Dispute deepens over energy and AGL's Liddell plans

13 Sep 2017

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AGL chief executive Andy Vesey (AAP)

SBS World News Radio: The head of the energy company AGL has been drawn into the ongoing political tussle over Australia's rising energy prices and potential electricity shortages this summer.

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AGL chief executive Andy Vesey is being accused of duplicity over his company's plans for the ageing Liddell coal-fired power station in New South Wales' Hunter Valley.

Two years ago, AGL announced it was closing the Liddell plant in 2022.

Chief executive Andy Vesey was summoned to Canberra on Monday, where he was urged to reconsider.

The Federal Government's version of that meeting was he promised to return to AGL's board to consider extending the plant's life for five years or selling it to another company.

There was also an apparent commitment to return in 90 days with a plan to move from coal to gas and renewables to make up a predicted electricity shortfall of about 1,000 megawatts.

But in an interview with the ABC after that meeting, Mr Vesey suggested AGL had no intention of either extending the life of the plant or selling it.

"We are committed to finding the best solution for the market. We believe that we can deliver that without having to consider the extension or selling the plant, and that's what we're going to work on."

Coalition MPs have gone on the attack after that, with Craig Kelly saying Mr Vesey was being duplicitous and speaking "with a forked tongue".

Greens MP Adam Bandt says AGL clearly has plans to shut the plant so its chief executive shut down Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as if he were a toddler throwing a tantrum.

"When you've got a toddler who's screaming on the floor insisting that they're Batman, you say, 'Yeah, yeah, you're Batman, now come on, let's get out of the house and get on with what we've got to do anyway.' That's how AGL has treated Malcolm Turnbull, like a petulant, petulant child. So, we expect to see in 90 days, when the AGL board meets, a plan for more renewables and more storage, which is what they've been intending to do all along."

Labor's Joel Fitzgibbon says the Prime Minister's treatment of the AGL chief amounts to bullying.

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg and Mr Fitzgibbon had a pointed exchange in the corridors of Parliament House.

Frydenberg: "You know that 10 per cent of New South Wales power comes from Liddell. You know that these energy companies are making record profits on the back of Australian families. You know how important it is to keep jobs in the Hunter Valley, and so don't be ..."

Fitzgibbon: "Will you come up to the Hunter next week, and I'll introduce you to some of my power-station workers? It will probably be the first time you've met one."

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten used question time to argue the Liberals should bear the responsibility for the higher electricity prices.

"This Government is now in its fifth year in office, and the state Liberal Government of New South Wales has been in office that entire same time. Can the Prime Minister confirm that the average Sydney household is paying almost $1,000 more in power bills since this federal Liberal Government was elected to office?"

Malcolm Turnbull made a case for the plant to remain open partly based on what happened in Victoria, when power prices spiked after the Hazelwood coal-fired plant closed.

He has told parliament Joel Fitzgibbon is siding with AGL at the expense of the Liddell power-station workers in his Hunter electorate.

"He says, 'Andy Vesey has had these plans on the books for a long time. I've been very aware of them. I've been supporting them since 2015.' He said he needs to put the final touches on the plan before bringing it back to the Prime Minister, it's a good plan. It's a good plan! It's the Vesey-Fitzgibbon plan. That'll go down really well at the Worker's Club in Muswellbrook, I can tell you, Mr Speaker."

AGL has been planning the 2022 closure and gave seven years' notice by announcing its intentions in 2015.

Ever since then, both sides of politics have continued to argue over energy policy as Australians endured higher power bills and summertime blackouts.

 

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