Opposition spokesman for climate change and energy Mark Butler toured the Tomago aluminium smelter on Thursday, three months on from the heatwave conditions forced it to curtail production.
Mr Butler and the Paterson MP Meryl Swanson met with the smelter’s chief executive Matt Howell who earlier this year called for a national conversation around energy policy.
“It was very valuable for me to sit down with Meryl and the management of Tomago to really go through the forensic detail [of February 10] and talk about what we might be able to do to avoid this in the future,” Mr Butler said.
“This is obviously a critical issue locally and for many, many jobs in the area but also a microcosm of challenges that are facing businesses across Australia in the current energy crisis.”
Mr Butler said the Queensland Hunter Gas Pipeline – put back on the table earlier this month when Jemena joined the project – was the just the sort of thinking needed in the national gas debate.
“There are manufacturing industries that just need gas and there are no real alternatives as a feedstock for what they produce.
“At the moment we have enough gas in Australia but too much of it is being shipped overseas from Gladstone,” he said.
“The government needs to ensure that enough of the Australia gas being taken out of the ground is reserved for Australian businesses and Australian generators, that’s what we’ll be holding the Prime Minister [Malcolm Turnbull] to.”
Ms Swanson the challenges facing the smelter were threefold including certainty of supply and the rules around the the grid as well as gas and electricity prices.
“They’re part of Tomago’s challenge and Matt Howell made the point today they need ‘24-7’ reliable energy,” she said.
“In actual fact they don’t have the capacity to have a back up generator – a back up generator for an aluminium smelter is a coal fired power station at the moment.”
Ms Swanson said it was important to avoid a repeat of the February 10 event when workers were tasked to preventing the potlines from freezing.
”When you have men and women decked out in woolen protective clothing and hot face masks, using a woman pole about 6 foot long dealing with molten aluminium that runs at 900 cellius and it’s 55 degrees on the potline, it is incredibly dangerous,” she said.
“It’s something we don’t want to see repeated this summer so that’s why our message is, you are the current government, we do have an energy crisis and we can’t afford to see not only industry and jobs put at risk but people’s safety too because you can’t come up with a decent policy.
“We need a policy and we need it fast.”