One of the country’s largest operators of coal-fired power stations has joined the chorus of big business, unions, welfare and environmental groups calling for an end to Canberra’s blame game over renewables.
Energy Australia took the unprecedented move of taking out a full-page advertisement in a national broadsheet declaring its support for a non-partisan push for clean energy.
“I am worried about our customers and what will happen with their bills,” Energy Australia’s managing director Catherine Tanna told The Business.
“We’ve seen that customers over the weekend in some places in Australia used 25 per cent more than usual.
“In a couple of months when these bills turn up they are going to get a surprise, and I am worried about that because I know that the cost of living is a concern for them.”
The solution to high prices, she said, was a national plan to transition to the future of energy into renewables.
While renewables are more expensive now, Ms Tanna told The Business they were the better option in the long-term.
“As at today, newer forms of energy are more expensive than some of the older forms of energy, but over the next 20 years those older, cheaper forms of energy are going to retire,” she said.
“That’s a reality and that’s why we need a plan to transition into those newer forms of energy.”
Her comments echo the sentiments voiced in a joint statement issued from an unlikely alliance of 18 groups — including the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Aluminium Council and World Wildlife Fund — demanding a non-partisan approach to energy policy.
“Let’s understand what the problem is, get the facts on the table and then altogether we have to work on solutions,” Ms Tanna said.
“We need urgently a national plan to transition to a lower-emission economy.”
Policy ‘rhetoric’ making progress difficult
Energy Australia does operate one of Australia’s dirtiest power stations, the Yallourn plant in the Latrobe Valley, which burns high-emitting brown coal and supplies about a fifth of Victoria’s power.
Ms Tanna would not commit to closing the station any earlier than its current 2030 lifespan, saying the company had a responsibility to keep it operating while more renewable options were built.
Energy Australia has plans to build a solar power station in Victoria, a wind farm in South Australia and a gas-fired plant in New South Wales, but these are only plans for now.
“If we can find other people that can build and operate these projects more cheaply than we could do it ourselves, for example, then we will underpin those investments, but that will lead to more affordable energy,” Ms Tanna said.
The company also has a commitment to underpin up to 500 megawatts of new renewable energy by offering guarantees to take the power.
“The single-biggest barrier to investment is uncertainty around policy settings,” she said.
“So when there is a lot of rhetoric about policy settings changing, no matter who it comes from, or a lot of flip-flopping about the fiscal assumptions it makes it very, very difficult for anyone to make a commitment to new projects.”