The Turnbull government is piling pressure on AGL over its planned closure of the Liddell power station, saying its operation relies heavily on coal whatever marketing strategy it tries to put forward.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg will meet the energy company’s boss on Monday to persuade it to keep open its Liddell power station beyond 2022 – or sell it – after the market operator said it needs to stay open for the stability of the electricity system.
“The reality is AGL relies heavily on coal … AGL get about 85 per cent of their power generation from coal,” Mr Frydenberg told Sky News on Sunday.
He noted its Bayswater coal-fired power station – which neighbours Liddell – was not scheduled to close until 2035 and Loy Yang would be in business until the 2040s.
Liddell is the oldest power station still running in Australia, and in 2022 it will be 50 years old, which widely regarded as its expected life span.
AGL’s marketing campaign says “starting in 2022 and ending by 2050, we are getting out of coal” and the campaign talks up the billions it’s spending on new generation of other forms.
It has been parodied by environmental groups who want the company to act faster.
Treasurer Scott Morrison said it seemed “those who are trying to shut Liddell” had a vested interest in talking down its viability.
“The way AGL has been talking it sounds like it’s worthless and maybe they are going to be selling it for nothing,” he told ABC TV.
“It doesn’t surprise me that a big energy company wants to see a big source of supply go out of the market … That drives prices up and that benefits energy companies.”
Mr Frydenberg said if the government failed to convince AGL to sell Liddell or extend its life, “we’ll continue to press the public case, both with the energy companies and in the parliament”.
The Nationals have made it party policy to phase out subsidies for renewable energy, with Queensland senator and former resources minister Matthew Canavan saying when it came to jobs, renewables were “just a short term sugar hit”.
“We’ve taken all the subsidies away from our farming sector and now the biggest protection racket going around is in our renewable energy sector,” Senator Canavan told the party’s federal conference.
The Nationals at their federal conference on Sunday voted against setting a clean energy target.
Deputy Premier Barnaby Joyce said the vote was not binding on MPs, while Queensland MP George Christensen has threatened to cross the floor.
“You’re guided by these resolutions, you’re not completely instructed by them,” Mr Joyce said.
Labor says it is “sheer hypocrisy” from the Nationals when its MPs are happy to launch renewable projects in their own electorates.
“The fossils in the Nationals, driven by baseless ideology and political opportunism, would rather tear down the one piece of bipartisan energy policy that is providing new generation into the system than support renewable energy,” opposition energy spokesman Mark Butler said.