Energy surges could hit Australian exports

Adam Foster

Adam Foster · 10 May 2017


Talk of a tipping point in connection with coal is usually about CO2 emissions and global warning but in Australia this week it was used by a Glencore executive blaming unreliable energy supplies from state owned fossil and renewable sources as the root cause of industrial decline there. In an article in Australian Financial Review Magazine, Glencore’s Head of Global Coal Assets Peter Freyberg is quoted as saying “We are beyond the tipping point in terms of industrial demand destruction. And when capacity is closed and plants are shut down, they don't come back”. Queensland – where all of the major power producers are owned by the state – is just the latest case in Australia where energy pricing has caused industrial disruption and plant closures. It follows South Australia where last year industrial energy spot prices were constantly spiking with many blaming the unreliability of renewables. The average price of power in Queensland through the March quarter more than doubled to A$173.98 a megawatt hour this year against A$80/MWh in 2016. In the article, Freyberg is quoted as saying "We have to meet Australia's energy needs now, in five years, 10 years and 15 years. We can't rely on blue-sky thinking. There is an energy crisis in the world's largest exporter of coal, the second largest exporter of gas and a major exporter of uranium. We need real solutions. Unless we make decisions really quickly, and I mean in the next 12 months, that re-establish base load capacity then we have no chance of sustaining the economy in the shape that it is in now. The average price of power in Queensland through the March quarter more than doubled against the same period last year. To put firm numbers around that price increase, the average spot price of electricity in Queensland through the March quarter was A$173.98 a megawatt hour. The March quarter average in 2016 was A$80/MWh. Freyberg’s comments echo those made last week by Rio Tinto chief executive Jean-­Sebastien Jacques at a company shareholder meeting. According to The Australian website Jacques hit out at the “absolutely wrong” behaviour of the Queensland power industry and called on the federal government to intervene after the company was forced to sack 100 workers because of soaring prices. “It is time for the federal government to step in and to solve this because on the one hand you can’t say you want to create jobs, create economic benefits in Australia and (on the other) not sort out the power,’’ Jacques was reported as saying. He added that the Boyne Island aluminium smelter had been forced to shed production and jobs because electricity prices in January “went so high that it didn’t make any sense any more for us to produce”. For bulk shipping which relies heavily on Australian mining production, the noises coming from the country must be concerning. This year has seen a rise in bulker fortunes as the BDI climbed from a low of 290 in February 2016 to reach 1007 yesterday but while there is growing optimism, any bad news can send the index falling again.
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