Malcolm Turnbull insists his government won’t be stepping in to stop the imminent closure of Victoria’s Hazelwood power station.
The prime minister says there is enough unused capacity in the electricity generation system to cover the looming gap.
“We are not going to step in to acquire or subside the Hazelwood power station,” he told 3AW’s Neil Mitchell on Friday.
Mr Turnbull was responding to a call by his predecessor to keep open the nation’s oldest coal-fired generator.
Tony Abbott says the last thing Australia should be doing is closing a utility that supports base load power.
Until cost effective and reliable alternative energy supplies, such as pumped hydro were assured, closing Hazelwood was an avoidable folly, Mr Abbott said.
The prime minister said the decision to close Hazelwood was a commercial one taken by its owner, French-owned company Engie Australia.
“It has been slated for closure for many, many years,” Mr Turnbull earlier told reporters in Canberra.
The cost of making it safe and paying for long-deferred maintenance ran into “many millions of dollars”.
Mr Turnbull said the Australian Energy Market Operator had advised that the closure of Hazelwood would not reduce the security of the system.
“In other words, it won’t make the risk of blackouts greater because there are other power generation resources available in Victoria and the national electricity market.”
Mr Abbott was not reassured: “Because the regulator wasn’t able to keep the lights on in South Australia.”
“The regulator wasn’t able to prevent a blackout which did very serious damage and potentially fatal damage to the Portland aluminium smelter,” he told ABC radio.
The Australian Industry Group agrees governments should remain open to keeping Hazelwood operating in some form.
“We appreciate that this would be a major and costly step,” chief executive Innes Willox said.
“We need urgent action, and all options should be on the table.”
Treasurer Scott Morrison blamed the “mindless ideology” of the Labor Party for the Hazelwood closure.
“They cheered on the closure of coal-fired power stations.”
Engie CEO Alex Keisser says there have been no conversations about a possible Victorian or federal government bailout.
It would be a “very expensive solution” and suggested the focus should instead be on job opportunities for redundant staff.
“They would need, firstly, a lot of money and, secondly, we would need to act very quickly because we need $150 million just to do the work needed by July to keep the plant safe,” Mr Keisser told ABC radio.
Labor described Mr Abbott’s intervention as a five-seconds-to-midnight moment.
“It is clearly and deliberately calculated to damage the prime minister, rather than being a constructive contribution to the literacy policy,” opposition energy spokesman Mark Butler told reporters.
“What we have in the middle of a very serious national energy crisis is a government utterly paralysed by ideology and the ongoing civil war between Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull.”