THE Federal Government has been accused of “verballing” Liddell power station owner AGL after a second day of increasingly heated political debate about the Muswellbrook power station’s planned closure in 2022 and Australia’s looming energy crisis.
Former resources minister Matt Canavan called AGL “the biggest hypocrite walking around Australia” after the company reaffirmed its commitment to close the plant in response to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull favouring an extended closure date beyond 2027, or its sale.
Mr Canavan’s view that “AGL should be operating with a modicum of the national interest in mind, not just trying to maximise their profits” was slammed by critics of the NSW Government’s sale of Liddell to AGL in 2014, including Greens energy spokesperson Adam Bandt.
“Instead of verballing Australia’s biggest power company, the government should be repairing the damage it has done to energy investment by putting in place a real target to drive renewables,” Mr Bandt said.
Australia’s Energy Market Operator (AEMO) on Wednesday warned of deep problems in the national energy market that could lead to higher bills and blackouts this summer, and much greater instability from 2022 without significant and immediate action, particularly on a clean energy target to encourage investment.
“The current market design is unlikely to incentivise the development of new flexible dispatchable resources (energy on demand) at the level required,” long-awaited AEMO reports to the Federal Government said.
Delta Electricity became the first company to say it would be interested in buying Liddell, although it had not spoken to AGL or the Federal Government.
At a press conference on Wednesday Mr Turnbull said keeping Liddell open was “clearly an option” but it was “too early to speculate” on whether the government would give tax or other incentives to a buyer of the plant.
AGL did not respond to Delta and Federal Government comments on Wednesday beyond advising the Australian Stock Exchange on Wednesday morning that it had made no commitment to sell Liddell.
Muswellbrook mayor Martin Rush conceded extending the life of Liddell beyond 2022 might have to be “a part of the mix” as Australia transitions away from coal-fired power in an orderly way, but “the critical issue is the setting of a clean energy target”.
“That’s what will unlock investment in the new generation of baseload power,” Mr Rush said.
The council had developed “a strong relationship with AGL” during regular talks since the company announced Liddell’s closure and released a rehabilitation plan for its future.
Muswellbrook Shire Council and AGL were left with responsibility for the Liddell closure after the NSW Government’s $1.5 billion sale to AGL in 2014, and government confirmation it had “no role” in the power station’s decommissioning.
In February Mr Rush told a Senate inquiry the NSW Government had “washed its hands” of Liddell closure planning, despite the council writing to the then Treasurer Mike Baird raising serious concerns about the implications of a sale.
Mr Rush expressed concern about any further possible sale to a new energy operator saying “We don’t want to go through that process again with yet another owner of the site”.
“All we’re doing is delaying the problem, we’re not fixing it,” he said.
“Extending the life of Liddell might be a part of the mix but the logical and orderly way to do this is to set the clean energy target and have a long term plan because we want the jobs for 50 years, not just for another five.”