Transcript – May 10, 2021
Interview with Tom Connell – Sky News
Topic – Kaban wind farm, iron ore price
TOM CONNELL: The Federal Government has vetoed $280 million worth of public funding for a wind farm in Northern Queensland, designed to power 96,000 homes and create 250 jobs. Joining me live is the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Keith Pitt. Thanks for your time. So this is the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. We’ll call it the NAIF because it’s such a mouthful. They approved funding for this loan. They said it would provide jobs and lower electricity prices, and you blocked it. Why?
KEITH PITT: Tom, firstly, it’s good to be back with you, and here in Budget Week. Now, the NAIF made a recommendation and this is about loans. But the decision that I’ve made in terms of the veto is we’re about affordable, reliable and dispatchable. So it didn’t meet the requirements for the Government’s policy. I’ve used the veto rights, which I have as minister, and I’ll table the statement of reasons for that decision in the Parliament, which is in accordance with the legislation.
TOM CONNELL: So you mentioned dispatchable power. This project has a battery component as well. Why is that not dispatchable then?
KEITH PITT: Well, Tom, I’m not going to get into the weeds of what is a commercially sensitive project. I’ve made a decision based on the application which was performing. And unless the leader of Opposition can tell me you can go out and dial up the wind, this is an intermittent project, and you know… Albo might stop the tide. I’m not sure but-
TOM CONNELL: Well, hang on, this is not the weeds. You’re saying it’s not dispatchable, I’m saying this has a battery component to it, that project.
KEITH PITT: Well, Tom, as I’ve said…
TOM CONNELL: That makes it dispatchable and reliable, does it not?
KEITH PITT: Well, these are commercially sensitive discussions and decisions. I’m disappointed that that information was leaked. However, it was an extensive application which had a number of different stages and different elements. So as I’ve said, I’ll be tabling the statement of reasons in the Parliament.
TOM CONNELL: [Talks over] You’re disappointed what was leaked that it had a battery element to it.
KEITH PITT: No, no. I’m disappointed that there was information leaked to the press in what is a commercially sensitive decision. This is a French company, which is have- they do have other assets in Australia. [Audio skip] application was for a loan, but they’re entitled to go to another commercial operator, the Queensland state Government – if they wish to fund it, they can.
TOM CONNELL: So I’m just trying to clarify though, this did have a battery component to it, did it not?
KEITH PITT: Tom, as I’ve said, these are commercially sensitive applications.
TOM CONNELL: I’m not asking to give us a 50-page document revealing the…
KEITH PITT: Well, it’s far more than 50 pages in the application.
TOM CONNELL: Well- but what I’m asking is, did it have a battery or not?
KEITH PITT: Well, as I’ve said, there are a number of stages proposed and I’m not going to get into a commercially sensitive piece. [Indistinct]-
TOM CONNELL: But saying if it had a battery or not, surely you can tell us that.
KEITH PITT: Tom, quite simply, the decision I’ve made is on the ability for the project and the proponent for dispatchable, affordable, reliable, and that’s what I’ve done.
TOM CONNELL: If the proposal included a battery, that makes it dispatchable. Do you agree with that?
KEITH PITT: But if the proponent included a whole pile of things, it would be different. So I’ve made a decision based on the application that was [indistinct].
TOM CONNELL: [Talks over] So was this loan itself didn’t include just the battery, but maybe another one could?
KEITH PITT: Tom, as I’ve said, it was an extensive application. I’ve made a decision based on the Government’s policy. And is more than entitled to source that that funding or loans from other mechanisms, and that includes the Queensland State Government.
TOM CONNELL: I’m just not quite sure why we can’t confirm whether there was a battery in it or not.
KEITH PITT: As I’ve said, there are multiple stages in terms of the application…
TOM CONNELL: Okay.
KEITH PITT: …I made a decision based on what [indistinct]…
TOM CONNELL: Okay. So if there’s another – purely hypothetical – if there’s a wind farm with a battery, does that clear the hurdle of dispatchable for you?
KEITH PITT: Well, Tom, I mean, if we get into hypotheticals-
TOM CONNELL: [Interrupts] But that’s a pretty simple one.
KEITH PITT: But how big is the battery? Is it a AA battery? Is at a very large battery? Is it small battery, [indistinct] battery? Does it run [indistinct]?
TOM CONNELL: [Talks over] 157 megawatts was the wind project here, 100 megawatts is supposedly the battery. Is that proportion of wind versus back-up, does that make it dispatchable or not?
KEITH PITT: Well, firstly, that’s- 100 megawatts would be the maximum capacity of a battery, but it’s not how you measure it. It’s about megawatt hours, how long it will run for, and those things are extensive. As I said, I’m just not going into the detail of this thing. Statement of reasons will be provided in the Parliament, as is required by the legislation.
TOM CONNELL: Okay. So can you tell me what size, for 157 megawatt wind farm, what size battery do you need to make it dispatchable?
KEITH PITT: Well Tom, what I can tell you is intermittent wind and solar is not…
TOM CONNELL: [Talks over] That’s a basic question?
KEITH PITT: It’s not dispatchable.
TOM CONNELL: But, it is with a battery if it’s big enough?
KEITH PITT: Well, I’ve made a decision based on what’s-
TOM CONNELL: [Interrupts] Yeah, but hang on. That’s just a basic question. I know you’ve got an engineering background. Solar or wind is not dispatchable unless it has a battery. That’s true, right? Depending on the size of the battery?
KEITH PITT: Well, unless it’s got other sources. It could hybrid, it could be gas, it could be tied up with hydro, it could be pumped hydro. There’s any number of [indistinct]…
TOM CONNELL: [Talks over] Could be battery?
KEITH PITT: Could be diesel.
TOM CONNELL: Could be battery?
KEITH PITT: It could be any number of things.
TOM CONNELL: But, it could be a battery?
KEITH PITT: [Laughter] Tom, as I’ve said many times-
TOM CONNELL: But yeah, I just don’t understand why you won’t agree that it could be- that a battery can back up a wind farm?
KEITH PITT: Well, as I’ve said, it comes down to a whole pile of decisions including capacity, availability, [indistinct]…
TOM CONNELL: [Talks over] But, I’m not going to that. I’m just asking, can a battery back up a wind farm?
KEITH PITT: Well, once again, how big is it? How longs it run for? What is it that you want it to do?
TOM CONNELL: Right. Well, a big enough battery, can it back up a wind farm?
KEITH PITT: Well, this is pretty broad and hypothetical, Tom.
TOM CONNELL: Well, it just seems like a simple question. If it’s big enough, it can back up a wind farm, right?
KEITH PITT: Well, how big is big enough?
TOM CONNELL: Well, I don’t know, you tell me?
KEITH PITT: [Laughter] Well, that’s the exact question.
TOM CONNELL: Okay. Alright, we’ll move on. Iron ore price, is it time to almost be a bit more bullish, in a budget around this? Because we’re just so far below, where it’s actually out at the moment?
KEITH PITT: We’re always conservative in our estimates around resources. We know that those prices move up and down and they fluctuate. Right now, record prices. I believe it’s gone through $212 US, on the spot price. That is the new record for Australia. We’ve budgeted $55, which is a conservative estimate. But, I’d rather be on the upside than the downside.
TOM CONNELL: Could that be shifted up though? The $55 in this budget?
KEITH PITT: Well, that’s a decision for the Treasurer. But, right now, it’s certainly helped to prop up the economy, provide jobs. In WA, Tom, I mean the royalties that come from the Resources sector are 25 per cent of the state budget. That’s significant.
TOM CONNELL: [Talks over] Right. It’s a decision, but it’s been made, hasn’t it?
KEITH PITT: Well, it has. You’ll find out very soon, tomorrow night.
TOM CONNELL: Could we see a shift in this?
KEITH PITT: Well, it’s a decision for the Treasurer.
TOM CONNELL: Yeah. What’s your view?
KEITH PITT: My view is I want as many people employed in the sector as possible and we want to continue to kick goals for the economy.
TOM CONNELL: Let’s just finally ask about borders – they’re sending me some mixed messages. The PM’s talking about appetite of voters on this. Has he been scared off maybe by these state elections and voters seemingly happy enough for eliminating COVID, even had it comes with restrictions? Is that where the Government’s now leaning towards now?
KEITH PITT: Well, look, the PM made a statement yesterday that we are not looking to eliminate the virus – that’s not the strategy. We are taking both a risk based- risk based approach and one which is based on the best available medical advice. Now, those risk changes you’ll know, depending on what happens in other countries – and India is the obvious example at the moment.
TOM CONNELL: Is it fair enough, though, for voters to get a message on this? What the Government will consider a safe level? For example, our vaccination levels, and if we can hit a certain percentage, then I’ll be happy enough to open up borders? Then you incentivise it too?
KEITH PITT: Well, the pandemic, as you know, changes around the world. There’s been a number of waves in different countries. We know India is in a situation right now. As that risk changes, so does the Government position based on the best available advice.
TOM CONNELL: So what is the danger? What? If the Government set 70 per cent, but then other variants are out there, then we need 80 per cent, you’d have to move the goalposts. Is that the concern?
KEITH PITT: I think everyone that watches your programme, I’m sure there’s a heap of them now, knows that this is something which is moved constantly. That the Government has shifted based on the advice that’s provided. We are working with the best available medical experts. We put a pause on travel to India to give us time to coordinate what would be needed. We have repatriated more than 80,000 Australians through organi- arrangements with DFAT and others. But we do have to ensure we do take that advice. We work on the risk. We make sure we keep all Australians safe.
TOM CONNELL: [Talks over] Some type of target would be good though, wouldn’t it? Just so the nation can look forward to something?
KEITH PITT: [Talks over] Well, well as I’ve said, I mean, this is just- this is a pandemic which has fluctuated and changed so much. I mean, there’s been now some good results in the UK in terms of the rollout of their vaccination program. But, we have places like and others where it’s just a wild [indistinct]-
TOM CONNELL: [Talks over] Right. So, it sounds like Australians shouldn’t be hoping for any sort of timeline soon?
KEITH PITT: Well, we are taking the best available advice. We’re working…
TOM CONNELL: Right.
KEITH PITT: … we’re working with all of those individuals to get the best outcome for this country.
TOM CONNELL: Keith Pitt, appreciate your time today and enjoy the rest of budget week, I guess. We’ll talk to you maybe about your portfolio once we know a bit more.
KEITH PITT: Happy to be back.