RESOURCES Minister Matt Canavan toured the Liddell power station on Friday, conceding it needed work to bring it up to scratch but urging owner AGL to ‘put a for sale sign’ on the controversial asset.
As the main speaker at the launch of this year’s Hunter Coal Festival, the senator’s visit to the Hunter had been locked in for months. The political scrum over Liddell heightened interest in his visit, and it was a near full-house in Club Singleton, where a group of Lock The Gate protesters had gathered to make their views heard and seen.
Addressing the media before making his speech, Senator Canavan defended the government contacting energy company Alinta to encourage it to bid for Liddell, saying the government was “always trying to attract investment into Australia, and a lot of that comes from overseas”.
The Liddell story so far
Criticising Labor and the Greens for an approach that regarded renewables as “good” and coal as “bad”, Senator Canavan said Australia needed cheap and affordable power. If it wanted any future as an industrial nation it would have to find a way to arrest its escalating energy prices – a warning that applied to gas as well as electricity.
Senator Canavan said anyone who believed the coal industry was in “structural decline” did not understand “basic maths”. While Australian coal exports may have levelled out in recent years, even conservative estimates of future global energy needs showed big increases in the tonnages of coal to be consumed.
He said “high energy low emission” or HELE power stations were a third more efficient than Liddell-type power stations, and he urged the building of one in the Hunter region, which was home to Australia’s thermal coal export industry.
Senator Canavan’s assessment of the situation was endorsed by the head of Glencore’s Australian coal business, Peter Freyberg, who said that if energy prices continued to rise, industry would “go offshore”. He said energy costs were hitting everyone from the biggest power users, such as smelters, down to the household consumer.
He said prices had spiked in Victoria last year when the Hazelwood power station shut, and people “shouldn’t be surprised at another jump” if Liddell shut in 2022.
Senator Canavan stressed the government’s doubts about AGL’s post-Liddell plan, saying it had only financially committed to upgrading the Bayswater power station, and question marks remained over the rest of the scheme.
While Senator Canavan was in Singleton, AGL chief executive Andy Vesey was defending his company’s approach at a Sydney business lunch, saying it had time to “get it right” over Liddell.
“We don't want to have another Hazelwood-esque event," Mr Vesey said.
Mr Vesey backed the federal government’s proposed National Energy Guarantee, which Senator Canavan said was the key to ensuring grid stability.