Dutton’s plan to scrap 2030 emissions target ‘not helpful’, AGL executive says – as it happened

21 06 2024 | 16:54Peter Hannam

Chatter this week from the opposition leader over an intention to ditch Labor’s 2030 emissions target if elected (without presenting the Coalition’s own goals until after the next election), hasn’t gone down well with business groups.

AGL Energy’s chief operating officer, Markus Brokhof, has told Guardian Australia “every investor, not just AGL, needs a stable regulatory and political framework”. Goal changes were “not helpful” not least because energy investments were for the long term.

Brokhof was careful, though, to label the issue as “typical election discussion”. (The Greens, meanwhile, say it’s academic as it’s unlikely the Liberal-Nationals will have the numbers to scrap Labor’s legislated goal of cutting 2005-level emissions by 43% by 2030.)

The executive was keener to discuss AGL’s ambitions to ramp up its hydropower operations, particularly for pumped hydro. After Snowy Hydro and Tas Hydro (both government-owned), AGL is Australia’s largest hydro electricity producer with a 10% share.

Brokhof said rewards for pumped hydro needed to be increased to better reflect its benefits, not just in providing long-duration storage (potentially for days). Others include supporting system strength, frequency and voltage control of the grid, and even enabling a “black start” should things go really pear-shaped as they did in 2016 in South Australia. (Not wind farms’ fault)

One potential project would involve turning a former coal mine void near Muswellbrook in the upper Hunter Valley of NSW into a reservoir. AGL would excavate a smaller reservoir about 500m up a hill, pumping up water at times of low electricity prices and releasing it through 400-megawatt hydro generators when prices are high.

The $1bn-plus project will come up for investment approval probably in 2026, Brokhof said. Interestingly, AGL and mine owner, Japan’s Idemitsu Corp, face similar planning problems identified in the lower Hunter, as detailed in this recent feature.

“If you use existing infrastructure that you [should] get then also faster approvals,” he said. “[A]t at the moment, that’s not the case.”

Given the need for speed to get more renewables and storage into the grid - and a relative abundance of old coal assets in need of repurposing - nimble authorities seem to be in high demand.