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The Morrison Government have again distorted the Electricity market when Angus Taylors office announced it was intervening to pay Victoria’s Portland aluminum smelter in Victoria nearly $80 million to act like a “giant battery” in the Reliability and Emergency Reserve Trader (RERT) scheme.

The announcement surprised the market and means that Portland will be the only provider of RERT services. They will be paid just to be on standby to deliver emergency power reserves.

The intervention was announced on Monday under the veil of securing Victoria’s energy system, while subsidising the Alcoa owned smelter with guaranteed revenue, with up to $76.8 million of RERT revenue over the next 4 years.

The short term solution to Energy security in Victoria will cease in 2025 when new electricity market reforms are expected to be in place.

Under Australian Energy Market Operator’s (AEMO’s) RERT mechanism, RERT participants are paid to reduce demand at times when the supply / demand balance become tight, but only pays if parties participate. In the Portland cases they will get paid to just be on standby.

This year AEMO is seeking 1,600 Megawatt (MW) of RERT, apart from the guaranteed money going to the Portland smelter. RERT will not cause market participants anything unless it is activated.

In the 2020, AEMO published the Electricity Statement of Opportunities (ESOO). AEMO commented that it was highly unlikely that Portland’s services will be called upon this summer, due to the additional generation in the region from wind and solar.

Smelters are well placed to provide long duration outages. Other industrial processes like mineral processing are best suited to short duration outages. It is understood, in return for the guaranteed revenue, the RERT agreement means the Portland smelter will participate to the maximum extent possible. This is likely to include the smelter being shut down for an extended duration,  most likely during the highest stressed times of the year.

The Portland smelter and other smelters in Australia are struggling to remain competitive on the world stage. The Portland smelter has received around $1.1 billion of subsidies from the Victorian Government since 2017 and a $40 million interest free loan from the Federal Government.

Market participants have raised their concerns over the government’s intervention, highlighting that it has distorted the pricing and availability of RERT available to AEMO. Other concerns are that it may encourage other smelters such as Tomago in NSW and Boyne smelter in QLD to seek similar payments.

The Clean Energy Council released it latest renewable investment confidence survey and a key concern named federal government market intervention as one of the turn-offs for prospective large-scale wind and solar developers.