by Imogen Hartmann, Editor, Energy Magazine
The first thing you notice about EnergyAustralia Managing Director, Mark Collette, is his shoes. His bright green Converse high tops have been customised so the iconic All Star logo is now EnergyAustralia’s distinctive ‘e’ logo. He’s teamed the shoes with a suit and tie, but most days you’ll find him in the same black branded polo top that’s also worn by hundreds of workers across EnergyAustralia’s power station sites, underneath their high-vis. In what’s been the most challenging time for the energy sector in recent history, Mr Collette’s ability to cut through the political grandstanding and negative commentary is due to his deep history with the company.
The self-described “energy geek’’ started at EnergyAustralia in 2003 and in the years since has led the customer, energy, trading, corporate strategy and development teams. It’s just on 12 months since he took on the role of Managing Director following the retirement of Catherine Tanna.
“I had the ideal apprenticeship, working with passionate people across all of EnergyAustralia’s operations,’’ Mr Collette said.
“Cath was a passionate and genuine managing director who brought together a strong sense of direction with a focus on inclusive leadership, including supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander reconciliation and workplace giving. I am incredibly privileged to build on Cath’s achievements.”
Continuing a net zero legacy
Ms Tanna is credited as being one of the first in the industry to commit their business to becoming carbon neutral by 2050. In 2021, EnergyAustralia released an updated Climate Change Statement, with a pledge to reduce direct carbon dioxide emissions by over 60 per cent on 2019-20 levels in 2028-2029. Further, the gentailer will transition out of coal assets by 2040.
“EnergyAustralia is a purpose-led company, leading and accelerating the energy transition for all,” Mr Collette said.
“Australia’s net zero electricity system is taking shape, with the energy coming from wind and solar and the controllability coming from storage and flexibility capacity.”
A responsible transition
Mr Collette doesn’t underestimate the size of the transition from a coal-dominant system to one based on renewables and large-scale storage. In the past decade, three large coal fired power stations have retired, and 63 per cent of today’s coal-fired power stations are expected to retire by 2040. Mr Collette said that a successful transition means, not only managing the exit of the power stations, but also supporting the workers, their families, and communities.
“This is the work EnergyAustralia is getting on with. We’re not just talking or dreaming about it, we’re actually doing it, with projects already committed in pumped hydro, battery and gas/hydrogen.
“Our flexible capacity projects are enabling more renewables to enter the system and keep the lights on for our customers.’’
The challenge of transitioning Australia’s energy sector to net zero while ensuring consumers have access to affordable, reliable power came into sharp focus following an early onset of winter temperatures in June.
A challenging time in energy history
For the first time in its history, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) suspended the spot market in all regions of the National Electricity Market (NEM). A perfect storm of high electricity demand, coupled with a large volume of generation unavailable due to maintenance or unplanned events, planned transmission outages and high energy commodity prices thrust EnergyAustralia and its counterparts into the national spotlight.
“This year is the start of a challenging time in energy,’’ Mr Collette said.
“I don’t like seeing the performance of our industry leading the nightly news and dinner conversations.
“The energy industry exists to make lives better for all Australians – at home and at work. I’m here to work with governments, market bodies, regulators, the industry and the people of EnergyAustralia to deliver a better energy future.
“In the short term, that means doing everything we can to increase energy security and reliability.”
EnergyAustralia’s gas-fired fleet across Australia, which during June would normally come online to meet a supply shortfall, ran at seven times the volume compared with the same period last year.
“The people at our gas assets – Newport Power Station in Victoria, Hallett in South Australia, and Tallawarra in New South Wales – said it gave them a real buzz to see they were making a difference,” Mr Collette said.
Mr Collette said the energy shock accelerated the national conversation about how to transition to a net zero energy system by 2050 while ensuring stable and affordable energy supplies, providing universal energy access, and enabling robust economic growth.
From consumers to prosumers
In the same week as the NEM suspended the spot market, newly-elected Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, committed Australia to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s intention to reduce emissions by 43 per cent over 2005 levels by 2030. Mr Collette said EnergyAustralia has already started transforming the way the company provides energy, starting in homes and businesses, supported by the grid.
“The energy grid of the future will undoubtedly feature more consumer-generated energy, with the huge uptake of solar panels by homes and businesses,” Mr Collette said.
Mr Collette said that EnergyAustralia’s Solar Home Bundle offer is one of the ways it’s making the transition easy and affordable for customers.
“Our customers told us that they wanted solar and batteries, but selecting equipment and arranging everything was confusing and expensive.
‘’With Solar Home Bundle, a customer signs up to a seven-year, fixed-price contract at competitive rates. We arrange the selection and installation of a solar and battery system at their home, with no upfront cost.
“EnergyAustralia manages the solar and battery in concert with the grid. After seven years, the customer owns the system outright.” Mr Collette said products such as Solar Home Bundle will never provide all the energy needed by its customers.
“That’s why a planned transition of our generation portfolio is vital so we keep the lights on as we take the emissions out of energy,’’ Mr Collette said.
Cleaning up power systems
Tallawarra B, on the shores of Lake Illawarra in New South Wales, is one of several projects EnergyAustralia is developing as it works to provide customers with power that’s not just reliable and affordable, but increasingly clean too. Scheduled to be completed in time for the 2023/24 summer – just as the coal-fired Liddell Power Station retires – Tallawarra B will be Australia’s first carbon-offset hydrogen and gas power station. Direct carbon emissions from the 316MW project will be offset over its operational life.
At its heart will be a 730T gas turbine, which has set records as being the heaviest piece of cargo to ever arrive at Port Kembla terminal and then one of the biggest ever oversize movements on New South Wales roads. Being built with the support of the New South Wales Government, Tallawarra B will sit alongside the existing Tallawarra A power station.
The open-cycle, hydrogen and gas capable turbine will provide firm capacity on a continuous basis and paves the way for additional cleaner energy sources to enter the system.
“What’s particularly exciting is that further engineering studies will see if the amount of green hydrogen can increase, which will further support the Port Kembla Hydrogen Hub,’’ Mr Collette said.
In 2021, EnergyAustralia announced that Yallourn Power Station, in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, will retire in mid-2028 instead of 2032.
“Our $10 million support package, coupled with seven years’ advance notice, is focused on supporting our Yallourn people and ensures they have time to prepare. We’re currently understanding the needs of our workers and desires for their futures so that we can help them plan and upskill,” Mr Collette said.
“We are determined to demonstrate that coal-fired power can exit the market in a responsible way that supports our people and local communities.”
The Wooreen Energy Storage System, utility-scale battery in the Latrobe Valley, is also scheduled to be built by 2026.
“It’ll pack enough punch to quickly provide power to more than 230,000 homes for four hours,” Mr Collette said.
“Through projects like Tallawarra B, Wooreen and other developments we are working on in pumped hydro, batteries, hydrogen and other storage, we see an exciting energy future for our people and our customers.”
Focusing on people first
Mr Collette said that one of his proudest moments since becoming Managing Director was overseeing the launch of a new parental leave scheme, which provides 20 weeks’ paid parental leave to either parent.
“We’ve now got one of the best parental leave policies going. What we’re providing is completely gender-equal, allowing paid parental leave to be taken flexibly to encourage take-up by men, and even taking aim at the gender super gap with a full-time super benefit paid to part-time parents,” Mr Collette said.
“The war on talent is heating up and I think this policy shows we’re serious about attracting and retaining good people.”
EnergyAustralia’s focus on its people is at the heart of its latest brand campaign with employees the ‘’stars’’ of the TV commercials, billboards and print advertisements.
Featuring Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Don’t Stop’ from its legendary Rumours album, Mr Collette said the song title symbolises the company’s commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and to be out of coal by 2040. The campaign talks about how EnergyAustralia is “doing, not just dreaming” when it comes to energy transition.
“I love talking to my kids about what I do at work each day. It’s a complex and exciting industry and we provide a service that’s essential to people and the economy,” Mr Collette said.
“A successful transition means, not only managing the exit of the power stations, but also supporting the workers, their families, and communities.”
A unified approach
“My number one goal as Managing Director is to help EnergyAustralia achieve its purpose – to lead and accelerate the clean energy transition for all,” Mr Collette said.
“And that ‘for all’ part is really important. “We’re one of Australia’s biggest energy retailers, with 1.7 million customers who rely on us. That means ensuring they have a reliable energy supply and pay a fair price for energy, while we make the energy transition simple for them.
“It also means working effectively with governments, regulators, communities and everyone else affected by the energy transition, in cities and the bush.
“An Australian net zero system means a system that works for all, and we at EnergyAustralia are here to do our job bringing this future to life.”