Poles apart: ACCC warns ‘hardware’ could scupper AGL bid

Tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes is serious about buying AGL Energy, and investors are keeping faith in the clean energy power play.

Feb 23, 2022, updated Feb 23, 2022
ACCC boss Rod Sims says big savings can be made for electricity consumers

ACCC boss Rod Sims says big savings can be made for electricity consumers

But regulators are keeping a close eye on the balance of ownership of the nation’s poles, wires and generators, as consortium member Brookfield already owns network company AusNet in Victoria.

“In the energy market, it’s long been considered – once they’re broken up – that you couldn’t have one company owning generation assets and transmission assets,” outgoing ACCC chair Rod Sims told the National Press Club on Wednesday.

Ownership of generation and transmission assets in Victoria would be the “only issue” for the watchdog to look at, he said.

“It’s the transmission assets that take the product of the generators and the transmission line can congest other generators and benefit your generator.”

He said that would be a “big problem” in NSW and Queensland, but in Victoria the market operator runs a lot of the transmission.

“The deal’s not done so it hasn’t come to us yet – we haven’t engaged with the parties.”

The cheeky opening bid of $7.50 a share included a premium of less than five per cent on its Friday close, implying an equity value of $5 billion, that AGL swiftly dismissed as undervaluing the company.

The current bid for Australia’s largest carbon emitter is currently worth almost $8 billion, including debt.

Those betting on a sweetened offer pushed the shares above $8 on Monday, and AGL Energy opened at $7.70 on Wednesday before losing some ground in a market spooked by the prospect of war in Ukraine.

Brookfield and Grok Ventures, the private investment company of Mike and Annie Cannon-Brookes, say the offer represents a 20 per cent premium to the average share price over the past three months.

But Markus Brokhof, AGL’s chief operating officer, has been reported as saying a premium of 30-40 per cent will be needed for the bid to succeed, along with guarantees about job security for staff and support for communities affected by coal plant closures.

Brookfield’s Asia Pacific chief executive Stewart Upson says they will engage with the AGL board again.

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But there are many hurdles to get through even if the latest deal gets up, including regulators and the Foreign Investment Review Board, according to Energy Minister Angus Taylor.

“It’s got to get ACCC approval, which is a significant issue because Brookfield is the 80 per cent participant in this deal, so it’s by far the majority of the money, and it owns AusNet, a major transmission company in Victoria,” Mr Taylor has said.

Pension funds including Australia’s Sunsuper and Canadian organisations backed Brookfield’s $18 billion AusNet deal last year, and a global tide of net zero capital is looking for a home.

As well as an expected sweetened offer, the consortium intends to use $A20 billion of capital to transition AGL’s generation fleet from coal within a decade.

Some seven gigawatts of capacity will be replaced with at least 8GW of clean energy and storage, under the takeover and transition plan.

But the takeover play is far from a national plan for a graceful phasedown of coal-fired electricity generation, according to Liana Downey, acting head of the independent Blueprint Institute.

“It is a private-sector response to the fact we do not have a national plan,” she said.

“Without one, private firms and operators – like Origin with Eraring – will continue to bring forward closure dates in an ad-hoc, uncoordinated fashion.”

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