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Tech Billionaire Taking on Oz Big Coal

Updated: May 25, 2022

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.

Coal pile

Lots of very rich people are putting a substantial amount of money into helping tackle the environment crisis and we applaud them all. Many, however, expect a financial upside. Some, like Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder of software company Atlassian, doesn't.

In a market raid on Australia's biggest polluter, energy utility AGL, Cannon-Brookes is trying to block a demerger. Why? Because it threatens to hold back the closure of coal power plants. And he has generously thrown $660 million at his objection.

AGL has a strikingly unambitious 2045 end date for burning coal. And the board's plan to split the company into clean and dirty energy businesses risks making it harder to finance a responsible coal exit.

Whether his 11 percent stake in AGL is enough to force a change of course at next month's shareholder meeting or not, Cannon-Brookes has put climate science firmly on the agenda in the land Down Under which, thus far, cannot be considered anything other than a laggard in the global fight against climate change - certainly as regards its reliance on coal.

Cannon-Brookes says the last coal unit should be closed by 2035 at the latest, and big efforts made to ensure that the replacement capacity – renewables and storage – is delivered by then.

"There’s a number of reasons we need to get it done,” Cannon-Brookes says. “Certainly the climate science would say that it needs to be done far more rapidly than the company’s current closure date of 2045."

“Find me a model outside of AGL that shows that these plants are in any way able to be run in 2045. There is also the case that… attracting capital requires you nowadays to have a plan that is somewhat aligned to various global climate agreements. That would necessitate, in my understanding, 2035 as probably the outside date and you need a really credible plan to say that that’s the last day, when the last unit of the last coal plant will be shut down.”

AGL paints this an extreme position. But it’s not got many supporters of that view.


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