Interview with Natalie Barr, Channel 7 Sunrise

Natalie Barr
energy market, transition to renewables

NATALIE BARR: Joining me now is the Energy Minister Chris Bowen. Good morning to you Chris. The energy market opened at 4am today. How are things looking so far? Will the lights stay on?

CHRIS BOWEN: Yes Nat, it’s been very smooth so far. We resumed more normal operations at 4 o’clock this morning. We do have plenty of generation in the system this morning and AEMO tells me we’ve got good reserves for today in the next few days. It's a system change which has worked and is working but will continue to be very vigilant, we have a long way to go. I said on this show last week we going to have a bit of a bumpy winter but all the teams on the job, I am working very closely with the State and Territory Ministers, AEMO has done a great job and the Australian Energy Regulator will be very vigilant as to the behaviour of generators.

NATALIE BARR: So what does bumpy mean because these generators turned off supply basically as our biggest city hit one of the coldest periods in the history of this nation, what is stopping them doing it again?

CHRIS BOWEN: Nat, we have got to be clear that the main thing causing this crisis was unscheduled coal-fired power generation closures, now that doesn't mean decision by generators to close, it means they broke down in most instances. We had flooding in coal mines, we had problems of supply of coal to coal-fired power stations and we had unscheduled outages as well as some planned outages for maintenance and then in addition the Australian Energy Regulator had to make very clear to the generators their obligation under the law and as I said, as Federal Energy Minister, I put consumers first and therefore energy regulator has my full support in any action she has had to take or will have to take. So generators have responded to be clear. Whenever we have been on the phone to them saying we need more supply they have responded well and I have a speaking regularly to them. AEMO has been in constant contact with them and the energy regulator has also been reminding them of their obligations under the law which we expect as the government for them to comply with.

NATALIE BARR: Does it frustrate you that the government organisation basically had to read the riot act as you say and say you have an obligation, people need power.

CHRIS BOWEN: That's what the regulator is there for.

NATALIE BARR: Don't they know that?

CHRIS BOWEN: Sometimes the regulator has to remind people of what the law says and she's done a great job of doing that with my full support. As I've said Nat, primarily this has been a crisis led by breakdowns in coal-fired stations. It's nobody's fault except for the lack of generation and new power to replace them, that's the big problem here. We have not had enough gigawatts come on the system over the last decade to replace that power which was inevitably going to leave. That's the problem because we haven’t had the policy framework, we haven’t had the investment, we haven’t had a government which gets it. We are getting on with the job. So that’s the medium and long-term plan as we have discussed before. That’s going to take a while. You don’t fix 10 years in 10 days, in the meantime we have had to work very hard to keep the lights on and I want to thank everybody, the regulator, the market operator, the State and Territory Ministers, everybody who has worked so hard. We have gotten through this with no blackouts and no load shedding and that's a tribute to everyone who has worked really, really hard over the last three weeks.

NATALIE BARR: The bottom line is going to be power prices, what will happen with them in the short term, in July and in the medium term?

CHRIS BOWEN: As you know, a couple of weeks ago what’s called the default market offer, which is basically the baseline price put out, the previous government sat on that until after the election, that came out after the election, it shows big increases on 1 July, so that is a statement of fact, we are going to see big increases July 1, we have known that for some time, that will flow through. Now of course what we need to do is get more generation into the system, more renewables, more transmission, more storage to support that downward pressure on energy prices and that's with the Prime Minister and I are the entire government at the Federal level are focussed on doing and we have a really good cooperation with the State and Territories in early weeks to get on with that job.

NATALIE BARR: Everything else is going up for people, so when they’re hit with these higher power bills will people get support? Those who need it?

CHRIS BOWEN: We went to the election with a whole bunch of plans in relation to cost of living and childcare support, our plan is to reduce energy prices over time by that investment but people understand that investment takes time, the new government is with a lot of issues that have left to us and in the October budget you will see how we're dealing with those issues but we will primarily be getting on with the job the Australian people gave us on May 21 and that is a policies we went to the election to seek support for and got support for.

NATALIE BARR: Chris Bowen, thank you very much for your time.

CHRIS BOWEN: Always nice to talk to you, Nat.