APGA chief ex­ec­u­tive

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The Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment will drop chief sci­en­tist Dr Alan Finkel’s pro­posed Clean En­ergy Tar­get in fa­vor of a Na­tional En­ergy Guar­an­tee. Newly ap­pointed Aus­tralian Pipelines & Gas As­so­ci­a­tion (APGA) chief ex­ec­u­tive Steve Davies spoke with El­iz­a­beth Fabri about the fea­si­bil­ity of this new en­ergy pol­icy, and the im­por­tance of gas to the fu­ture en­ergy sup­ply mix. De­scribe your ed­u­ca­tion and pro­fes­sional back­ground.

I have a Bach­e­lor’s De­gree in Petroleum En­gi­neer­ing from UNSW. How­ever, by the end of my stud­ies I knew I pre­ferred eco­nom­ics to en­gi­neer­ing.

I wasn’t in­ter­ested in fur­ther study at that time and af­ter a cou­ple of ad­ven­tures, I found my­self work­ing at the Aus­tralasian Rail­way As­so­ci­a­tion in Canberra in a ju­nior pol­icy role. This al­lowed me to get into pol­icy de­vel­op­ment and in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tions, where I have been ever since.

The Fed­eral pub­lic ser­vice is a huge em­ployer in Canberra and of­fers a lot of op­por­tu­nity.

I spent three years there in a va­ri­ety of off­shore petroleum pol­icy and reg­u­la­tory roles in the Depart­ment of Re­sources, En­ergy and Tourism (the Petroleum En­gi­neer­ing de­gree came in use­ful af­ter all!) and had the op­por­tu­nity to un­der­take a Master of Pub­lic Pol­icy too.

The ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing in the pub­lic ser­vice was enough for me to know I pre­ferred the more dy­namic, small team en­vi­ron­ment of in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tions.

I joined APGA (then known as the Aus­tralian Pipeline In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion) in 2008 as the pol­icy ad­viser and have been here ever since, be­com­ing the na­tional pol­icy man­ager in 2014 and the chief ex­ec­u­tive in Septem­ber 2017.

Q. What does a typ­i­cal week look like for you?

APGA op­er­ates 12 com­mit­tees, rang­ing from en­ergy pol­icy to pipeline op­er­a­tions and the Young Pipelin­ers Fo­rum which makes for a wide range of is­sues to be across.

APGA holds more than 30 events an­nu­ally around the coun­try, so a lot of trav­el­ling is in­volved.

I try to take ad­van­tage of be­ing on the move by main­tain­ing a busy sched­ule of meet­ings with ex­ter­nal stake­hold­ers in the places I’m vis­it­ing for APGA events.

Fo­cus on en­ergy pol­icy has been in­tense in 2017.

Gas trans­mis­sion pipelines have not been ex­empt from this, we have five ma­jor re­forms and reviews un­der way, all fo­cused on dif­fer­ent as­pects of pipeline reg­u­la­tion and ca­pac­ity mar­kets.

Co­or­di­nat­ing the in­dus­try po­si­tion and then com­mu­ni­cat­ing it to stake­hold­ers is a ma­jor part of my job ev­ery week.

Q. What are your views to­wards the Gov­ern­ment’s Na­tional En­ergy Guar­an­tee and how does this stack up to Dr Alan Finkel’s orig­i­nal pro­posal?

I hope the Na­tional En­ergy Guar­an­tee will prove to be ef­fec­tive, and that it of­fers a ve­hi­cle for the ma­jor par­ties and the Fed­eral, State and Ter­ri­tory Gov­ern­ments to agree on the fu­ture di­rec­tion of en­ergy pol­icy.

While we’ve seen only a lit­tle de­tail, the pol­icy pro­posal ap­pears to cre­ate a level play­ing field through bal­anc­ing re­li­a­bil­ity of elec­tric­ity sup­ply with the re­quire­ment to lower car­bon emis­sions.

In that sense, it’s su­pe­rior to the Clean En­ergy Tar­get, which was con­cerned only with es­tab­lish­ing an emis­sions in­ten­sity bench­mark.

Of course, sig­nif­i­cant de­tail re­mains un­re­solved and this will be key. Good pol­icy can­not be re­placed by as­ser­tions, and the na­tion does re­quire a com­pre­hen­sive en­ergy pol­icy that aims to de­liver re­li­a­bil­ity, emis­sions re­duc­tions and more af­ford­able en­ergy.

De­liv­er­ing all three of those el­e­ments will be in­cred­i­bly chal­leng­ing and, ul­ti­mately, may be un­achiev­able.

It is great to see the Gov­ern­ment fo­cus­ing on the high-level pol­icy set­tings the na­tion des­per­ately needs.

Gov­ern­ment’s role is to set the pol­icy frame­work and al­low in­vest­ment to pick the most ef­fi­cient ways of achiev­ing the pol­icy goals and we need more of it.

Q. You’ve men­tioned that gas should have an ex­pand­ing role as re­new­ables are added to the en­ergy mix. Can you elab­o­rate?

Right now, gas is the tech­nol­ogy that is in place to pro­vide re­spon­sive, dis­patch­able elec­tric­ity to ac­count for vari­abil­ity in re­new­able en­ergy sup­ply.

There’s a lot of fo­cus on bat­ter­ies and that’s un­der­stand­able – this emerg­ing tech­nol­ogy is in­no­va­tive and cap­tures the imag­i­na­tion.

But Aus­tralia al­ready has a lot of gas peak­ing power sta­tions in­stalled, with sunk cap­i­tal, ready to rapidly add sup­ply when re­quired. And I have no doubt it will.

An­other op­por­tu­nity ex­ists to con­vert into hy­dro­gen ex­cess elec­tric­ity gen­er­ated, say, on very windy days.

The hy­dro­gen can be in­jected into ex­ist­ing nat­u­ral gas net­works and used for en­ergy. Projects prov­ing this tech­nol­ogy are al­ready un­der way in Aus­tralia and over­seas.

Q. What are your views on the east coast gas short­age?

Firstly, we have to stop think­ing of this as a gas chal­lenge: it’s an is­sue for the en­tire en­ergy sec­tor and so­lu­tions might con­tinue to elude us if we fo­cus on only one part of it. The en­ergy sec­tor is com­plex and in­ter­con­nected and this is why we need a holis­tic na­tional en­ergy pol­icy so that changes in one sec­tor – for ex­am­ple the growth in the con­tri­bu­tion of re­new­ables to our en­ergy sup­ply – do not have un­fore­seen neg­a­tive im­pacts in other parts of the sec­tor.

Gas sup­plies around half of the en­ergy re­quired by Aus­tralia’s in­dus­try, com­merce and house­holds, so we must en­sure that we have enough en­ergy sup­ply to meet that de­mand.

It is im­por­tant that State and Ter­ri­tory gov­ern­ments find ways to en­able gas ex­plo­ration and in­vest­ment to oc­cur.

We have had many in­de­pen­dent and well-re­spected in­quiries into gas ex­trac­tion meth­ods in Aus­tralia, such as the one car­ried out by the NSW chief sci­en­tist.

That in­quiry and all of the oth­ers have found that risks can be ap­pro­pri­ately man­aged with the right com­bi­na­tion of in­dus­try tech­nol­ogy and ex­per­tise with Gov­ern­ment over­sight and reg­u­la­tion.

I en­cour­age State and Ter­ri­tory gov­ern­ments to in­crease aware­ness and un­der­stand­ing of these find­ings.

Q. What ad­vice do you have for some­one who wants to pur­sue a ca­reer sim­i­lar to yours?

If you want a ca­reer in in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tions, it’s vi­tal you learn to be com­fort­able do­ing lots of dif­fer­ent things.

Most as­so­ci­a­tions have small teams and ev­ery­one needs to pitch in.

For pol­icy de­vel­op­ment, the most im­por­tant skill is com­mu­ni­ca­tion. If you can’t com­mu­ni­cate your ideas and po­si­tion sim­ply, you will not get far.

As some­one who took a round-about path to this des­ti­na­tion, the best piece of ca­reer ad­vice I ever got was ‘learn to be good at some­thing’.

The skills you de­velop in be­com­ing good at some­thing will serve you to learn new skills and be­come good at more things.

When you find some­thing you re­ally want to be good at, or even the best, at, you’ll know how to go about it.

“We have to stop think­ing of this as a gas chal­lenge: it’s an is­sue for the en­tire en­ergy sec­tor and so­lu­tions might con­tinue to elude us if we fo­cus on only one part of it.”

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