Published: 17 August 2023

The proposed Marinus Link is not the only path to our electricity salvation.

Just who is controlling the energy narrative?

Just who is running the place these days?

Many would expect the government and Minister for Energy Guy Barnett to control the narrative, however, it's become part of Tasmanian folklore that Hydro always pulls the strings.

Now it appears TasNetworks is intent on calling the shots. As the current owner of Marinus Link P/L it sees support for the Marinus project gradually slipping and has responded by stepping up its PR campaign to control the narrative, even implying that Hydro has been remiss in looking after our electricity needs.

"There is not a spare electron," Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Michael Bailey said the other day, lamenting the lack of available electricity. It's difficult not to see that as a criticism of Hydro.

Mr Bailey has for a while been happy to moonlight in his role as a TasNetworks spruiker. His latest Hanrahan imitation that 'we'll all be rooned' without Marinus is yet another instance. That largely unnamed businesses are waiting to invest unspecified amounts of money to benefit us in ways that can't be divulged because it's commercial in confidence is starting to become an insult to our intelligence.

We are not running out of electricity. As reported in publicly available information, last year in 2022-23, the amount of electricity bought from the National Electricity Market (NEM) for consumption here in Tasmania was actually less than the year before. There mightn't be spare electrons, but dam levels improved and we had spare capacity to generate if needed. We imported more than we exported, but our dam levels went up even more. Basslink was more profitable for Hydro than it has been for a while. It was a good year.

All electricity consumed here is sold through the NEM, apart from rooftop solar. We consume about 11,000 GWh of electricity per year from the NEM. Don't focus too much on the acronyms such as GWh, MWh and KWh. Just think about it as consumption of 11,000.

In an average year, 9000 falls out of the sky. The past two years have been slightly better than average. About 9500 fell out of the sky in 2022-23.

About 8500 was converted to electricity while the balance boosted dam levels. Dams currently contain 6500 units of electricity.

Another 2000 comes from the wind farms, Woolnorth, Musselroe, Granville Harbour and Cattle Hill.

Hence electricity from water and wind is enough for our current needs in an average year.

Then there's Basslink. Currently Hydro has an agreement with the new owners APA to use the cable. It pays APA a set fee and receives the inter-regional revenue from imports and exports which are traded through the NEM. The amount of electricity transmitted by Basslink has been around 2500 per annum. That includes imports and exports. It's not unreasonable to assume Basslink can transmit 3000 per annum. A useful back-up in case of need,or a useful conduit in the event of a surplus.

Hence we have a system which can cater for all our current needs. But we do need to plan, so where do we want to go?

Our hands have been tied for us by the government to a certain extent.

Having passed up the opportunity to buy Basslink, the government is supporting APA to make the cable a regulated asset so that consumers at both ends can pay the bill.

Marinus will be the same, only the bill will be much larger. Consumers will pay. Generators will benefit. How much Tasmanian consumers will be hit with is the unknown. And will Victorian consumers be happy to pay benefits to Tasmanian generators?

Electricity infrastructure is a "If we need more electrons why not build our own (generators) instead of guaranteeing others to do it.

necessity. But over the past 30 years it has become a gravy train.

The only new public-owned generators built in that time have been Woolnorth and Musselroe wind farms, the majority share of which was sold to a Chinese governmentowned business with power purchase arrangements guaranteeing the debt repayment.

Then along came Basslink.

For what we have outlaid over the past 20 years we could have twice paid for the cable. We are now arranging for consumers to pay for this cable for a third time.

Generators won't be built without guarantees from the government via power purchase agreements and/or by arranging for consumers to pay transmission costs.

If we need more electrons why not build our own instead of guaranteeing others to do it.

Outsourcing Basslink has come at a colossal cost. Set out the risks and rewards with more transparency and less spin and people will come on board.

Marinus is not the only path to salvation as a growing number of people are discovering. We need a broader consensus not unsubstantiated assertions about future benefits from people who have drunk too much of TasNetworks' Kool-Aid.

Premier Jeremy Rockliff has suggested there's a line in the sand that he won't cross. Let's hope that line doesn't get washed away by the next high tide.

The Mercury, Thursday, 17 August 2023


Go Back