Liddell steps toward renewable transition

Liddell power station.
Liddell power station.

The union representing workers at the ageing Liddell power station has welcomed AGL Energy’s plan to transition it to a clean energy hub, even as pro-coal Coalition MPs called on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to amend competition laws to force AGL to keep it as a coal-fired facility.

The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) said AGL has made the right call in deciding to not sell the power station, near Muswellbrook in NSW, to Alinta Energy, but to repurpose the Liddell site for battery storage, pumped hydro storage and gas turbine energy production.

It welcomed the news that AGL remains committed to securing the future of its 300 workers while it repurposes the Liddell power station and congratulated the company for not giving in to the federal government’s bullying as it proceeds with decommissioning the power plant.

ETU national secretary Allen Hicks said: “AGL Energy is doing the right thing in choosing to transition to the technologies that will be powering Australia through the 21st century.

“It appears at this stage that AGL has struck the right balance in securing the future of jobs in the power industry as it goes through the revolution from fossil fuels to renewable energy.”

This view is in stark contrast to the position of pro-coal coalition MP Craig Kelly, who has called for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to be given new powers that would make it “crystal clear” that closing down an essential service utility when there was “other options”, such as selling to another player, was anti-competitive behaviour. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott endorsed Kelly’s proposal, saying Liddell is an essential service and “we can’t stand by and watch” while it closes down.

They want the nearly 50-year-old generator to stay open, and to be sold to another party if AGL does not want to continue operating it as a coal-fired power station. This is despite studies showing that keeping it open will be more polluting, more expensive and more dangerous for workers.

Hicks said: “Josh Frydenberg and Malcolm Turnbull need to leave Tony Abbott and his views in the 19th century and catch up to Australia’s power industry and the rest of the world.

“Unions and the industry want secure jobs for decades to come, but Frydenberg thinks he can bully us into propping up energy technology that is fast becoming obsolete.”

The case to close Liddell was made more urgent by documents obtained by Environmental Justice Australia that show Liddell has been exempted from NSW air pollution regulations, meaning it can pour toxic nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere at up to 14 times the concentration allowable in the United States and almost twice the official concentration limit allowed for NSW power stations of Liddell’s age.

Hicks said AGL has acknowledged that Australia’s energy market is adapting to renewables despite the government’s refusal to accept reality. “Coal will certainly continue to play a role in Australia’s energy production and the steel industry for some time, but the evidence is clear that the jobs are moving into renewable,” he said.

“AGL is showing leadership in how it is embracing industry change without neglecting the livelihoods of workers. Australia’s business leaders should take note. 

“We truly welcome that AGL currently remains committed to helping its 300 workers transition to the Bayswater power plant or the revamped Liddell without forcing any of them into redundancy.

“AGL’s current support for a just transition for workers should be the norm, not the exception, in corporate Australia.” 

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