KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Malcolm Turnbull there with his view that the idea of building a new coal-fired power station is nuts. Let's bring in Joel Fitzgibbon, who is the Shadow Minister for Resources and the Member for Hunter where the Liddell coal-fired power station is located. You heard Andrew Clennell's report there; what do you make of it? This task force, which was due to be reporting back by the end of last year, apparently it's sitting in front of the New South Wales and Federal Ministers in draft-form. But basically, it's found it's going to cost $300 million to keep it open, and it might not even work.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Well, I welcome the report from Andrew. Nothing surprises me, I’ve been hearing for some time now that there's a big clash between the New South Wales officials and the Commonwealth officials and I think we've just found out why. Look I'm the local member there, and this really distresses me. A cruel hoax has been perpetrated upon my community. Liddell did something that – I mean, AGL did something that no company has ever done before. They gave five years notice of their intention to close Liddell, an ageing generator – which is about to turn 50. You know all generators have a limited physical and economic life and I thought very early, my task was to ensure that AGL reinvest in the Upper Hunter so that we can remain the powerhouse of New South Wales and they made commitments to do that – pumped hydro, gas, battery storage etc. And Scott Morrison's early intervention in the last parliament was running interference on AGL's plans. You know, Scott Morrison was pretending that you keep Liddell open for a short while, while I was focused on making sure we get the investment well into the future. And you know, the people who know best the state of Liddell – because I speak with them – are the people who work within the Liddell power generator. They know that it's just not possible to keep the old girl going to 2026. It's certainly not efficient. And now…
GILBERT: AGL said they're not going to pay for it and if it were to be kept open, $300 million for the two units at Liddell…
GILBERT: That would have to come from taxpayers.
FITZGIBBON: It would have to come from the taxpayer, will still be unreliable, will still be relatively inefficient, will still be relatively polluting. And I can tell you, Kieran, my people would rather $300 million spent on the future – new technologies, new job creating technologies – then trying to keep Liddell open for a few more years.
GILBERT: The Liddell Task Force, again from Andrew Clennell's report, suggests that it could curb investment in areas like gas at the Tallawarra B gas extension.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, well, not just the…
GILBERT: … and that's as the government is obviously talking about gas as a transition fuel.
FITZGIBBON: You will recall Josh Frydenberg and I having a stoush in the corridor here in the Press Gallery. It was about this issue. I was saying to Josh, I'm working hard to make sure that AGL makes the investment necessary to ensure that we maintain the generation capacity in the Upper Hunter using new technologies – Josh, you are interfering. You are right – I mean, the boss at AGL remember departed from his job around this period. Now that's a big loss. I'm not saying it was necessarily directly related to what Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg were saying, but I think there is a connection, and I'm just angry that now we've had confirmed that, in the absence of enormous taxpayer subsidy, this thing just doesn't work.
GILBERT: But even with that subsidy, this task force suggests that it won't fix the reliability because potentially of supply shortfalls, and it might lead to widespread outages anyways, because of the aged station.
FITZGIBBON: I made my decision very early to go for new technologies and allow the Liddell to come to the end of her physical life, because all the experts were telling me that what Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg were saying was wrong, that you just cannot, you know, keep such an old generator going for that length of time. Certainly not with a very, very significant amount of money and even then reliability would be very, very poor.
GILBERT: Resources in your seat – it's one of your priorities, I know, in terms of supporting that industry – but what about the Collinsville power plant? If they were to be some - do you support a $4 million case study on that?
FITZGIBBON: No, I don't support any taxpayers' money going into the prospects of a new coal-fired generator. If the market – if someone comes along and they say I've got a lazy $3 billion and I believe I can secure a decent return for 40 years, despite the changing energy system, and I believe I can jump the most stringent environmental hurdles in the world, I'll say you go for it mate. But the fact is, no one's going to do that without significant government subsidies because it just doesn't make sense. And of course, Queensland doesn't need a generator, it generates almost twice as much as it consumes as a state. Most of the excess gets transmitted into New South Wales, and it's got the youngest generation fleet in the country that the current generators will be generating for many decades to come. And in North Queensland, there's an over capacity of supply, mainly because of the huge growth in renewables in that in that part of Australia.
GILBERT: Well, Matt Canavan says that he says, that in terms of – he notices some people saying that coal-fired power stations shouldn't be backed by government. Well, if it's that's the view then those critics should be consistent and argue against the billions of dollars we give to renewables every year. Well, what do you say in response?
FITZGIBBON: Well, that's Matt Canavan being populist. This is the modus operandi of this government: populism, bullying – which is the case of AGL – and they haven't seen a taxpayers’ dollar they don't want to spend on something that may or might not have happened anyway and depending on which argument you're having. And of course, in my part of the world that the money, you know, they're obsessing about whether it be Collinsville or Liddell, could be better spent creating new job opportunities in those regions.
GILBERT: Just getting back just finally to this Liddell task force with the – Andrew reported that the gas, pumped hydro and battery assets could replace Liddell in its capacity. Is that your sense of where things are at in terms of like that gas extension we talked about earlier, but the pump Hydro options?
FITZGIBBON: I'm not convinced they'll get to the 2000 megawatt hours that Liddell currently provides, or Liddell doesn't that's, that's its original capacity. But, at best because she's so old, it works at 50 per cent. But certainly, they're investing in a sister station across the road, Bayswater, she will do an additional 200 megawatt hours as a result, the pumped hydro project in the Upper Hunter, the battery storage project and at least one gas project in the Hunter Valley will get us pretty close back to where we were when Liddell was fully operational.
GILBERT: Joel Fitzgibbon, appreciate your time on that breaking news this afternoon. Thanks.
FITZGIBBON: Thanks Kieran.