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Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

10 March 2021

Interviewer: 
Kieran Gilbert

Subject: Announced closure of the Yallourn Power Station

E&OE

KIERAN GILBERT: Retuning to our earlier story, the coal-fired power station Yallourn is closing earlier than scheduled. Let's get some reaction. The Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor joins me. Thanks very much for your time, Minister. You said it brings reliability concerns, but there's actually more notice from Yallourn, isn't there, than there was from Liddell?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah. We've had, obviously, very good notice period here. Can I say up front, though, Kieran, that my heart goes out to the workers and my thoughts are with the workers and their families at Yallourn. This is always a tough time when we see these situations. The good news is, if there is good news here, that this is a very long notice period and that's a reform that was put in place a couple of years back to ensure that we know well ahead of time when major power stations are closing. That gives us time to ensure there is replacement. The point I would make is there must be a replacement with dispatchable capacity. We need to make sure that we have the affordability and reliability we need for all the households, small businesses around Victoria. But of course, for heavy industry. I mean, Victoria has been a manufacturing centre for this nation for a long, long time, and it's critical that it has access to affordable, reliable electricity.

KIERAN GILBERT: Minister, you set a target for the private sector to fill, in terms of power generation, vis a vis Liddell. Will you do the same in Victoria?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we're doing the work now, it starts as of today, of course, just as we did with Liddell to identify what the gap in the market will be, what the impacts will be on price and reliability under different replacement scenarios. We'll work our way through that, Kieran. But the point I would make is we're not going to stand by idly and watch a loss of reliability and affordability. We want to see industry stepping up - this is the crucial point - we need to see industry making investments to replace power stations that leave the market. There's always an incentive for industry to see less affordability. I understand that profitability is an obvious motive at times. We want to see, though, that customers are properly looked after, and we get the affordability and reliability that all Australians deserve and the people of Victoria deserve.

KIERAN GILBERT: Is there the prospect, though, the Federal Government might have to build its own gas-fired power station? As you've threatened to do and that threat still stands in New South Wales.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I think you're jumping ahead a little bit here, Kieran. We've got this news today. I found out about it this morning, not long before you. First things first, we've got to make sure that the workers are appropriately looked after. We've got to do our own work on what the gap is here that needs to be filled. We've got to make sure we fully understand what the options are. But as I say, our position has always been clear, that we expect state governments and industry to step in, do the right thing. Of course, we'll be watching very, very closely and coming to our own views sooner rather than later about what is needed and how we make sure that we get the electricity prices and reliability Victorians and Australians all deserve.

KIERAN GILBERT: Do you believe the ambitious emissions reduction policies of the Andrews Government expedited the closure of Yallourn?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, look, there's no doubt that they've got very aggressive targets for intermittent energy coming into the system and that that has been a threat to the profitability of baseload generators. There's no doubt about that, Kieran. I think all the operators in the market will tell you that. What's critical, though, is that it's matched - any new solar or wind, whether it's household solar or grid utility, large scale solar - it's got to be matched with dispatchable generation. This is the critical point. You've got to make sure that when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow, you've got the power you need. You've got to make sure that aluminium smelters and other users, major users of energy, alongside small businesses and households, can be sure that they're going to have the energy they need and that there's not going to be price spikes every night when the sun goes down. Now, that's a responsibility of state governments and industry, and we as a Federal Government will always play a role in making sure that gap is filled. We saw what happens when it's not with Northern and Hazelwood - Northern in South Australia and the Hazelwood closure, Victoria. The good news is now we have required notice periods which are much longer than they used to be, so it gives us time to work our way through this, but it won't be good enough just to stand by idly and see prices go up. We won't accept that.

KIERAN GILBERT: The Daily Telegraph analysis of the New South Wales energy zones compared to the Texas response - is that a reasonable warning do you think the policymakers in New South Wales, what's transpired in Texas?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we've seen warnings in many places, not just in Texas, Kieran. And the warning is, if you have lots of intermittent energy coming in which you can't rely on when the sun goes down, you've got to have that balance in the system with the dispatchable generation. Now, that can be gas. It can be pumped hydro. It can be coal. It can be many different sources. Increasingly, we're starting to see batteries moving into that market, but they're only playing a very niche role at this point. But you've got to have that balance in the system, and if you don't have that balance, you get the sort of outcomes that we've seen in many jurisdictions. We've seen it in South Australia. We've seen it in Victoria. We've seen it in Texas. And that balance, with dispatchable generation, that can be relied on under the worst possible circumstances - and of course, they did face the worst possible circumstances in Texas - that balance has got to be there. Policymakers at state level, participants, as well as the Federal Government, have all got to make sure they're aligned in making sure we've got that balance in the system.

KIERAN GILBERT: Minister, the State Department in the US yesterday issued a statement after the UK and the United States held talks - John Kerry, Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary - all committing to net zero by 2050 at the latest. Is it fair to say the Federal Government has also shifted its rhetoric and its position since the Biden win?

ANGUS TAYLOR: We've always wanted to see net zero because it's part of the Paris Agreement, Kieran. I mean, we signed the Paris Agreement a number of years ago. As you know, we committed to the Paris agreement when Tony Abbott was prime minister, a number of years ago. That's what we want to see. So the real question for everybody, whether it's the UK or the US or throughout the Asia Pacific, our region - the real question is how to do this? That's what it comes down to. How do we do this? But most importantly, without trashing our economies, without destroying regions and jobs, and that's all about, in our view, very strong view, developing and deploying technologies, not imposing taxes. That means making sure that we've got the investment going into the R&D to get those low emissions technologies down to parity, down to the cost equivalent of their higher emitting competitors. And that means, you know, fuels like hydrogen, making sure we get the cost of hydrogen down below $2 per kilogram, because we know at that point we'll see the uptake of that as a fuel, which is competitive, effective, providing affordable, reliable energy. So that's what we want to see. It's the how that really counts from here. We've always had the view that we want to see the world moving to net zero, and that's a good thing.

KIERAN GILBERT: And you get to the same outcome? And your view is you'll get to that same outcome, basically? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Sorry Kieran- 

KIERAN GILBERT: Is that your view, that you'll get to the same outcome despite the fact that you're saying, you know, you've said this many times, you want the technology focus, not taxes. Others say let's set the targets. But you're confident you'll get to the same outcome as the Biden Administration, the UK, in terms of the trajectory? Are you confident of that?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we've been getting to the outcomes. I mean, the Kyoto agreement, we beat by almost a year's worth of emissions reductions. In the last two years alone, our improvement in our projections has been the equivalent of taking every car off the road in Australia for 15 years. I mean, we're seeing extraordinary outcomes. The real challenge is how do we keep that going without destroying jobs, without destroying the economy, without destroying regions. It's the how here that really counts, Kieran, and that's what we're focussed on. 

Okay.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Because if the how is there, if we all know how to do this and we can do it without destroying our economies, it will happen in India, it will happen in China, it will happen throughout South East Asia, the United States, Europe, the UK. I mean, this will be achievable, but we've got to have those technology solutions that we know can work. We've got to maintain that affordable, reliable energy that doesn't destroy jobs. We've got to make sure that we've got those emerging technologies coming to parity with the higher emitting alternatives. That's how we'll get there, and that's what we'll continue to focus on. We know those goals, which are goals we've held, as I've said for many years, those goals will be achievable if we achieve those technology outcomes.
 
KIERAN GILBERT: Just quickly, The Australian reports more than 40 per cent of the largest companies have insufficient climate plans, only a fifth with targets aligned with goals under Paris. Just quickly, your assessment of that sort of corporate response?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, our focus in this area has been on making sure that when someone makes a commitment, when a company makes a commitment or indeed a state government makes a commitment, that they have a plan in place to meet that commitment. That's what we believe in very, very firmly is that the how here is the challenge. We want to work with companies. We want to work with state governments. We want to work to make sure that we get these outcomes realised. That's our focus. We've pointed out that there are many companies and others, indeed, there are many countries around the world who have set targets without plans, they don't know how they're going to achieve them. It's the how that really counts. And we want to see that in the corporate sector here in Australia, just as we want to see it around the world.

KIERAN GILBERT: Minister, thanks very much for your time, appreciate it. Talk to you soon. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good on you, Kieran. Thanks.

ENDS