Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (19:45): This government is committed to bringing down power prices and keeping the lights on while meeting Australia’s emissions reduction targets. In August I was pleased to welcome energy minister Angus Taylor to the electorate of Grey, where we met with representatives from the energy sector and announced up to $40 million in funding towards the development of pumped hydro in South Australia. This aligns with the government’s Underwriting New Generation Investments program, which has short-listed 12 projects around Australia. Four of them are in South Australia, all of which are in my electorate of Grey. These will deliver new, reliable, renewable and dispatchable electricity into the market, putting downward pressure on prices and ensuring the security of the grid.
The minister and I visited two of the proposed pumped hydro sites. One is the Altura Group’s 250-megawatt generation proposal at Goat Hill, capable of operating for seven hours, producing about 840 megawatt hours. That’s 20 kilometres west of Port Augusta, and it’s an ideal site for both generation and storage, being within 20 kilometres of the high-voltage electricity transmission system formerly connected to the Northern Power Station. It is also adjacent to Nexif Energy’s 1,212-megawatt capacity Lincoln Gap Wind Farm. The wind farm is a prime site, and it’s worth noting that the turbines will run at better than 42 per cent efficiency.
Later we visited the Baroota Reservoir, about 30 kilometres from Port Pirie in the Southern Flinders Ranges. There Rise Renewables are planning to develop an upper dam to feed back to the existing dam. They too are confident of delivering their project, which will generate better than 200 megawatts for eight hours—in other words, 1,600 megawatt hours.
These are the kinds of serious storage projects that confirm supply in South Australia at an affordable price and turn intermittent renewable energy into dispatchable energy. While we did not visit the Simec Zen Energy site at Whyalla, in one of Sanjeev Gupta’s disused mine sites, that too is on our list of possibilities. The fourth project in Grey is a gas peaking plant at Long Plains.
South Australia has been through a tough time with our electricity supply, with the premature closure of the Northern Power Station. That was especially damaging because, while the previous Weatherill government were complicit in the power station’s closure, they had made no plan to transition to a reliable renewable energy future. For us in South Australia, it is essential that households and businesses have confidence there will be enough energy to meet their electricity needs.
This is why on 1 July the government implemented the retailer reliability obligation, which requires retailers to guarantee their energy supply three years in advance. The government has also committed to investing in energy infrastructure like the second Bass Strait interconnector and Snowy Hydro 2.0. The government has delivered a price safety net by capping the electricity standing offer prices. South Australian households who were on the highest standing offers before 1 July can save up to $526 a year from this reform, while some small businesses will save as much as $1,700.
On 1 July we also introduced the reference price, requiring retailers to benchmark their electricity offers and discounts against a common price, making it easier than ever before for customers to compare offers and find the best deal. It comes on top of the government’s work to stop dodgy discounting and charges from the big energy companies. We’re committed to holding these companies to account, and the minister recently launched a $50 million program to help communities across regional Australia access cheaper and more reliable power through microgrids. The first round of the Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund is now open to applicants across Australia. Up to $20 million of grants will be awarded for feasibility studies in the first round.
The next step to stabilising the National Electricity Market is to bring in our ‘big stick’ legislation. The bill will hold energy companies to account in three ways: retail pricing prohibition, requiring retailers to pass on sustained and substantial reductions in cost to households and small businesses; contract liquidity prohibition, penalising generators that hold electricity contracts for the purposes of substantially lessening market competition; and wholesale conduct prohibition, banning generators from manipulating the spot market and withholding supply to inflate prices. There are a series of mechanisms and enforcements along the way, eventually culminating in divestiture—which is the ultimate big stick coming from government—not for buying by government but to sell to other operators.