Energy minister Josh Frydenberg has declared his full support for new Australian Energy Market Operator chief Audrey Zibelman, who is expected to play a leading role in Australia’s energy transition, but who has started to come under attack from coal-defending conservative commentators.
Zibelman’s role in Australia’s energy market is going to be critical, and she has already pushed hard on key measures such as demand management, and rejected suggestions that the business models of the past will be fit for purpose in the future.
Zibelman and AEMO will also play a crucial role in the Finkel Review recommendations, particularly about the role of storage and firming capacity, and the redesign of markets to incorporate and encourage more renewables.
predictably, however, her vision has ruffled the feathers of conservatives. Last week, in a two-pronged attack, broadcaster Alan Jones labelled her a “global warming hoax alarmist” and suggested Zibelman be “run out of town”, while Alan Moran described her a “refugee” from Hilary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign.
Frydenberg – who himself has been targeted by Jones & Co. for not being conservative enough (Jones labeled him the “minister for blackouts”) – on Tuesday defended Zibelman.
“Audrey Zibelman is doing a really good job – even though she is not Alan Jones’ favourite – she is doing a really good job as the new head of AEMO,” Frydenberg said in an on-stage “chat” with media personality Annabel Crabb at the dinner function of the Clean Energy Summit.
The industry will be reassured by Frydenberg’s support, given that Zibelman is seen as a critical change agent for the transition of Australia’s energy market.
Her focus on demand-side technologies – such as efficiency, demand management and energy storage – rather than the traditional response of building new plants and new networks, has won widespread applause.
Frydenberg said that the transition was devilishly complex, and used Zibelman’s description of it being like a Rubik’s Cube. “You can’t twist one bit without impacting on another.”
Frydenberg conceded that since he took over the merged portfolios of energy and environment “my views have changed enormously” and he had been “struck by the innovation” of new technology and “how things are changing” so quickly.
“These technology breakthroughs and falls in market prices are really what is going to determine how the market sets itself up into the future
“I have been amazed, encouraged, excited by the level of innovation and entrepreneurship.”
However, he did concede that the interest in new coal generation was based in the fact that Australia was a major coal exporter.
In a nod to the Coalition’s ability to push through policy initiatives by defining them in three word slogans – “axe the tax”, “stop the boats”, and “Give a Gonski” – Crabb suggested that maybe Frydenberg could coin a term like “Fancy a Finkel.”
Frydenberg did not bite. “You won’t please anyone all the time …. it’s a really wicked problem,” he said. “There are a lot of raw nerves around this issue.”
Giles Parkinson is a journalist of 30 years experience, a former Business Editor and Deputy Editor of the Financial Review, a columnist for The Bulletin magazine and The Australian, and the former editor of Climate Spectator.