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Interview with Rebecca Levingston, ABC Radio Brisbane

26 May 2021

Interviewer: 
Rebecca Levingston

Subject: Callide Power Station fire

E&OE

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: Angus Taylor is Australia's Energy Minister. Good morning, Angus Taylor. 

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

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: How concerned are you about what happened yesterday?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Obviously, very concerned. First and foremost, I heard about it during Question Time and concerned, obviously, about the workers at the power station themselves. It's very good news we haven't had any injuries there. But of course, the flow on implications of this in terms of the loss of power and what that means for the safety of people across Queensland and the jobs of people across Queensland. The Boyne smelter, for instance, which is completely reliant on being able to have a continuous supply of power. Hospitals that need to have continuous supply of power. They have auxiliary power units, but just making sure all of that is being managed. Obviously a huge issue. I was in touch with Mick de Brenni, the Queensland state minister, during the afternoon yesterday as we worked through the issues. But as you rightly said in your introduction, I think everyone's been surprised how quickly it's come back on. These things are never good, never good. But it is good news that we are getting things back to normal as quickly as possible. And I think it's been very hard work that's had to be done to be able to achieve that.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: So, Angus Taylor, can Queenslanders be confident in a consistent power supply across today, the coming weeks, the coming months?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it's always a challenge. I mean, this is the truth, Rebecca, is we only really noticed how important power is to our lives when we lose it. Most of the time we've got it, we take it for granted. But the instant we lose it is the instant we understand how important it is. I guess that's exactly what we've seen in the last little while. The truth of the matter is Queensland is actually better positioned than most states in Australia in terms of having additional capacity, more capacity than is needed, some redundancy in the system. However, there are times like this where we didn't just lose the power station, we also saw the transmission lines tripped. And those two things can happen at the same time as they did yesterday and this is not uncommon. 

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: Well, why do we have more capacity in Queensland, more redundancy? Can you just explain that in simple terms?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah. There's a history to this. Queensland has always had an enormous amount of industry that's reliant on power, cheap energy. That has meant that you've been able to have these big industrial centres like you've got at places like Gladstone and all the way down the coast and indeed, Brisbane itself, there's a great deal of industry. That has meant historically you've had a very strong and significant power supply. Now it's changing dramatically. We're seeing, the biggest thing we're seeing is just a phenomenal uptake of household solar in the system, which is great. The more the merrier. That is fantastic. But holding the balance in the system is always a challenge. We've got to maintain that balance. And we saw yesterday what happens when the system gets out of balance.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: You're listening to the federal Energy Minister, Angus Taylor. This is ABC Radio Brisbane. My name's Rebecca Levingston. Minister, are Queenslanders going to be paying more for power?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, no, they shouldn't be. I mean, this is very important that we keep downward pressure on prices. And I know, the state government, we've been working very closely with them to make this a priority. It does mean we've got to have enough supply in the system. It does mean we've got to have supply that's available 24/7 and that these interruptions are to be avoided as much as we can. Yesterday was extenuating circumstances, but we've always got to be planning for the worst. And that also means planning to keep prices down across the years. So, no. This is something, look, Australia and Queensland in particular has phenomenal natural resources, and it should be a state where there's affordable, reliable power. We've had our challenges in the past. We're doing pretty well at the moment. We've seen good downward pressure on prices, but we've got to keep that pressure on.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: You mentioned Queensland's Energy Minister Mick de Brenni. He spoke to our Breakfast team this morning, and he raised the importance of renewable in an event like this.

[Excerpt]

MICK DE BRENNI – QUEENSLAND MINISTER FOR ENERGY, RENEWABLES AND HYDROGEN: You're right. At the moment, we are importing some electricity, but certainly, during the middle of the day, when all of our solar assets start to come back into play, we'll hopefully get back into a situation where we're exporting electricity again. And as soon as Callide is back up and operational, it's a very large plant, it's the second largest in the state, we'll be back to being a net exporter of electricity. So we'll be back there as soon as possible.

[End of excerpt]

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: So that's Queensland's Energy Minister Mick De Brenni. Angus Taylor is the federal Energy Minister. Do you think we should be investing more in renewables?

ANGUS TAYLOR: We are. I mean, in fact, Queensland households are, and that's the important point. Look, we've got in Australia, the highest level of household solar in the world - one in four houses and rising. Queensland is leading Australia on that front. So it's happening. The challenge for us all is to make sure we keep a balance in the system as we do that. I'm working closely with the Queensland Government on exactly that issue. 

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: Yeah, what is the balance? When you talk about we need to have 24/7 power, how do you see that balance playing out? Because Callide, the coal-fired station, was flagged for closure in 2028. How do you see Queensland and indeed, Australia's power balance over the next decade?

ANGUS TAYLOR: The very practical point is that when the sun goes down, you can't store energy in solar panels so you've got to either have backup or storage. We've seen this in New South Wales even in the last couple of weeks, where when the sun went down, we had a couple of coal units, unexpected - well, one in particular - unexpectedly out, and we didn't have enough replacement capacity when the sun went down. So having that balance in the system between dispatchable power, which is there 24/7 and the intermittent power we get from sun and wind, that balance is incredibly important.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: Yeah. So, what is the balance though?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it depends on your circumstance, but it's a balance that means that you can keep the lights on 24/7. That's the point. And what that requires in an individual market at a particular point in time will differ. But what it is, is a balanced system that can deliver 24/7. So, when the solar cells stop working at 6.00pm at night or whenever it is at night, that you have an alternative. And that alternative right now is a combination of hydro, of gas. Some flexing in our coal generators can happen, although they're less flexible than other sorts of generation. And increasingly, we'll see a role for batteries in that, too. So that dispatchable power that can be there 24/7 - incredibly important - and that balance is something that we'll continue to work with the state government, not just in Queensland, but across Australia to ensure we have. 

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: Minister, I know it's a busy day for you and Parliament is sitting as well. I do want to just get your response to some fairly dramatic comments that have been made by Queensland Nationals Senator Matt Canavan earlier this morning. Here's what he said.

[Excerpt]

MATT CANAVAN – SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: We've been holding our energy system together with gaffer tape the last few years. And yesterday, the gaffer tape snapped. It's not good enough, that just simply one event can cause an entire system effectively to go down. And we're now told this could be out for years. Last night, we avoided rolling blackouts like North Korea in Queensland, but they're at risk in the future because demand will be higher as winter gets colder. And of course, if this lasts in the summer, it could even be worse.

[End of excerpt]

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: Nationals Senator Matt Canavan. Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor, do you want more coal-fired power stations?

ANGUS TAYLOR: As I said, we need balance. We've got a lot of coal already; 80 per cent of the energy in Queensland is coming from coal. But we're going to need balance.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: Yes.

ANGUS TAYLOR: But I'll tell you what will be needed though, most importantly, Rebecca, as coal-fired power stations close and units in coal-fired power stations close permanently, get mothballed or permanently closed, will need to be replaced. That replacement needs to be certain or we need to be certain when that replacement happens that we can keep the lights on 24/7 and keep prices down. So, that replacement process, which in Queensland is at a different state to some of the other parts of Australia, needs to be managed extremely carefully. The good news, as I say, is generally speaking, the Queensland grid is in a pretty good state. Yesterday was a terrible set of extenuating circumstances, no question about that. But we're going to have to manage this very, very closely. 

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: Okay. And just finally, at the peak of yesterday's outage, the spot price of power went from $30 per megawatt hour to $15,000 per megawatt hour. Who made money yesterday?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, the generators did, which are mostly owned by the Queensland Government, of course, and you know, we've seen exactly the same thing happening in New South Wales in the last couple of weeks where we've seen these price spikes when a coal-fired power station unexpectedly suffers an outage. So, this is why you've got to have enough of this dispatchable capacity that can come in flexibly into the system when it's needed. And it's why, as we lose our coal-fired power stations in the coming years, there has to be appropriate replacement.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: Really appreciate your time this morning. Thanks so much. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good on you. Thanks, Rebecca. 

ENDS