Senate debates

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Questions without Notice

Energy

2:35 pm

Photo of Tim StorerTim Storer (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Energy, Senator Fifield. So far in 2018, the coal and gas plants and the National Energy Market have experienced unscheduled outages a total of 125 times. That's just over one unscheduled outage every 2½ days. Importantly, these failures have not been limited to our older coal plants. Our newer, so-called high-efficiency low-emissions plants have been just as unreliable, with every single one having experienced an unscheduled outage this year. Each time these plants fail without notice, the price of electricity spikes, hurting consumers, and the risk of blackouts increases. Given how unreliable coal and gas powered plants are, why does the government continue to argue that they are the only form of 'fair dinkum' power?

2:36 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

What this government wants to see is a balance—a range of sources of energy—and we do have a balanced and sensible plan for affordable and reliable energy for families and small businesses. Our plan will lower power prices by stopping the price gouging. We have a legislative package which we're introducing. We have a price safety net, which will be in place by 1 July next year, with a down payment on 1 January. We're backing investment in reliable generation with a shortlist of projects by early next year, and from 1 July we'll require energy companies to invest in fair dinkum electricity generation years ahead to meet customer needs through a reliability obligation. We want to ensure that Australians can have power that is reliable and affordable, and that means having a mix of sources of electricity generation. That is what all the policies that this government has in place and is implementing are all about.

Now, I should point out to Senator Storer, in the kindest possible way, the experience in his home state of South Australia. If there is a jurisdiction which is a case study in what not to do when it comes to ensuring affordable and reliable power, it is South Australia. That's one of the many reasons why on this side of the chamber we're very pleased that the Marshall government is in office there to partner with us in making sure that, nationwide, we can have policies in place which will see the lights stay on and power be affordable for families and for businesses.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Storer, a supplementary question.

2:38 pm

Photo of Tim StorerTim Storer (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, our coal and gas plants are also proving to be more unreliable on the hottest days, when we need them most. During the February 2017 heatwave across south-eastern Australia, an equivalent of 14 per cent of coal- and gas-power capacity in South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland failed during periods of critical peak demand. With heatwaves increasing in frequency, intensity and duration as a result of climate change, why does the government continue to push for new investment in these old and unreliable technologies that are causing outages?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Storer, for the supplementary question. I should remind colleagues that the government is focused on attracting new investment in reliable generation, increasing competition and reducing electricity prices. The Underwriting New Generation Investments program is going to improve reliability and security by increasing the level of firm capacity in the system—that is, the amount of energy generation that can be available when needed—which goes directly to Senator Storer's point.

The ACCC recommended that Australia adopt a program to underwrite new-generation investment. The government shares the ACCC's concerns regarding current levels of competitiveness in the wholesale market and the impact it's having on increasing prices for consumers. That's why this government is unlocking new investment in reliable electricity generation. For the benefit of colleagues: we released a consultation paper on 23 October; submissions closed on 9 November; and round table meetings will soon commence.

2:40 pm

Photo of Tim StorerTim Storer (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Australia is blessed with world-class renewable-energy energy-storage resources. South Australia's Hornsdale Power Reserve, the world's biggest grid-connected lithium-ion battery, is showing how renewables coupled with storage can put downward pressure on electricity prices and allow for the successful integration of high levels of wind and solar energy.

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Treasury and Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

South Australia has been a great case! They can't keep the lights on!

Photo of Tim StorerTim Storer (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

An unforeseen weather event. Is it the case that, as the Senate agreed on Monday, renewable energy coupled with energy storage can provide fair dinkum power that is cheap, reliable and clean?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Thanks, Senator Storer. On this side of the chamber, we want to do whatever we can to ensure that we have reliable power. What that means is that we don't turn our face against any type of power generation. We want to have the right incentives in place to ensure that all those modes of power generation that can make a contribution to reliability and to affordable power are deployed to the best benefit of the Australian people and Australian business. That's our approach. We don't point to a particular mode of generation and say, 'In some way you have particular demerits which rule you out.' We don't take an ideological approach.