Ted spoke with Sky News’ Andrew Clennell on 17 April about the closure of Liddell Power Station this year and the Eraring power station in 2025, and what that means for Australia’s energy future.
Read the transcript of Ted’s interview below.
Andrew Clennell: Liddell is responsible for around 10% of the electricity in New South Wales and at capacity it can power around 750,000 households. The energy market operator has indicated Liddell’s closure won’t create a black hole for supply but depending on what comes into replace it prices could rise. I caught up a short time ago with the Shadow Minister for Climate change in energy, Ted O’Brien who is visiting industry representatives in the Hunter near where the Liddell power station is based. I’ll begin by asking what message he has for those workers as they prepare for Liddell’s closure.
Ted O’Brien: Well the message here Andrew is the Albanese government should show their plan to ensure that the system doesn’t go down as we have a series of closures of baseload power stations. I am here in Kurri Kurri where, of course, we should have a gas plant coming out of the ground doing its job here on the eve of the closure of the Liddell power station. You know once the door closes, it’s really the first closure in a series of closures. We’re looking at 80% of baseload power coming out of the grid by 2035. We are deeply concerned that there is no guarantee of a replacement and today we are calling on the Albanese government to show us their plan. Show us the plan.
Andrew Clennell: Jim Chalmers said at a press conference this morning, funnily enough, that this federal budget will contain the biggest investment clean and cheaper energy ever. Does that give you any hope for assurance on it?
Ted O’Brien: You know, it would give me some hope and assurance if we weren’t dealing with a government that just keeps breaking its promises. I mean, let’s not forget that $275 reduction in household power bill broken and here in Kurri Kurri, I mean, they went to the last election they poo-pooed the idea of gas all the way through right. Then they said they’re going to have this plant start 30% green hydrogen from day one. As a result, we’ve seen the gas plant being postponed, kicked down the road for another 12 months. Meanwhile, Liddell’s closing alright, so the best we can do is hope that winter doesn’t pinch and certainly we’ve got to hope that summer isn’t too bad. Otherwise, we’re going to have serious reliability issues. This government keeps breaking its promises so short. Chalmers can make promises. His last promise, by the way, about energy was before Christmas. He said that relief for households would start flowing in April. Well, it is April. Where is it? It’s nowhere.
Andrew Clennell: Will you be happy if it comes with the budget in early May.
Ted O’Brien: I’ll be happy when the government delivers on its promise to the Australian people and I don’t think that’s too much to ask. It’s not our benchmark we set. The Albanese government set their own benchmark. $275 lower power bills than what it was when they entered government.
Andrew Clennell: Good luck with that, I guess, but doesn’t the market operator believe the reliability of power in New South Wales will remain in an acceptable range once Liddell closes?
Ted O’Brien: I think we’re all hoping they’re going to be right, Andrew, but it’s extraordinary, we’re talking about Australia here. A sophisticated, mature developed economy with abundant resources and the best we have from the market operators is you know what I think we’ve got enough. I think it’d be okay…. when we’ve had report after report saying that we’ve got reliability issues. So, I hope they’re right. I really do.
Andrew Clennell: What are people telling you on the ground there, what are you hearing on the ground from people?
Ted O’Brien: Well, I was in Newcastle this morning and had discussions with a fair few businesses. They’re concerned about where this is going. I mean, they’re all concerned about prices, of course, but they’re more deeply concerned about reliability, not just talking about what happens when Liddell closes. They know that Liddell is just the start. That’s the first domino that’s going to fall. Where the risk really comes in is when those dominoes just keep falling. There’s no guarantee when baseload power leaves the grid. There’s no guarantee of a replacement. And there’s been radio silence from Albanese and Chris Bowen. That’s what they’re concerned about. They don’t know what the future holds. They’re just hoping that it’s not going to be as disastrous as it could be. If the weather is not kind.
Andrew Clennell: The Eraring power station, as we know, is due to close in 2025. The new New South Wales Premier, Chris Minns, left the door open for potential buyback, if that would help reduce prices should he pursue that?
Ted O’Brien: I’m happy that the new New South Wales government is looking at options to solve for Eraring because when that domino falls, it’s going to be even bigger. I mean, you’re looking at 25% of New South Wales power capacity there. So I’m glad they are talking about it. What it exposes again though, is the fact that the Federal Labor government aren’t talking at all, and go silent on these issues. And that’s what is very dangerous here because they have a suite of policies that are going against baseload power firming powers such as gas. They need to show a plan. But good on the New South Wales Government for stepping up and saying, you know what, we need to look at this. Let’s recognize the problem that’s ahead of us.
Andrew Clennell: All right. Jim Chalmers also spoke today about changing the commodity price assumptions in the budget but didn’t say what to. We certainly had some advice he wanted to stay cautious. We know that’s always come under, the last few years some of the coalition, of $55 a ton for iron ore and for coal it’s also come under, what do you make it that that he has just dropped that out there? The Treasurer, this morning.
Ted O’Brien: It’s the first time I’ve heard that. But what concerns me though, is this sort of thing that is taking the attention of labor right now and that they’re very interested in the assumptions to tell the story that needs to be told. What they should be looking at is ways to allow enterprise to grow ways to ensure that energy prices goes down ways to ensure that we can in fact, export more of our resources. How can we attract foreign direct investment into Australia? Unfortunately, the substantive measures they have in place go against that. We’re seeing an increase in sovereign risk. So it’s a turn off for foreign investment. We need the unlocking of our resources. These are the real issues that are going to impact business that’s going to impact the economy, impact jobs, impact regional communities, but the government silent on that. It doesn’t surprise me that Chalmers is out there talking about how he could tweak certain assumptions to tell a different story. The real game is ensuring the economy actually grows, but that’s not what this government is doing. And we saw it even last sitting with the safeguard mechanism, that they’re putting a cap on growth. And everything that Labor is doing is capping economic growth in this country and looking to redistribute. Its labor back so it’s big government and so it’s being taxes.
Andrew Clennell: Alright, you seem determined to keep pushing ahead with the nuclear industry policy at the next election. Do you see the Hunter as a natural place for nuclear power to exist?
Ted O’Brien: I’m absolutely convinced, Andrew, that we need every technology on the table to be duly considered. And that’s why we are unashamedly having a conversation about nuclear energy. I mean, it’s ludicrous! The more I’ve traveled and the more that I’ve spoken to other countries, there is no credible pathway that countries are putting forward to reach net zero by 2050 that excludes nuclear energy. And my message is, shouldn’t we at least be looking at it? Should we be having a mature conversation about it? That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re having that conversation here in the Hunter and elsewhere because we want to see everywhere across Australia, having a mature conversation about the challenge that lies ahead. I mean, we’re very nervous right now about Liddell closing. It’s only the first of multiple closures. Surely we need every technology to be considered. And that’s why we’re talking about nuclear saying nuclear should be considered, should it not? Let’s have that conversation. That’s the stage we’re at in the national dialogue at the moment.
Andrew Clennell: Ted O’Brien, thanks so much for your time this afternoon.
Ted O’Brien: And for yours, thanks very much, Andrew.