Friday, September 24, 2021

Environmental showstopper: AGL has its Greta Thunberg moment

It was the shareholder meeting of 2021 that was worthy of top billing - Australia's biggest carbon emitter, AGL, came face to face (well screen to screen) with its environmentally concerned investors.

Numerous Australian companies have recently faced the environmental backlash from investors. But AGL has been squeezed by the pincer of big emissions and plunging profit - enough to upset any shareholder.

The entertainment even included the self-nomination of a young student Ashjayeen Sharif to the board - a proposal roundly rejected by other directors and, unsurprisingly, wildly unsuccessful.

It looked like a cut-down version of Greta Thunberg's United Nations speech on the need for climate action with a corporate twist.

To be sure, shareholders chalked up a victory of sorts - scoring the largest vote in Australia's history in favour of forcing a board to report emissions targets and report how pay packets will be aligned with achieving them.

Ultimately this proved to be a pyrrhic victory because adopting the shareholder resolution required a change to the company's constitution - and the vote to achieve this failed.

But after a couple of hours of verbal beating, AGL chairman Peter Botten managed to have all resolutions voted in line with the board recommendations.

That said, the company avoided a second strike on its remuneration package but only after it acquiesced to big shareholders and proxy forms to overhaul pay performance measures and transparency.

Botten and his board don't need a shareholder meeting to take the temperature of its shareholders' feelings about AGL's environmental credentials.

They understand that AGL has been caught on the wrong side of history. Ten years ago, it loaded up its balance sheet with coal-fired generators it now can't afford to close down but which impose a massive reputational cost on the company.

(And AGL and other energy companies are getting no help from the government, which has a hopeless inability to commit to larger cuts in carbon emissions.)

The enormous fragmentation in the supply of energy has come about with the fall in the cost of renewables - a situation that has seen consumers and businesses switch to an energy self-service model.

In the case of households, this has been primarily achieved through the installation of roof solar panels, while large energy using companies have taken to building their own energy infrastructure.

A tsunami of supply collided with a COVID-induced shrinkage in demand - and the price of wholesale electricity fell accordingly - and with it AGL's earnings.

This move began slowly but in recent years has accelerated very quickly. AGL, which to be fair has also invested heavily in renewable energy, was overtaken by the environmental stampede. And it has a share price and earnings to prove it.

Less than two years ago, AGL completed a $650 million buyback of its own stock at $19 compared with the current price of $5.68. This alone demonstrates the board's failure to read the tea leaves.

While there was never any great threat to AGL's ability to push through the resolutions at Wednesday's annual shareholder meeting, the reality is this was merely a warm-up event.

The real action will take place next year when shareholders get to vote on splitting AGL into two separate companies.

These two companies can be roughly characterised as a retail supplier of energy and a wholesale generator of energy - officially named AGL Australia and Accel Energy - but more colloquially known as Cleanco and Dirtyco.

The challenge of navigating through this separation, avoiding saddling either sibling with too much debt and finding investors willing to retain a stake in a corporate environmental leper need to be addressed.

All this needs to take place against the backdrop of a further fall in AGL's earnings.

Wednesday's annual meeting will seem like a walk in the park in comparison.


Landmark climate pollution case launched

Victorian environmental campaigners are launching landmark legal action against the state's Environment Protection Authority and three coal power stations over claims they failed to limit climate pollution.

Led by conservation group Environment Victoria, the Supreme Court case will be the first to test Victoria's Climate Change Act, which was introduced in 2017.

It will also be the first challenge to the regulation of air pollution from the state's coal-burning power stations.

The owners of Loy Yang A, AGL Energy; Loy Yang B, Alinta Energy; and Yallourn, EnergyAustralia are cited in the legal action.

Environment Victoria will allege the EPA "failed to protect the health of the community and the environment" by not taking any action against these three coal power stations while reviewing their licences in March this year.

"The Andrews government passed nation-leading climate change legislation in 2017, but Victoria's environment watchdog chose to ignore it when making a crucial decision about coal power station licences this year," EV chief executive Jono La Nauze said.

"The EPA took more than 1200 days to review the licences of three coal power stations and then failed to take any action on the greenhouse gases they emit.

"Our case will argue that they failed to properly consider key sections of the Climate Change Act and the Environment Protection Act."

AAP contacted the EPA for a response, however it declined to comment due to the upcoming court case.

Coal power station owners Alinta Energy, EnergyAustralia and AGL also declined to comment on specifics of the case, while the matter is in court.

An AGL spokeswoman said it acknowledged its role in energy transition and is committed to ensuring this is done responsibly "balancing Australia's current and future energy needs with the commitment to decarbonise".

An EnergyAustralia spokesman said it had a strong record of environmental compliance and a commitment to improvement.

"EnergyAustralia is committed to being a leader in environmental stewardship and the responsible operation of our assets is paramount," the spokesman said.


Victoria’s police commissioner comments on social media video of man being slammed to ground at Flinders Station

Victoria Police’s chief commissioner has commented on footage circulating of a heavy-handed arrest in Melbourne.

The 12-second clip emerged overnight on Wednesday and is believed to have been filmed during the day of protesting action across the city.

Footage shows a man talking to at least three police officers at Flinders Street Station.

Another officer then approaches the man from behind and appears to slam him into the ground.

The man appears to strike the ground face-first and the person who filmed the footage says he lost consciousness and was bleeding.

“This poor guy was calm, he was just talking to the police, you can see it in the video then he gets thrown to the ground,” the caption on the video said.

“You can see it in the video then he gets thrown to the ground. You can hear his face hit the tiles. He was unconscious, blood and urine everywhere.”

On Thursday morning, Police Commissioner Shane Patton spoke to 3AW and was asked about the video.

“We’ll investigate that. I don’t know what the full circumstances are,” Patton told the station.

“There’s always context to everything. We’ll investigate it with an open mind.”

Patton said he was not “jumping to any conclusions”.

Victoria Police said in a statement it was aware of the circulating vision.

“The exact circumstances around the incident are yet to be determined and are under investigation by both Transit Safety Division and Professional Standards Command.”


Josh Frydenberg’s plea to banks, super funds and insurers

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has urged banks, super funds and insurers not to abandon the mining industry during the economic transition to lower emissions.

In an online speech to major employers, Frydenberg will say businesses that recognise climate change-triggered trends will have the most promising futures.

“At the same time, there is a message to Australian banks, super funds and insurers,” he is expected to tell the Australian Industry Group on Friday.

“If you support the objective of net zero, do not walk away from the very sectors of our economy that will need investment to successfully transition.”

The treasurer believes it is wrong to assume traditional sectors like resources and farming will face a decline during the economic transition.

“To go the next step and achieve net zero will require more investment across the economy,” Frydenberg will say.

“An economy-wide transition is needed, as in the words of the former governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, this isn’t about funding only deep green activities, or blacklisting dark brown ones.”

Instead, he favours a broad-based approach which invests in emissions reduction across all sectors including agriculture, mining and manufacturing.

“It’s a long-term shift, not a short-term shock.”

The Morrison government is under immense international pressure to commit to more ambitious emissions reduction targets ahead of a major United Nations.

Australia has become increasingly isolated over its refusal to adopt a 2050 net zero emissions goal.

While an increasing number of moderate Liberals have urged Prime Minister Scott Morrison to adopt the target, Nationals and other conservative MPs oppose the move.

Frydenberg praises BHP’s investment in renewable power at mines and pursuit of net zero emissions by 2050, along with Fortescue’s expansion into green hydrogen for steel making.

The treasurer will also note three of the world’s biggest fund managers - BlackRock, Fidelity and Vanguard - have a net-zero goal.

“For them, there is an alignment between the commercial opportunities and the environmental outcomes.”

Frydenberg warns reduced access to capital markets could impact interest rates on home and small business loans, along with the viability of major projects.

“Australia has a lot at stake,” he will say. “We cannot run the risk that markets falsely assume we are not transitioning in line with the rest of the world.”

He argues the government is making progress on meeting emissions reduction targets and investing in new technologies.

State and federal energy ministers will meet on Friday to discuss incentives to keep dispatchable power running during the transition to cleaner technologies.




1 comment:

Paul said...

Context indeed. How about "the man was standing there talking, and regardless of what he was saying he wasn't displaying any violent behaviour". Soy-Himmler Patton's Police initiated the violence with a move that could have killed him (and still could...intra-cerebral injuries can leak blood for a few days before they show up as a seizure). Vic-Police seem to be truly off the leash under the Andrews socialist utopia.