Sale of NSW’s largest power generator approved; Tribunal overturns ACCC’s decision


The Australian Competition Tribunal has overturned the decision by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to ban AGL Energy from buying Macquarie Generation in NSW.

ACCC buying Macquarie Generation
Image credit: Macquarie Generation website

The Tribunal’s approval of the sale has infuriated the Stop the Sell Off campaign leaders who were vigorously fighting the decision to sell Macquarie Generation.

“In March the consumer watchdog scuttled this $1.5 billion sale, saying it was not in the best interest of NSW electricity consumers as it would lead to higher power prices, reduced competition and the restriction of new retailers from entering the market,” said Adam Kerslake, Stop the Sell Off Campaign Director.

“Not content to accept the ruling of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, AGL appealed — with the full support of the NSW Liberal Government — taking advantage of a sneaky legal loophole that lowers the bar when considering consumer impacts. What we have seen is a huge win for big business, who will now take ownership of the State’s largest electricity generator, at the expense of electricity consumers.”

The ACCC tried to block the sale because it said it was bad for consumers; ACCC Chairman Rod Sims had raised concerns around the impact on consumers of the planned privatisation of the electricity poles and wires; however the consumer watchdog’s decision has been ignored.

“On Monday morning, Mr Sims appeared in major newspapers warning that the sale of monopoly assets — such as electricity network businesses Ausgrid, Essential Energy, Endeavour Energy and TransGrid — was ‘effectively a tax on future generations’,” Mr Kerslake said.

“This legal challenge shows the consumer watchdog has been effectively neutered. We are urging the ACCC to immediately investigate any avenues for appealing this decision and fulfilling their obligations to fight for the best interests of consumers.”

The Tribunal did impose certain restrictions, such as the requirement to make power available to smaller competing retailers, but the sale remains in its core a bad deal for the people of NSW.

“These restrictions are a desperate attempt to make a bad deal more palatable. These restrictions are temporary and the fact remains that NSW energy consumers will be paying more for their electricity in the future, and they’ll have Mike Baird to thank for it,” said Mr Kerslake.

Further, Mr Kerslake said the sale also put into question the public’s ability to trust Mike Baird.

“As Treasurer, Mike Baird stated that should the ACCC reject AGL’s offer, the NSW Government would retain ownership of Macquarie Generation so that it could continue as an independent competitor in the electricity marketplace. Mike Baird reneged on that pledge when the ACCC blocked the sale in March, and instead allowed the sale process to proceed,” he said.

“The ACCC acknowledges and respects this decision by the Tribunal.  However, the ACCC is disappointed that the Tribunal has authorised the proposed acquisition given that, if it proceeds, the ACCC considers it would have significant implications for the future of competition in, and performance of, the retail and wholesale electricity markets,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said in a media release.