Ross Greenwood speaks to Queensland Nationals member Keith Pitt who says a High Efficiency Low Emission (HELE) coal-fired power plants are the answer to the energy debate.
Ross Greenwood: I think one of the best people to speak to about this because he does have knowledge of the party but also has some knowledge of energy policy and that is Keith Pitt who is the Liberal National Party member for Hinkler. In his former life, he’s an electrical engineer. I would suggest having read some stuff about Keith Pitt that he’s a bit agnostic as to how you generate the energy so long as there’s plenty of it. He’s online right now. Keith, many thanks for your time.
Interview with: Keith Pitt, LNP
Keith Pitt: Ross, glad to be with you. Glad to be with your listeners.
Ross Greenwood: Okay. Is it a case right now that you believe that the federal government should announce that it will underwrite a new coal-fired power station in Queensland?
Keith Pitt: Ross, I think I should be really clear. This is the government’s policy. The Coalition’s policy is to provide an underwriting platform as recommended by the ACCC, its policy is to implement big stick legislation for divestiture. We just want to get on with it. We are 150% behind the government. As I’ve said many times, I’m technology agnostic but I’m practical enough to know that there will be locations where HELE coal plants will be the most affordable and the most reliable. I think it’s just a matter now of actually delivering things which are tangible because people understand, if we increase the supply, we increase the available energy. It will drive down prices.
Ross Greenwood: Is one of the issues here, Keith that big energy companies are not prepared to commit to coal-fired power? They would prefer to go to renewables or indeed to gas-fired power stations. The real fundamental problem here is there’s simply not enough gas in the system because much of it is being committed overseas in particular out of the Queensland Gladstone facilities which do require enormous amounts of gas going through them to keep up with the international demand.
Keith Pitt: I will digress. The gas trains in Gladstone have been an absolute boon for jobs, they’ve been a boon for our export industry. That’s always been the expectation. Right now, there is a shortage. This is the reason you had blackouts in Victoria and South Australia across Christmas, there does need to be more capacity. My understanding is that Angus is on the record. He has over 60 applications for the underwriting program. It is good policy to ensure that there is more out there. Let’s be really frank. Business is there to make money.
They don’t care whether it comes through the renewable energy targets, subsidy or grant, for support, that they’re not too concerned about what methods they use as long as their margins are high for the capital input.
Ross Greenwood: Keith, do you believe it’s really the government’s point to try and underwrite these things? The truth is some would argue that of course that renewables were underwritten for many years but is it the government’s position now to actually stand there and underwrite new sources of electricity generation?
Keith Pitt: I think one of the fundamental roles of any government is to ensure that there is a reliable and affordable supply of energy. It is critical infrastructure for this country. It drives our economy. Without it, we will be devastated by economically and right throughout our social community. This is about making decisions that need to be made. The time is well past to actually make decisions about where new power stations will be. I think there will be a mix. I am certain that Angus will be able to deliver a mix of power stations that suit the local conditions.
There will be places where hydro is more suitable, where picking gas plants are more suitable. In Queensland, I don’t think it would be any surprise that HELE coal would probably be the most affordable, most efficient, most reliable source for people in North Queensland.
Ross Greenwood: That being the case, do you believe Barnaby Joyce has been right to call out this particular issue? Do you believe as a result of these, he becomes the natural leader of your own party of the Nationals?
Keith Pitt: I could probably be accused of making a for us. These are just practical realities for the people we represent. They need downward pressure on price but keep in mind that regional Queensland is unique. The coalition government has done really good things around default tariffs that result in a reduction in power prices around the country but not in regional Queensland because the Queensland Labor government owns the only game in town. They own the only retailer, they own all the powers and wires and 70% of the generators and nothing we do will drive down price in regional Queensland unless the Labor government agrees or we force them to it.
Ross Greenwood: Also Keith, is it a little galling too to see the prices in regional Queensland being relatively higher or at least not coming down through competition when much of the electricity generated in Queensland that could go over those Queensland is arguably is actually ship South to actually make certain that the lifestyle in New South Wales and Victoria where there clearly have not been enough electricity generation building other of those states along with South Australia.
Keith Pitt: Well, the Queensland Labor government is robbing $1.5 million a year from consumer. It is a huge tax on business, it’s a tax on seniors, it’s a tax on small business. The fact that the states have been able to go out and close reliable baseline power stations for some sort of crazy ideology because they were connected to other states that had excess capacity. It just allows them to do, to be honest, and really, really brutally frank, to do really dumb things.
Ross Greenwood: Keith, final question for you. Do you ever see a time when Barnaby Joyce will be the leader of the Nationals again?
Keith Pitt: Look, there is no vacancy, there’s no spill, there’s no vote, there’s no ballots now-
Ross Greenwood: I understand all of that. I didn’t mean right now or maybe the next six months but do you ever see a time when he could arguably become the leader of Nationals again?
Keith Pitt: Well, the leadership of the party is a gift to the party room. It depends on who was in it and what their intentions are. I think there are any number of people that could do the role. Right now, Michael McCormick is the Deputy Prime Minister. We are at delivering for regional Australia and no one should be surprised that we are standing up for our constituents for things that matter to them and cost of living is the single most important issue. Our people just kind of pay us.
Ross Greenwood: Tell you what, it’s always good to have you in the program. Keith Pitt, the liberal National Party member for Hinkler. As I said, an electrical engineer by background as well. He does know just a bit about that whole electricity story. Keith, as always, we appreciate your time.
Keith Pitt: Mate, glad to be with you. Glad to be with your listeners.
Image source: 2GB