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Interview with Neil Breen, 4BC

26 May 2021

Interviewer: 
Neil Breen

Subject: Callide Power Station fire

E&OE

NEIL BREEN: Okay, the situation yesterday with that major power outage - it was a huge talking point - 477,000 homes and businesses across Queensland. We had a third of energy customers in South East Queensland affected. The worst accident related blackout in Queensland history. It went for a couple of hours. There were explosions, then a fire at the Callide Power Station east of Biloela in Central Queensland, at about 1:45pm. And then they fell like dominoes, all towns and areas, regions, and it was just chaos. People in their homes were thinking: ‘Oh, I've blown the power.’ No, you hadn't blown the power. It had blown right across the system. Energex likened it to causing the same damage as two cyclones. There were traffic lights out. Two children were hit by a car at an intersection at Zillmere in Brisbane's north. A girl was injured and taken to hospital. Hospitals had to go on emergency power. The airport. You all know the chaos, you were stuck in it out on the roads. The situation has led to wild speculation about the Callide Power Station. Callide C was the first supercritical coal fired power station in Australia. It has a huge capacity. Callide B and Callide C dump power into the national grid and there's speculation about the future of it. What will happen? What will happen to the workforce? What will happen to the power station? I had Queensland's Energy Minister, Mick de Brenni, on the show earlier.

[Excerpt]

MICK DE BRENNI – QUEENSLAND MINISTER FOR ENERGY: This is one of the youngest power stations in our fleet. It appears that only one of the four turbines is damaged and we expect that the plant will be up and operational again as soon as possible. So, we have every intention of putting Callide C back in operation.

[End of excerpt]

NEIL BREEN: He also said that speculation of rolling blackouts wasn't really going to happen. It was going to be under control. They're going to be able to restore the power. We'll see what happens there. I wanted to get the opinion of the Federal Energy Minister, though Angus Taylor. He's on the line. Good morning to you Minister.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good morning. Thanks for having me, Neil.

NEIL BREEN: Oh, it was a dramatic event yesterday. Shows how fragile our power systems can be. Are you as confident as the state Energy Minister about Callide C and that whole power station being able to return? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, look, they own the power stations and they're very close to the operation of them, and I think the state government is in a very strong position to know what the situation is. We do know it was a very significant explosion, as you say. It didn't just cause that power station to go out, it tripped the transmission lines. And of course, that meant that we lost much more capacity than just that power station. Look, the good news is that Queensland is in a better position than most states in Australia in terms of having excess capacity to provide the energy we need. Obviously, this was an extenuating circumstance, but we did have a sneak preview yesterday of what happens if we lose our coal fired generators without appropriate replacement. We're facing that prospect in New South Wales. We've seen it before in South Australia and Victoria. As I say, Queensland is in a better position than other states, but we still saw yesterday how fragile our system can be and how easy it is to lose power, and the implications of that - the Boyne smelter going out, traffic lights going out. I understand there were some injuries as a result of that, which is always a major concern. Fortunately, no injuries, as I understand it, at the power station. But this is something we're going to have to be very, very vigilant about in the coming months and years if we're going to keep workers in work, helping people to make ends meet by making sure that power prices are under control. It's going to be a very big effort from state and federal governments for many years to come.

NEIL BREEN: Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor is my special guest. Minister, it shows how fragile our society is and how reliant we are on power. We can have all the debates we want about this and wind-fired and turbines, and we can do this and we can do that, we can move to this and we can move to that. But you have to have the system in place before you can move to that. Our entire society, whether greenies like it or not, is hinged on power. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: It absolutely is, Neil, but you only notice that when it's gone.

NEIL BREEN: Yes.

ANGUS TAYLOR: That's the point. When it's on, no one seems to notice it. The day it's gone, of course - and I as the Energy Minister see this across not just Queensland, but every state - the day it's gone, people really understand how important it is. And it's why I say time and time and time again, we've got to maintain a balance in our energy systems that manages this fragility, which shows itself when you've got major change happening. Now, we've got enormous investment happening right now in household solar, for instance. Highest level in the world. And Queensland, of course, is leading Australia, which in turn is leading the world. Now, managing that is a major, major issue and it's up to state and federal governments to work with energy companies to make sure we manage that in a sensible way. Those who say this can all happen overnight and it can be done without any kind of hiccups, they're kidding themselves. Absolutely kidding themselves. And it's why we are doing what we have to do to manage this. We're investing in a gas generator in New South Wales where we're seeing a major coal-fired power station closing in 2023 so we've had to step in. We're also changing the way the market works, making major changes to reward that dispatchable generation that can be flicked on when you flick on the light switch and you really need that power. Maintaining that balance is absolutely crucial.

NEIL BREEN: Okay. Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor, thanks for your time on 4BC Breakfast.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good on you. Thanks Neil.

ENDS