Category archive: Companies

AGL Announces Power Price Drops

AGL has announced price drops for power in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia, following competitor Origin’s similar move this week.

Residential electricity prices will be cut by 0.3 percent in NSW, 1.5 percent in Queensland and 0.4 percent in SA, much lower than what market analysts predicted.

“While these price cuts are slight, they’re part of a downward trend that is emerging as more investment in new sources of supply comes into the market,” said AGL’s chief customer officer Melissa Reynolds, referencing the increasing network and green costs.

“We understand power prices have been high and that has put pressure on many households.”

On Tuesday, Origin announced that it will cut residential electricity prices in south-east Queensland and SA by 1.3 percent and 1 percent respectively, while maintaining the same prices for NSW and the ACT.

Origin’s Power Price Changes. Source: Origin/ABC

Both drops are far lower than the Australian Energy Markets Commission’s (AEMC) forecast, which expected 5.8 percent fall in NSW, 7 percent in south-east Queensland and 6.9 percent in SA in 2018-19.

Julian Meehan Adani

Queensland Government Considers Using Public Funds for Adani Road Project

The Queensland government is considering covering the $100 million cost of road access for Adani coal mine, despite promising that no taxpayers fund would go to the project.

The ABC said documents obtained under a right to information revealed the Palaszczuk government is still in negotiations with Adani and Isaac Regional Council about upgrading access to the proposed Carmichael mine site in central Queensland.

However, the Department of Transport and Main Roads said no decision has been made yet.

In November, Palaszczuk said she would not rule out helping the local council fund the access road. A spokesman for the government said it would cooperate with local councils in regard to their infrastructure needs. “Significant projects can impact on local road networks and improvements to those networks can benefit the greater community,” he said. “Costs associated with major projects are recovered by the state on a commercial basis.”

The ongoing negotiations have received backlash. “Annastacia Palaszczuk has lied to Queenslanders and has broken yet another election promise,” said Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington.

The Mackay Conservation Group said the government must rule out funding the road project. “The Queensland Coordinator General recommended Adani be responsible for road upgrades and Adani said it would pay for the upgrade,” said the group’s spokeswoman Maggie McKeown. “Why then would the premier spend public funds on this project?”

Ricoh Becomes Australia’s First Carbon-Neutral IT Services Company

Ricoh has become the first IT services company in Australia to achieve carbon-neutral status.

Following its achievement as the first tech services organisation in the country to achieve a carboNZero certification, Ricoh went further in its efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint. The company worked closely with not-for-profit Enviro-Mark Solutions to develop a multi-pronged GHG reduction strategy.

The strategy covered a number of areas, including a reduction in electricity consumption, freight and fuel usage, staff air travel and waste to landfill.

“Every aspect of our national operations was put under the microscope so we could understand the sources of all our existing GHG emissions,” said Tori Starkey, general manager – marketing at Ricoh Australia. “Taking such a holistic approach meant we would be well placed to make our subsequent activities as effective as possible.

“Far from being a set-and-forget exercise, these strategies will continue to be evaluated and improved over time. At the same time, customers are enjoying more efficient service and product deliveries while also being able to achieve their own footprint improvements … With increasing attention being paid to achieving a reduced corporate environmental footprint, many businesses have set a goal of making their operations carbon neutral. For Ricoh Australia, this goal has become a reality.”

AGL to Build $400 Million Gas-Fired Power Plant in NSW

AGL will build a $400 million gas-fired power plant near Newcastle, NSW to replace the ageing Liddell coal-fired station.

The energy company said it is assessing sites for a 252-megawatt facility development, due for completion in the end of 2022.

“AGL is committed to supporting the orderly transition of Australia’s electricity generation capability to modern, clean and reliable energy supply,” said AGL chief executive Andy Vesey.

“That’s why we gave seven years’ notice of when we intend to close the Liddell power station at the end of 2022 and we are pleased to commit today to build the power station near Newcastle.”

AGL also said there were plans to “assess the potential” to develop a further 500 megawatts of gas-fired generation capacity, pending commercial and industrial demand.

The company’s announcement to the Australian stock exchange followed pressures from the federal government to sell Liddell power plant instead of closing it. Rivalling company Alinta has expressed interest in acquiring the power plant to keep it open until 2029.

Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said Liddell’s closure would still bring blackout risk, even with the replacement plan. “That’s why it’s really important that the executives of AGL consider on its merits this offer that comes from Alinta,” Frydenberg said.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) said there would be a potential shortfall in capacity of 850 megawatts if Liddell was to be closed, but it also said AGL’s replacement plan “would deliver sufficient dispatchable resources to fill the identified 850MW resource gap”.

Will Rio Tinto’s Bid to Escape from Its Contracts with Rusal Succeed?

Mark Giancaspro, University of Adelaide

Mining giant Rio Tinto is attempting to use new American sanctions on Russia to walk away from an agreement with a Russian aluminium company, Rusal. But if the contract is not worded precisely, the law may actually work to Rio’s detriment.

Many companies have successfully ended contracts when war has broken out or the government has changed the law in ways that significantly impacted the contract. However, the fact a government’s actions have made a contract harder or more expensive to complete does not automatically mean it will be terminated.

Rio Tinto’s case depends on whether it can invoke a “force majeure” clause in its contracts with Rusal. This kind of clause allows parties to suspend or end a contract when unique and unforeseen events beyond their control occur.

Under the new sanctions, companies and individuals within the United States have until May 7 to divest or transfer any debt, equity or other holdings in Rusal. Rusal is controlled by Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who has previously been investigated for money laundering, extortion, bribery and alleged links to organised crime groups.

Rio Tinto has a joint venture with Rusal that could be affected by the US sanctions.

The effect of force majeure

Typically, when unique or unforeseen events occur, the contract may be legally “frustrated” and end automatically. Frustration is the legal term for a contract being so radically affected by unforeseeable events outside the control of the parties that it is terminated.

A force majeure clause generally prevents this happening because the inclusion of the clause is regarded as “foresight” of the event. However, force majeure clauses typically allow parties to end the contract if the event lasts for a given time, and don’t always require “radical change” like the frustration doctrine does.

It all turns upon the wording of the particular clause in the Rio Tinto contracts.

Force majeure through history

A successful claim of force majeure was made in the American case of Eastern Airlines v McDonnell Douglas Corp. In this case aircraft manufacturer McDonnell Douglas argued that US government policy during the Vietnam War (occurring at the time) caused the government to prioritise military contracts over civilian ones.

As a result, McDonnell Douglas’s contract with Eastern Airlines was delayed. It invoked a force majeure clause covering “acts of government” to avoid liability for the airline’s lost profits.

The court ruled that McDonnell Douglas was entitled to rely upon the force majeure clause and walk away from the agreement due to the government’s policy.

Importantly, just because a contract has a force majeure clause, this does not mean it can be used freely. Some English cases suggest that parties must still make reasonable efforts to keep the contract alive before resorting to force majeure. Evidence of attempts to preserve its contracts with Rusal would likely work in Rio Tinto’s favour.

The courts have also stressed that force majeure cannot be relied upon where there were reasonable alternative ways to complete the contract.

In the Australian case of European Bank Ltd v Citibank Ltd, Citibank was unsuccessful in claiming force majeure when it transferred European Bank’s deposit to a New York account and the funds were seized by the United States Marshal. The force majeure clause allowed Citibank to escape liability if it could not perform due to “reasons beyond its reasonable control”.

The court held that Citibank could have refunded European Bank’s deposit from other accounts or made other arrangements, so the situation could have been avoided.

In Rio Tinto’s case, its efforts to make alternative arrangements will be of critical importance. If there are no feasible options other than to cancel the Rusal contracts, force majeure will likely apply.

When force majeure doesn’t work

But there are plenty of examples where force majeure events such as government intervention have not been regarded as sufficient grounds to end a contract.

In 1962, a court in the United Kingdom found that the closure of the Suez Canal was not sufficient to end a contract requiring 300 tonnes of Sudanese nuts to be shipped between Port Sudan and Hamburg.

The Suez Canal would have been the cheapest and fastest shipping route. However, it was still possible to deliver the nuts by sailing around the Cape of Good Hope, even if this increased the cost for the seller and took more time.

Inadequate wording in a force majeure clause can also backfire, as in the Kriti Rex case. Here a force majeure clause covering ‘“events beyond the control of the parties” was deemed inapplicable because the courier hired by the purchaser (which damaged the goods) was regarded as being within the purchaser’s control.

So what for Rio Tinto?

Ultimately, the success of Rio Tinto’s attempt to invoke force majeure depends entirely upon the wording of the clauses and whether these account for events such as sanctions being imposed.

But it is highly unlikely the clauses would be this specific as the circumstances are unique. Traditional inclusions in force majeure clauses are things like natural disasters, labour strikes or war, not a foreign government’s political sanction of a company’s controller.

Force majeure clauses are also interpreted quite narrowly by courts, so cannot just be stretched to cover every situation.

If the clauses in Rio’s contracts are deemed not to account for the US sanctions, Rio must rely on the doctrine of frustration. It would need to demonstrate that contracting with a company controlled by a Russian oligarch who has been subsequently sanctioned by the US was a reasonably unforeseeable event when the contract was made, and this event radically altered the contract.

It would not be enough for Rio Tinto to argue it might lose money or be inconvenienced. Though the US government’s actions might have been unexpected, the broader effects of Rusal’s suspension upon Rio Tinto’s operations remain to be seen.

The ConversationIf the consequences are purely financial or inconvenient, Rio Tinto’s legal mettle might be tested.

Mark Giancaspro, Lecturer in Law, University of Adelaide

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Divest for Our Future

What is Fossil Fuel Divestment, and Should You Join the Movement?

As more and more Australians support climate change action, fossil fuel divestment has become a highlight in environmental campaigns throughout the country. It is seen as a part of ethical investment that could help bring positive change to society and environment. But what is fossil fuel divestment, and how can you get involved?

Definition and purpose

According to climate organisation 350, divestment is “the opposite of an investment – it simply means getting rid of stocks, bonds, or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous.” Emma Howard of the Guardian wrote that the global fossil fuel divestment movement is about “asking institutions to move their money out of oil, coal and gas companies for both moral and financial reasons. These institutions include universities, religious institutions, pension funds, local authorities and charitable foundations.”

350 believes it is not enough to demand a halt on infrastructure projects, such as building new pipelines or coal mines. “We need to loosen the grip that coal, oil and gas companies have on our government and financial markets, so that we have a chance of living on a planet that looks something like the one we live on now,” said the organisation in its Fossil Free website.

“It’s time to go right at the root of the problem–the fossil fuel companies themselves–and make sure they hear us in terms they might understand, like their share price.”

Why should you divest?

Australia’s energy sector still has not considered its impacts on environment, according to Daniel Gocher, head of research at Market Forces.

“Not only is Australia’s energy sector largely ignoring the Paris Agreement, nor planning for its implications, but they’re also projecting “long life growth”, as though there is no possibility that their business models could be disrupted,” said Gocher.

“Most Australian investors, including the vast majority of our super funds, have eschewed the fossil fuel divestment movement, which exceeds a staggering $3.5 trillion globally, preferring to remain invested in energy companies and use their influence as shareholders to change them from within.”

However, from a business perspective, clean energy could be more competitive today. Many experts believe that renewable energy, such as wind and solar, could now be more profitable than coal, thanks to cheaper technologies and government incentives in the US.

Furthermore, 350 argues that fossil fuel investments are “very risky”, with “disasters like Exxon Valdez, the BP oil spill, along with massive fluctuations in supply and demand of coal, oil and gas” making energy markets volatile.

Therefore, fossil fuel divestment is not only ethical and beneficial for the society and environment, but it is also potentially more profitable, as you can shift your money to other, more stable sectors.

To get involved, you can start a campaign for your institutions’ divestment, or divest your money as well.

For more information about divesting and starting a campaign, go to these websites: Investor Group on Climate Change; 350; Market Forces; and the Australia Institute.