By Nichola Davies
CS Energy is a Brisbane-based energy generation and trading company with a diverse portfolio. It owns baseload coal-fired power stations in regional Queensland (plus a coal mine) and has an offtake agreement with the renewable Kennedy Energy Park. It also has a retail joint venture with Alinta Energy in South East Queensland. We get to know CS Energy’s CEO and how the company is charging forward with a mixed portfolio.
Andrew Bills grew up on New Zealand’s south island in a town called Timaru, two hours south of Christchurch. When he was just 12 his dad died, meaning his mum had to return to work and raise Andrew and his siblings by herself. From an early age he learned to pitch in to help his mum – cooking a meal, doing the washing, which taught Andrew life skills and a lot of independence.
After school and university, Andrew bought a one-way ticket to North America and travelled all over the US and Canada.
“When I ran out of money I went to the UK where I could work and that’s where I met my future wife,” Andrew says.
“I followed her home to Australia and we got married a few years later and have two daughters.”
Andrew has worked in the energy industry now for more than 20 years in a host of different roles from generation, gas, retail, right across the value chain, giving him a deep and broad range of experience, which is of course hugely advantageous in an evolving industry.
This includes roles at Coopers & Lybrand, Stanwell Corporation, Babcock & Brown and Origin Energy before joining CS Energy as CEO in October 2018.
An average day for Andrew starts at 4.30am where he’s either up to catch an early flight or fit in some exercise.
“I exercise every day because it keeps me alert, it gives me more energy and I sleep better,” Andrew says.
“I think balance is key and it’s about making time in your life not just for work but for exercise and your friends and family. I’ll either swim, go to the gym, cycle, or if I’m travelling I’ll run.
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“A lot of people have seen me running through Chinchilla and Biloela when I’m staying in town to visit our power stations. Then it’s a fairly health breakfast and straight into work.”
Andrew holds a refreshing perspective on the importance of work-life balance, one that’s no doubt felt by his employees, but that’s not to understate the hard work he’s put in during his first year at CS Energy.
Since he’s been in the top job, Andrew has driven changes to CS Energy’s strategy to prioritise activity in FY2020 as Australia’s energy transformation accelerates.
“2019 is a big year for overhauls at CS Energy, with major overhauls scheduled for both Kogan Creek and Callide power stations,” he says.
“Were also investigating how we make our thermal power stations operate more flexibly as increasing amounts of low-cost renewables enter the market.”
Andrew says the pace of change in the energy market is at a level not seen historically, and, like many industries, technology is driving a pace of change not seen since the industrial revolution.
“Keeping abreast of that is incredibly challenging and exciting at the same time,” he says.
“As demand grows for new, cleaner sources of generation, CS Energy must find earnings growth opportunities outside our core business of predominantly coal-fired generation to remain a sustainable business.
“Branching out into new areas always comes with a certain amount of risk, but CS Energy can’t stand still when change is occurring all around us in the market.”
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While CS Energy’s relatively young coal-fired portfolio will continue to underpin security of supply for many years to come, its owner, the Queensland Government, has committed to achieving 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030.
As an owner of one of the largest energy portfolios in the state, CS Energy has an important role in supporting that transition.
“For example, we have an offtake agreement with Kennedy Energy Park in North Queensland and we’re also providing clean energy solutions for our corporate customers by bundling renewable energy with our existing portfolio,” Andrew says.
And, by diversifying the company’s portfolio, it means CS Energy will continue to provide returns to its shareholder – the Queensland Government – which helps them pay for essential services like hospitals and schools.
“It’s unfortunate that the energy debate in Australia has become so partisan and simplified down to a ‘coal versus renewables’ debate,” Andrew says.
“Most people who have been in the energy sector for a long time agree that a mix of electricity generation sources is needed to provide reliable, affordable and cleaner energy. So that means coal, gas, renewables and storage working together.”
As well as putting a practical methodology in place for CS Energy’s role in the energy transition, Andrew says people are at the core of the business, and are the key to making the Australia’s energy transformation a success.
“Bringing our people along on the journey is essential for energy businesses to effectively respond to Australia’s energy transformation,” he says.
“People need to see their role in the transformation and want to be part of it.
“Like many generators, CS Energy is new to this journey but there are many lessons from other sectors where major disruptive changes have occurred.
“Our industry is moving forward at a rate of knots, so we must anticipate change, develop new skills and adapt to new ways of working.”
Andrew is a firm believer in workplace safety and professional development for the people who work at CS Energy, implementing a new process safety system since he’s been in the role, as well as continuing to build a safer, more constructive culture.
“We have so many talented and capable people who have great ideas and experience at CS Energy,” Andrew says.
“Creating and implementing a strategy where people can develop themselves, progress in their careers and achieve our strategy together is an incredibly rewarding and humbling experience.”