AGL commits to bare minimum, carbon neutral option for customers and bonuses for executives

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AGL, Australia’s largest carbon emitter, is now offering a certified carbon neutral option (the Option) on all of its electricity plans. The Option, announced as part of its updated Climate Statement and to be certified by the Australian Government’s Climate Active Program, is a great way for AGL to offload the burden of the energy transition from itself to its customers. 

“By the end of FY21,” says AGL CEO Brett Redman, “a carbon neutral option will be available on all AGL products – be they electricity, gas or telecommunications – giving all of our customers choice for the cleaner and more sustainable options many are seeking when it comes to their essential services.”

AGL sets a gas-powered 2050 Emissions Target 

In AGL’s Climate Statement: Vision for the Future, the giant says that it knows what the long-term future of energy will look like: 

“By 2050, we believe that Australia has the opportunity to be carbon neutral and an energy superpower. We will play our part in achieving this and target reaching net zero emissions by 2050. This will be realised by Australia generating low-cost power using zero emissions wind and solar resources, backed up by technologies like batteries, hydro power and, for much of this transition, gas. We believe this will underpin the competitiveness of the Australian economy just as cheap fossil fuels did in the 20th century.” 

In addition to this, AGL also made it clear that it would be closing none of its coal-fired power stations. This is all to say that AGL has about as much back-bone as a jellyfish and is just as likely to sting you. After all, it is very unlikely the carbon neutral option will be price neutral too. 

Leading from the back

AGL says that it is committed to enabling the three major forces of change: “customer demand, community expectations and the development of technology.” Of course, if the customer demands carbon-neutrality, the customer will have to pay extra. 

In reality, AGL’s commitment highlights the electricity generation and retailing company’s ignorance of the real forces of change. After all, a change the size of a global energy source transition is not purely economic, but also social, generational and moral. Indeed, customer demand may be a major force of economic change, but AGL fails to recognise that no great moral principle has ever been decided by a show of hands. Change requires leadership, not plastic commitments and shirked responsibilities. 

AGL CEO Brett Redman leading from the back.

Image: AGL

And yet, despite AGL insisting on its leadership credentials, all that it offers is the opportunity for the customer to be the hero. Like a WW1 Field-Marshal, Brett Redman and AGL accept no risk, 35km behind the line of real courage, AGL demands its customers do the hard yakka. 

There is, however, one exception to AGL’s empty promises. The Age reports that AGL has further announced that it will be the first major ASX company to link executive pay bonuses to climate goals such as investing in more renewable energy and selling more “carbon-neutral” power plants. Now, this may seem an emancipated declaration, but again, it is hardly a risk, as AGL itself admits, renewables are the future, investing in them should not warrant a bonus for an energy executive, investing in the best energy source is literally their job.

Of course, AGL is one of Australia’s largest investors in renewable energy, but they would be, renewables make money. AGL is also Australia’s largest coal-fired power station operator, operating stations such as Bayswater, Liddell and Loy Yang. 

“To support this new product into the future” continued Redman, “AGL has embedded changes in our policies, supply chain and systems to ensure a carbon neutral option is offered every time a customer chooses an AGL electricity, gas or telecommunications product.” 

Of course, it is not difficult to embed a small algorithm providing a carbon-neutral option for AGL customers. What AGL is showing is that it isn’t changing its policy, supply chain or systems at all. AGL is serving up a turd and asking the Australian people to polish it for them.