Keeping the lights on

CEO, Paul Broad, weighs in on the recent blackouts in South Australia and the implications for the National Electricity Market...

Australia has been blessed with relatively cheap energy and we have grown as a nation as a result of it. A key part of that growth has been having enormous renewable resources such as Snowy and Hydro Tasmania, which have played an integral part in keeping the lights on with our reliable, fast-start responsiveness to the market. Equally so, in Snowy’s case, we provide more than 32 per cent of all renewable energy that is produced in this country. This clean, efficient and renewable energy continues to help light up homes and businesses in the Eastern states including South Australia and Tasmania.

The Snowy Scheme was visionary in its day and is an important part of our nation’s history. It was an amazing engineering success to make true the vision to collect and move water east to west and into the growing food bowl of Australia and to pay for it through electricity generation. This is still the vision we have today, but we have evolved over the years through innovation and diversification, and have gone beyond what our founding fathers had envisaged.

The modern Snowy Hydro operates a complex, integrated end to end energy business, which we are immensely proud of.

We continue to be the proud custodians of water that is collectively owned by the people of NSW and Victoria, and manage it under a strict Water Licence regime. Water in the Scheme plays a critical role as it not only underwrites the production of agricultural products worth around $3 billion each year, but through the Water Licence it also assists with counteracting the effects of severe droughts and improving productivity in the Murray Darling Basin. We are the leading provider of peak, renewable energy in the country. We also provide price risk management products for wholesale customers in the NEM and through Red Energy and Lumo, we deliver electricity and gas to homes and businesses. Finally, our ability to utilise the Scheme’s large, reliable, flexible and fast-start capability to our advantage also means that we play a critical role in keeping the lights on and are best placed to provide black start capability. It is disappointing that some regulators do not see it that way, given we are not currently part of AEMO’s contracted black-start arrangements, despite previously providing the service for many years and dedicating resources to respond quickly and safely.

On the recent statewide blackout in South Australia, I cannot help but reflect that if South Australia was fully interconnected with NSW, then the lights would have never gone out. The NEM has delivered very robust and efficient outcomes and, if left to its own devices, can deliver affordable energy to consumers drawing on the most efficient and effective means of generation to meet demand. But regulatory intervention and second best policy choices can often create problems, as they are now, by creating distortions in the market for which end-users ultimately pay the price. This is not the time to be picking winners or imposing solutions, but rather a time to trust the market to do what it does best. A more sensible approach could ensure we maintain a secure, reliable, affordable energy system while at the same time reducing emissions through a market based mechanism.

At Snowy we recognised that the uncertainty put into the NEM by knee-jerk reactions will be a challenge for the future and that Snowy will play integral role in filling in the gaps when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining, particularly in NSW. In the wake of South Australia, we are urging governments and regulators to ensure that there are proven, reliable ‘black-start’ arrangements in place across the country to both keep the lights on and to ensure they are turned back on quickly in the event that things go wrong.

Snowy has always played a critical role in keeping the lights on, from our earliest days. Our contribution to the nation since construction began in 1949 was formally recognised in October when the Commonwealth Government added the Snowy Scheme to the National Heritage List. The addition to the National Heritage List is recognition of our important place in Australia’s history and the contribution we have made to the social and economic fabric of the country. It’s an important nod to our past and helps new generations to appreciate the sacrifice and skill of the many thousands of Australians and new arrivals who helped build the Snowy Scheme. Importantly, the listing does not impact on our important operations nor on our ability to operate, modernise and upgrade the Scheme for the benefit of future generations.

As 2016 draws to a close, at Snowy Hydro we have had another successful year across both our retail and generation businesses. This time last year we were reflecting on the contribution made by the expansion of our retail energy business (with the acquisition of Lumo and Direct Connect) and the addition of the gas fired power station at Colongra to our generation portfolio. Those acquisitions (in late 2014 and early 2015) have paid off through their contribution to our financial performance and management of our exposure to transmission risk, should our Snowy Scheme assets become constrained if lines went down into Sydney or Victoria. 2016 has also been about consolidation and growth. For the first time in the company’s history we made more than $2 billion in revenue, we recorded more than $500 million pre-tax profit and hit the significant milestone of more than one million retail customers.

Finally, as always, I would like to thank you for your support for Snowy Hydro this year. We look forward to sharing more news about our business in 2017. On behalf of everyone who works for Snowy Hydro, I wish you a safe, prosperous and happy festive season.