This is probably the biggest story yet in Australia’s still fledgling green energy transition.
A billionaire activist has forced Australia’s biggest polluter into climate-friendly U-turn. AGL had planned to split in two and keep burning coal for another two decades or more, before Mike Cannon-Brookes spent a very considerable chunk of his fortune buying shares in the company and leading a shareholder revolt.
Now AGL, the country’s biggest coal generator and biggest polluter, has been forced to abandon its ill-considered plans.
The fact that coal has been such a touch pad of political debate in the past decade makes this stunning victory by the activist billionaire even more remarkable.
For one, it shows that resistance to the green energy transition and science-based climate targets is moving from dodgy back-room political deals and street-based protests, to the plain daylight of the boardroom and financial markets.
Australia now has two of the world’s most powerful and deep-pocketed green energy activists in Cannon-Brookes, the third richest person in the country, and Andrew Forrest, the iron ore billionaire who is the second richest person in the country, and who is making a huge push into green hydrogen and green ammonia.
Cannon-Brookes and Forrest are already working together on what will be the world’s biggest solar plant and battery storage facility, the $30 billion Sun Cable project in the Northern Territory. And they are both damning in their assessment of those who propose new fossil fuel projects.
Promisingly, the recent federal election amplifies the green energy shift, as the newly elected Prime Minister ran on a green, climate-friendly platform.
Cannon-Brookes, meanwhile, can help prepare AGL for the green energy transition, but he will need to work with and count on others – regulators, rule makers, developers, suppliers, financiers, state and federal governments – to ensure the infrastructure is in place to meet those climate targets.
But that is what is so exciting about the AGL situation. The transition has claimed nearly as many AGL CEOs as it has claimed Australian prime ministers. Now, however, there's a new federal government with a more ambitious policy (43% emissions reduction and 82% renewables by 2030), and a very big cross-bench in both houses that will be pushing them to do much more, especially on economy-wide emissions. And a public that wants change and is cheering it on.
Tech Billionaire Taking on Oz Big Coal: Mike Cannon-Brookes’ market raid on AGL, Australia’s biggest polluter, is putting its slow coal exit plan under scrutiny and could blow a giant chunk of his fortune in the process.
Australia to Build World's Largest Solar Farm: The Australian outback is set to become home to the world’s largest solar farm - Sun Cable - with the project expected to provide power to places as far away as Singapore.