Labor has begged industry bosses to fire up all their coal-fuelled power stations at full capacity to ease the national energy crisis in a dramatic policy u-turn.
Just days after promising ‘real action on climate change’, Labor today demanded the nation’s coal power stations are all brought back into service as soon as possible.
At least a quarter of Australia’s coal-fired electricity production is currently offline while the east coast shivers through a freezing winter amid soaring price rises.
The global fuel crisis has already forced some nations to abandon their climate change commitments to meet power demands as consumer prices soar.
Germany has now started passing laws to prevent coal power stations destined for the scrapheap from being axed, ordering them to be kept on standby instead.
Labor has begged industry bosses to fire up all their coal-fuelled power stations at full capacity to ease the national energy crisis in a dramatic policy u-turn
Italy, Bulgaria, Romania and the Czech Republic also plan to burn more coal as a temporary measure while they reduce reliance on Russian gas, and the UK is drilling for more gas in the North Sea.
On Tuesday, Labor resources minister Madeleine King called on Australian industry chiefs to crank up their offline coal power stations as soon as possible.
AGL currently have three coal power stations in NSW and Victoria either offline or on reduced capacity due to scheduled and unscheduled maintenance issues.
Origin’s Eraring power station, the largest in NSW, has also been crippled by coal production cutbacks at its neighbouring conveyor belt-connected coalmine.
It’s had to buy coal on the open market as prices surge because of the global crisis sparked by the war in Ukraine, which forces electricity prices up further.
Queensland’s Callide coal power station is also offline after an explosion at the plant, creating a perfect storm just as the bitter cold snap hit Australia’s east coast.
The maintenance work at affected power stations is not expected to be completed until July at the earliest while Callide is out until December, but Labor is demanding the work is now fast-tracked.
At least a quarter of Australia’s coal-fired electricity production is currently offline while the east coast shivers through a freezing winter amid soaring price rises
Amid soaring gas prices due to supply issues, Ms King said an immediate step would be for power station operators ‘to get moving on fixing their plants right now.
‘In the very short term, what we really need to do is to have the coal power stations come back online because that is the missing piece of the puzzle right now,’ she told ABC radio on Tuesday.
‘There’s been unplanned outages for many reasons, many beyond the control of those operators and I do accept that, but I hope they’re doing their best to make sure this power source comes online as well.’
Energy Minister Chris Bowen will meet his state and territory counterparts on Wednesday to discuss solutions as the Albanese government considers short- and longer-term solutions to take pressure off prices.
But it comes comes just five days after Mr Bowen appeared on stage with leading members of Emergency Leaders For Climate Action and declared the new government will take ‘real action on climate change’.
Currently about 60 per cent of Australia’s electricity comes from coal, 32 per cent from renewables and eight per cent from gas.
On Tuesday, Ms King skirted the issue of the government providing assistance to coal-fired power stations, insisting Labor still had a clean energy policy.
‘It wouldn’t matter how much money anyone put in right now, we just need the operators to get moving on fixing their plants,’ she said.
‘It is the coal companies themselves, and the operators of the power stations, that need to get these power stations back online.
‘It’s 30 per cent of the energy capacity taken out of the mix because of unforeseen circumstances in many respects.’
When asked if the government would consider a nationwide policy forcing producers to reserve 15 per cent of their gas from exports as they do in Western Australia, Ms King said ‘nothing is off the table’.
She did not commit to the policy, saying it was a ‘great political struggle’ for the Labor government to introduce it, with many people losing ‘a lot of political skin in that fight’.
Just days after promising ‘real action on climate change’, Labor’s resources minister Madeleine King, seen here with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, on Tuesday demanded the nation’s coal power stations are all brought back into service as soon as possible
Opposition climate change spokesman Ted O’Brien said the Albanese government needed to pull the ‘gas trigger’ which allows exports to be diverted to domestic supply.
But Mr Bowen has argued it is a complex process, and action taken now would not have an effect before January.
He blamed the Coalition for leaving ‘Australia ill-prepared and our energy markets ill-prepared for the challenges we face today in relation to gas and energy supply.’
He added: ‘The previous government didn’t do the work necessary to increase renewables or storage.
‘If we had more storage and renewables and better transmission, we would be much better placed to deal with the current challenges.
‘That is exactly what our powering Australia plan seeks to implement but it will take some time to implement.
‘As I have said, you don’t overturn nine years of dysfunction, denial and delay overnight. But action is necessary.’
Opposition treasury spokesman Angus Taylor, the former energy minister, rejected accusations he had failed to invest in renewables.
‘We’re committed to some important transmission projects … but we don’t need excessive investment because that puts upward pressure on prices,’ he told ABC News.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers said cost of living relief would feature in the October budget to tackle the soaring fuel bills.
‘We’ve got a plan to get those power bills down over time because the absence of an energy policy for the best part of a decade is a key reason why inflation is going through the roof,’ he told Sky News.
But he warned extending the fuel excise cut – which has knocked 22c off the price of a litre of petrol – would be difficult because of the costs involved.