22 March, 2021
I second the Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Amendment (No New Fossil Fuels) Bill 2021. This bill will make a substantial amendment to the Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Act 1997. Snowy Hydro began in 1949 with the construction of the nation-building Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme. It was a mammoth project that captured Australia's imagination and showed what was possible when we put our brilliant engineering minds to the task. Snowy has provided much-needed energy to the cities and towns of the east coast of Australia; it's part of our history.
But since 1949, the remit and scope of the organisation has changed. It's now an end-to-end integrated energy provider. It now has several generation assets and offtake agreements, with multiple renewable projects on the east coast. On 14 September last year the energy minister told the Australian Press Club that should the energy industry not fill the gap left by the closure of AGL's Liddell coal-fired power station that the Australian government would use Snowy Hydro to build a 1000-megawatt gas generator at Kurri Kurri. Let's be very clear at the outset: new gas in the Hunter should not go ahead and it's entirely unnecessary.
In last year's Integrated System Plan, the Australian Energy Market Operator made it clear that we may use existing gas assets more but that we would not need new gas assets. Batteries and pumped hydro would be sufficient as coal retires in the next decades. In last year's Electricity statement of opportunities, AEMO also stated that the shortfall in New South Wales caused by the closure of Liddell was likely to be less than 200 megawatts by 2023-24. This was also before the CEP.Energy announcement on 5 February of a 1,200-megawatt battery at the very place that this gas generator was supposed to be: in Kurri Kurri. AGL, too, has lodged initial development documents for a new big battery of up to 500 megawatts to help offset the Liddell closure. So it's clear that, where the electricity providers are heading, they are dealing with this gap and they're dealing with it as the market dictates. The market is not saying new gas; the market is saying batteries.
Since November 2020 an abundance of new battery projects has been proposed for Australia, totalling some 3,000 megawatts. It raises an interesting point. Why is the energy minister threatening to build a gas-fired generator when the market is choosing batteries? The market doesn't want to choose gas, because it knows it's going to be a stranded asset down the line. So, why should we spend public money developing a gas generator? I can only presume that this is pure politics, because the government has made no secret of its desire to woo the people in the Hunter Valley with, I would suggest, a false promise of this gas generator. It's a doomed effort, and I'm very cynical about the way the government and the minister are proposing to use a public asset, in the form of Snowy Hydro, to support what can only be seen as a political endeavour, not an endeavour for the public interest.