COVID-19: Ministers to safeguard energy

coal, electricity, Angus Taylor
Energy Minister Angus Taylor has six pumped hydro projects on his list, and most are better taxpayer investments than the already announced Snowy 2.0 project. AAP Image/Lukas Coch

Federal, state and territory energy ministers have agreed a coordinated national approach to managing the impacts of COVID-19 in the energy sector.

The COAG Energy Council met by telepresence on Friday, March 20, with the key focus on measures to strengthen the security and reliability of the energy grid, and to support Australian households and small businesses impacted by COVID-19.

Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor said the energy sector remains well prepared to deal with the virus, and early action taken by governments and industry should ensure energy supplies for the coming months.

“One of my top priorities will always be to keep the lights on for Australian families and businesses,” Minister Taylor said.

“We also want to make sure that generators, retailers and networks are ready to support any customers who find themselves in difficulty due to the Coronavirus [COVID-19].

Related article: Ergon-Energex Community Fund extended

“The Coronavirus is presenting challenges across the economy and it is important that energy retailers have plans in place to help their customers and ensure they get the information, services and support they need,” Minister Taylor said.

“At the same time, governments and industry are working closely together to make sure there is no disruption to energy supplies and that the sector is following the best practice approaches to infection control to keep their workforce safe.

“The energy sector is good at responding to disruptions. The industry has well-established risk management, emergency management, and business continuity plans, which are regularly tested and improved.

“Ministers also agreed to work together to coordinate any potential emergency responses, and to work with industry to remove barriers that might be making it more difficult for the industry to respond.”

Minister Taylor said energy ministers agreed that senior officials should meet regularly to monitor developments and work through any ongoing issues.

Ministers also reviewed advice from the Energy Security Board (ESB) on the immediate, medium and longer-term market reforms needed to ensure the affordability, reliability and security of the grid.

Related article: Energy companies’ response to COVID-19 must be rapid to protect consumers, ECA

Ministers agreed to implement interim measures to deliver further reliability by establishing an out-of-market capacity reserve and amending triggering arrangements for the Retailer Reliability Obligation (RRO).

Ministers agreed to rule changes to help implement the Integrated System Plan (ISP) for the National Electricity Market (NEM). The rule changes will help the system transition to lower emissions and more distributed sources of generation while delivering secure, reliable and affordable energy for consumers.

Ministers also agreed actions to improve transparency in the gas market, which will build on the price reductions recently seen for wholesale gas on the east coast.

This decision will allow work to begin on making the legal changes that are required to ensure there is more transparency from gas producers and LNG exporters on gas prices, reserves and resources. This will give greater bargaining power to gas consumers, particularly commercial and industrial gas users, with increased price disclosure for short-term contracts and for production costs.