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Interview with David Penberthy and Will Goodings 5AA Adelaide

19 October 2018

Subject: Energy

E&OE

DAVID PENBERTHY: A little bit later in the morning we're going to delve into the issue of Adelaide Oval price hikes. A lot of listeners particularly upset. I reckon we broke the record for comments on the 5AA Facebook page yesterday.

WILL GOODINGS: It went berserk didn't it-

DAVID PENBERTHY: Unbelievable.

WILL GOODINGS: -and I know that yesterday Vics(*) was talking about it and a lot of calls coming in. A lot of negativity. I think the sense is - and the Oval it was publicly said our hands are tied, we've got our cost structure. I know that their power bill jumped massively the year before last. It'll be interesting to know whether that's the same case again. But the thing that is irking people is that in the same way that we all get misty-eyed it used to be about, Adelaide in January you think Australia Day, you think the test now, we have the December test and it's a permanent fixture on the calendar. It feels like the [audio skip] increase is now we can all look forward to-

DAVID PENBERTHY: Oh yeah, absolutely. Another 50 cents for a pie-

WILL GOODINGS: Yeah. There's almost more certainty about that than the cricket scheduling these days.

DAVID PENBERTHY: With CPI is what they're saying. We'll talk more about that in just a moment. In fact maybe our next guest has a solution for them in the way of mitigating some of that power bill pain they're suffering at the moment. The Federal Energy Minister's in town to announce $100 million contribution from the federal government for low interest loans for people that want to invest in batteries to make the solar panels more efficient.

Minister, good morning to you and welcome to Adelaide.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Morning, thanks for having me.

WILL GOODINGS: Thanks so much for coming in. Now Minister, a lot of our listeners are people who are not flushed with cash, in more working-class parts of town, are you underwriting what is still a bit of a middle class pursuit? Because I reckon if you‘re someone who's a big fan of Elon Musk and you want to get your Tesla battery or whatever, I reckon you're probably living in an inner city suburb and you've got a fair bit of money kicking around.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, the truth is that this is actually about people being able to get access to whom otherwise wouldn't be able to, and this is on top of $100 million of grants that have been given by the state government, we're giving low interest loans on top of that, and that will mean it will be very cheap and easy for someone who otherwise wouldn't be able to get access to solar and batteries to get access to that. And this is a real issue in South Australia because we've got lots of renewables in South Australia, but there hasn't been enough focus on how to store it, and there's a real opportunity for a household to reduce their bills by being able to manage that. And as I say, what we're doing is lowering the barrier to entry here, we're making it easier for people to get in and that's the real thing that's stopped people is that upfront cost. This is reducing that upfront cost so it will be much accessible to a much broader range of people.

DAVID PENBERTHY: So 40,000 homes is sort of the aim-

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yes.

DAVID PENBERTHY: Is it open to absolutely everybody or is it means tested?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Open to all households even if you're renting, but all households will get access to it and as I say it's on top of the South Australian government grants. So what's nice here is state and federal government working together to reduce electricity bills and stabilise the South Australian grid. This will stabilise it and that is absolutely crucial right now. We're heading into another tough summer potentially, and we know that we're going to have real issues in Victoria and South Australia without these sorts of initiatives in the coming years. Batteries will stabilise the grid here. But more importantly it will bring down people's electricity bills and give them access to technology which as you rightly say traditionally have been much more the domain of people who can pay that up front. This reduces that upfront fee.

DAVID PENBERTHY: Yeah.

WILL GOODINGS: Is there a danger it could create something of a market distortion. If you're getting a whole heap of people that aren't as reliant on the grid any longer and you've got privatised energy, they want to recoup those profits, potentially does it have flow on effects for the people that don't have batteries and solar panels?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look the real distortion we've had is that solar panels, wind farms and big solar farms coming in without storage, that's caused an enormous distortion. And this is what the last Labor government here in South Australia didn't understand. They wanted a 50 per cent renewable energy target, well that's all well and good, but you've actually got to be able to stabilise the flow. I mean it's not enough to be able to have power when the wind blows and the sun shines, you've got to have it all the time. And what batteries do is stabilise that for us. So it takes out the distortion we've got and in the process it brings down prices and that's extremely important right now.

You've got amongst the highest electricity prices here in the world, certainly the highest in Australia, and there's very few countries with higher electricity prices so this is another step in the direction of bringing that under control.

WILL GOODINGS: So Angus Taylor, only a few weeks ago we had our now traditional mid-term change of prime minister here in Australia, you must have felt like you'd drawn the short straw a bit being told that you're going to be the energy minister given that energy's been the focus for so many dramas, both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party. How closer are we now to getting some kind of clarity around federal energy policy?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah well look it's very clear, you know, our focus is on getting prices down and keeping the lights on. It is absolutely crystal clear. I mean Scott Morrison is someone who actually understands, if you make a goal clear, if you say you're going to stop the boats, you're going to stop the boats. He did it. And it was the simplest of all goals, hard to do and we've done exactly the same in electricity. We're saying our focus is crystal clear, let's get prices down and keep the lights on. We've got an enormous amount of renewables coming into the system so we're confident we'll reach our emissions targets. So let's focus on price and keeping the lights on and that clarity is something I learnt in my previous career in business, if you give people clarity, if everyone knows where you're going it's much easier to get there.

DAVID PENBERTHY: Do you think in hindsight that in a state like South Australia that we should have tried harder to keep our Northern Power Station, the coal fired power station open despite the fact that some people say it was going to run out of coal anyway?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well look there is a problem across Australia with keeping our base load power in and that base load power has given us cheap electricity and it's kept the lights on for decades. And losing that is a huge challenge. We are losing some of it inevitably because they're getting old but we have to have that base load, we've got to have that base load power if we're going to keep the prices down. But as more renewables come in and they are and that's all well and good, we've got to stabilise it and this program, this battery program, $100 million will make a real difference in doing it.

WILL GOODINGS: Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor, thanks so much for coming in today.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks for having me.