While South Australia’s new Liberal Government has sent out mixed messages on nuclear issues, Whyalla steelworks boss Sanjeev Gupta has told the ABC renewables present a cheaper option for power generation in Australia.
The SA Liberals are opposed to a high-level nuclear waste dump but remain open to the idea of a lower level federal facility, as well as nuclear energy generation.
“We’ve never ruled out the nuclear opportunity for energy,” the now premier Steven Marshall said while opposition leader in 2017.
Before winning government, the Liberals also flagged moves to reduce reliance on renewables by investing $200 million in a new interconnector to New South Wales.
Mr Gupta, who has just met with Prince Charles in Brisbane and will meet with Mr Marshall in the coming days, is positioning himself to become a major player in South Australia’s energy market by investing in renewable projects.
In October, his company GFG Alliance revealed it had approved a plan worth up to $700 million for solar, battery storage and pumped hydro in Australia.
“All of these will be delivered within the next couple of years,” Mr Gupta said.
While the British billionaire businessman said he did not have a “clear view” on nuclear energy, he pointed to renewables as a more affordable source of electricity in the long term.
“As far as energy is concerned, to our knowledge or to my knowledge anyway, there are cheaper and easier ways of [producing] energy, many of which are already underway,” Mr Gupta said.
“Things like pumped hydro and solar and batteries and so on.”
Mr Gupta’s comments follow the release of an Australian Energy Market Operator report into Elon Musk’s Jamestown battery, which found the battery was outperforming coal and gas generators on key measures.
The British billionaire businessman said he would meet with Mr Marshall next week to discuss a “wide agenda of items” surrounding Whyalla’s future.
Mr Gupta said Mr Marshall had provided “great support” to Whyalla during the turmoil of 2016 when previous owner Arrium entered administration.
“I have zero doubt that support for Whyalla will only continue, or actually even strengthen under his leadership,” he said.
Prince launches Whyalla workforce program
Mr Gupta met with Prince Charles on Friday night in Brisbane, where the Prince of Wales launched an initiative aimed at securing the long-term future of the Whyalla workforce.
The industrial cadets program has a long association with Prince Charles, and will now be rolled out in Australia for the first time.
The Whyalla steelworks will partner with local schools to provide students with accredited work experience in a bid to encourage more to consider careers at the plant.
Local school principal Damien Judd and 13-year-old student Grace Smallacombe were flown to Brisbane to discuss the program.
“Whyalla will be the flagship city to get that started, where we’ll begin to roll that out,” Mr Judd said.
Ms Smallacombe said the program could help her fulfil her current ambition of becoming an engineer.
“They are just going around to our schools, just teaching us, promoting the steelworks for us and trying to get [us] into looking at the steelworks industry as a career,” she said.
Mr Gupta said the aim was to prevent future skills shortages and provide long-term security for the steelworks.
“What’s happened over the last generation worldwide, especially in developed countries like the UK and Australia — there has been a move away from industry,” Mr Gupta said.
“Children don’t want to go into industry. They see that as a declining or ‘sunset’ sector.
“It’s not a future problem, it’s today’s problem. We have a serious crisis … we have an ageing population among our workforce.”