Interview with Lisa Millar, ABC News Breakfast

Lisa Millar
Topics included the energy market, capacity mechanism and renewable energy.

LISA MILLAR: The Energy Minister Chris Bowen, who joins us now from Sydney. Good morning to you, Minister.

CHRIS BOWEN: Good morning to you, Lisa. Thanks for having us on.

LISA MILLAR: Before I start talking about energy with you our lead story this morning Afghanistan, that earthquake, we're keeping a close eye on it. What's the Australian Government's approach at this stage?

CHRIS BOWEN: Yeah, well, hasn’t this poor country been through enough already what terrible news Lisa. Minister Wong will be very carefully looking at our response. And obviously, we'll be providing whatever assistance we can and be ensuring that gets to those who are in need. I also have a very large Afghan community here in my own electorate, in my own community. I'll be talking to the community leaders this morning about what they think needs to happen and what support they've identified and communicating that with Minister Wong but of course, will be on the job. But this is terrible news, terrible news. And I think this country has been through enough.

LISA MILLAR: Well, look, let's turn to energy looks pretty cold where you are. So thanks for being out there this morning for us. 

CHRIS BOWEN: No worries. 

LISA MILLAR: and that cold snap that we got at the beginning of winter was one of the reasons why we got into the strife we did. But how confident are you that we're not going to have to see another suspension of the market system this winter?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well Lisa we returned the market to more normal operations at four o'clock this morning. That's been going smoothly, we've got enough generation in the system, generators have been bidding in. And we have excess supply for today. So that's good news. That's what we would hope and expect. Obviously, we'll continue to monitor the situation very closely over the next 24 to 48 hours and we'll return step by step prudently and carefully. I've said before, this will be a bumpy winter, now we've got a lot more supply. I want to thank AEMO and the Energy Regulator and the generators and everyone who's worked hard to get us to this situation, we've managed to avoid any blackouts and any load-shedding. And that's been working very closely with the Commonwealth with the States and Territories as well. We have a lot of pressure on the system, it's been a big couple of weeks, we've had a lot to manage a lot to carefully and prudently manage. But we've got this far, we will remain very vigilant that the energy regulator in particular remains on the job. And the energy operator is managing the system very well. And they have my full support as they go forward and do so.

LISA MILLAR: Yeah, you've often said that they've got your full backing AEMO especially but wasn't part of this, the fact that the price cap was so low and hadn't been updated that then triggered this flow on. I mean, wasn’t AEMO caught out here, ill-prepared?

CHRIS BOWEN: No, not at all and AEMO was operating under the law of the land, and they were doing what they had to do. And AEMO gets a lot of the credit for managing to work to keep the lights on and to keep the system operating. And they had to make a big call last Thursday, they did so with my full support with the full support of NEM Ministers, the State and territory Ministers because it was absolutely necessary. I saw some ill-informed commentary from some in politics, you don't know what they're talking about criticizing the decision. It was what we needed to do. And the system worked. AEMO has worked very, very well, I'm actually going there this afternoon or today, to AEMO to talk to the staff who worked so hard over the last week or so, to make this system work. It's been a tough situation and it was a big call but we will do what we have to do as a government, they will do what they have to do as an operator to keep the lights on, consumers come first and that's exactly what we've done working in difficult circumstances because as you know Lisa, we haven't had enough generation come on in the last decade to replace the generation which inevitably had to leave. There hasn't been a plan for the transition to renewables. We don't have enough storage, we don't have enough transmission, we're going to get on and fix that but in the short term, our job is to keep the lights on and that's what we'll continue to be focused on.

LISA MILLAR: Do you have an idea, Minister, just how many years it'll take before we've got the renewables there that we can rely more heavily on them in the grid? You're looking at that timeframe? Can you give us a hint?

CHRIS BOWEN: Yeah, well, as you know, our policy is to take the energy market to 82% renewables by 2030. Now, that's not actually far away, that's a big job, to move it to 82% renewables by 2030. It is absolutely essential to achieve our emissions reduction targets to do our bit in relation to climate change, which we were elected with a mandate to do, and we intend to get on and do but it's a big task, we're going to build 10,000 kilometres of transmission lines, you're going to get the renewable energy from where it's produced to where it's consumed, we've got a big task ahead of us on storage. You know, the deniers and delayers say that renewable energy is unreliable, but when you store it, it becomes a very reliable source of energy. And that's what we have to do. Very little of that has occurred over the last decade. We'll be working very closely with States and Territories through our integrated plan that they've agreed with me to develop to ensure that that's the case, but we got a lot of work to do between now and 2030.

LISA MILLAR: Yeah. And this capacity mechanism that's slated to be introduced in 2025. Any thought about bringing that forward, given what we've been through over the last couple of weeks?

CHRIS BOWEN: Yeah, we'd like it to happen earlier than that. I'll be working with States and Territories to try and make that the case. I’ve been very clear about that. This is an important safety net. And I know there's a lot of commentary and a lot of people have views about it. But it's an important safety net and Lisa, under the Labor Government, it will support our move to renewables. And maybe under the previous Government, it was going to be designed to sort of prop up, unsustainable technology. Under us, it will be an absolutely essential safety net to ensure that this transformation occurs smoothly, that we build the renewables, with that support, be focused on new technologies to be focused on things like storage, we are going to have to manage this transformation very carefully. We're going to need the existing power stations in the system to help us with that transmission. We do need capacity there, even if it's not switched on. We need capacity there for things like the last couple of weeks. In the meantime, there are more urgent things we can do and are doing as you know, we authorized AEMO to buy gas reserve that they can hold and put into the system in times of emergency. That's being done and that's been worked on and developed. All this is happening. That's the short term. In the longer term; renewables, transition and storage is the key and that's what we're focused on.

LISA MILLAR: All right, Chris Bowen, quick weather report for you. It is single digits where you are so I appreciate.

CHRIS BOWEN: I’m singularly unsurprised. 

LISA MILLAR: I bet, thanks for joining us this morning.

CHRIS BOWEN: Good on you.