. Unfortunately, what we’ve seen is that we engage with AGL on the extension of Liddell, but more importantly, we’ve seen a postponement of the Kurri Kurri plan. And that is because the Prime Minister and in particular, the Minister has been insistent about Liddell as it closes, Kurri Kurri not coming online as a gas plant. But having 30% blended hydrogen, green hydrogen. Now that’s despite the CEO and other experts saying it’s not achievable. They didn’t do a full costing on the project. But as we know now through Senate estimates, that just won’t happen. Snowy executives have confirmed that Kurri Kurri gas plant will not be operating in time. So come this winter, please God doesn’t bite too hard. I tell you what, come summer. That’s when we needed this Kurri Kurri gas plant up and running, but it won’t be. And here we have the NEM and seriously it’s going to be under strain. And behind me we got the Tomago Aluminium Smelter. I think a lot of people don’t know the role that that company plays and just keeping the grid stable. We are entering uncharted territory in Australia. And what we have ahead of us with more and more baseload power stations to close, it’s only going to get more dangerous.

Greg Jennett: Alright. Well you are well advanced in your project on behalf of the Coalition, Ted O’Brien in scoping out and taking soundings on the viability of nuclear power. Have you discussed with any one business or individual in the Kurri Kurri area whether they are open to locating a nuclear reactor right where you are?

Ted O’Brien: Greg, I’m sorry to keep … I’m actually brushing off a mosquito as I keep touching my face here. Look, we have had discussions about all types of technology today. And I think as the coalition has always made clear, we back technology, we back in economics, we back enterprise. You know, the path of decarbonisation is going to be so difficult. The last thing we should be doing is taking technologies off the table. So has nuclear energy come up today? Yes, it has come up in conversations. That’s not the purpose of the visit. But it’s always good to have that opportunity of swapping notes and what I think you find in regions like the Hunter is a high energy IQ. They get it. They understand energy. They understand the importance of energy to power and economy. And there’s a pragmatism across certainly this region when it comes to making sure that all technologies are on the table for consideration.

Greg Jennett: But that don’t necessarily, Ted O’Brien, make them open to you know, a specific proposal that would see a nuclear reactor right there?

Ted O’Brien: Oh, nobody’s talking about that. I’m not here talking about that. You know, our thoughts are number one with the workers of Liddell and I think AGL by the sounds of it have done a pretty good job in that regard. I have to say and, and I think that’s great, but number two, it’s a real concern that people have about the reliability of the grid moving forward. And if it wasn’t for likes Tamago behind this, I tell you what the grid would be in deep trouble. And as more and more power stations closed, we’re going to have the risk of blackouts and brownouts across this country. We’re going to be alive to that. I mean, I don’t know how many times we have to say it but Australia we have a problem here. We have a premature closure of baseload power stations. Without any replacement there ready to go. I don’t know how many times we have to say this poses an enormous risk to the entire economy. And it’s great to be here on the ground with the Hunter to at least talk to those who are closest to the coalface.Greg Jennett: Well, we’ll measure in future months how that transition goes and perhaps note your remarks today to see if they turn out to be prophetic in any way. Ted O’Brien thanks for joining us from Kurri Kurri there. Ted O’Brien. And that is afternoon briefing for today. We’re wrapping up Gemma Vaness is back next with the rest of today’s top stories and afternoon briefing will be back with you the regular time.

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