In 2020,  a whistleblower revealed Alinta Energy’s poor data protection systems. Consequently, Australian media outlets reported on the issue. The company put its customers’ personal information at risk, they said. This included Medicare and passport numbers, credit card details and even health records. Unfortunately, Alinta Energy has about 1.1 million gas and electricity customers. That is a lot of information that could get into the wrong hands.

Accordingly, the whistleblower called Alinta Energy’s approach to privacy and data “reckless”. Furthermore, the media also criticised the Chinese-owned company for its approach to customer service. This included heavy-handed payment request tactics, for example, threats of bankruptcy. Of course, this led to a rise in customer complaints. However, it did not stop there.

In 2021, the Victoria’s Essential Services Commission issued Alinta Energy a huge fine. This amounted to AUD $1.125 million. This was because of the way the company had treated customers who were struggling to pay their bills. Allegedly, Alinta Energy placed conditions on helping them pay. Consequently, some customers expressed suicidal thoughts.

These indiscretions reveal a company that treats its customers poorly. Therefore, it is hard to imagine that Alinta Energy has the best interests of Australians at heart. This is a worry because the company has many fossil fuel assets across Australia. At the same time, Australia is currently way behind on schedule to cut its greenhouse gas emissions. Can the country really rely on companies like Alinta Energy to save it from climate change?

What is Alinta Energy?

Alinta Energy is a private company. It provides energy plans to homes and businesses. This includes both electricity and gas. Alinta Energy operates in Australia and New Zealand. However, it is owned by a Hong Kong-based company, namely Chow Tai Fook Capital Limited. The company also makes money from its power generation assets.

Assets in Australia and New Zealand

Alinta Energy’s assets are located throughout Australia and New Zealand. For example, it owns Loy Yang B. This is a coal-fired power station in the Latrobe Valley, Victoria. Likewise, it also operates several gas-fired power stations. These include stations at Bairnsdale in Victoria and Braemer in Southern Queensland.

Alinta Energy in Western Australia

Alinta Energy was previously known as AlintaGas. It was formed when Western Australia privatised its state-owned energy utilities in 1995. Therefore, it still owns energy infrastructure in the state. For example, Alinta Energy has four gas power stations in Western Australia. Furthermore, the company also owns 11.8 per cent of the Goldfields Gas Transmission Pipeline. This 1,380km pipe transports natural gas from the Carnarvon basin to Kalgoorlie.

Fossil fuels and climate change

Currently, Australia relies on fossil fuels to meet its energy needs, whether that be coal, oil or natural gas. Humans burn such fuels to create energy. But this releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the air. In turn, this substance creates a greenhouse effect in the Earth’s atmosphere. That is, it traps the sun’s heat. As a result of this, the Earth’s average temperature has increased by 1°C. This is not good news.

Even if the Earth warms another 0.5°C, there could be severe effects. For example, increased sea-level rise and extreme weather. Plus, plants and animals could go extinct. It will also make food harder to come by. These are symptoms of climate change.

The IEA Net Zero by 2050 report

In May 2021, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released a new report on energy generation. It called for an immediate ban on new coal, oil and gas development. That is the only way countries can limit Earth’s global warming to 1.5°C, it stated. On top of this, the IEA said that countries will need to drastically reduce their use of fossil fuels. Therefore, renewable energy use will likely overtake coal by 2026, according to the report. Likewise, renewables will overtake oil and gas by 2030.

What is renewable energy?

Humans can create renewable energy from natural resources that never run out. These include solar, wind and hydropower. In contrast to fossil fuels, these types of energy do not release pollution that heats up the atmosphere.

The big changes that the IEA recommended in the report came as a surprise. That is because the IEA has, until now, proposed a slower transition away from fossil fuels. Therefore, this shows how serious the greenhouse gas emissions situation has become.

Braemar gas-fired power station

“Braemar gas-fired power station” by Steven Bradley (CC BY-SA 3.0)

What are Australia’s energy sources?

However, most of Australia’s electricity still comes from coal. The good news is that energy companies have plans to close down their coal power stations early. Plus, they will replace these with big batteries that can store renewable energy.

The bad news? The Australian government wants natural gas to replace coal instead. Therefore, it has provided gas producers with a lot of money. This makes little economic sense. That is because renewable energy has become cheaper than fossil fuels. This includes both coal and natural gas. Furthermore, it reduces Australia’s chances of combatting climate change.

Natural gas is dirty

Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, says that natural gas is a perfect transition fuel. It seems that he believes the gas industry’s claim that the fuel is clean and green. Specifically, natural gas has 50 per cent fewer greenhouse emissions than coal, the industry says. However, this figure is only true in relation to carbon dioxide. It ignores another greenhouse gas – methane.

Over 20 years, methane heats the planet 86 times more than carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, natural gas mostly consists of methane. Plus, this gas leaks throughout the supply chain, during production and via transport to homes and businesses.

Energy usage: From gas to electricity

Renewable energy is already replacing gas-powered electricity generation. That is because Australia now has high natural gas prices. Therefore, customers have also turned away from gas at home, for example, when it comes to heating water and buildings, and cooking. That is because it is now cheaper to heat most Australian homes with a heat pump. The same is true for hot water heat pump systems. Also, an induction cooktop will save money over a gas stove. This provides a good reason to move on from Alinta Energy and other gas providers, aside from that the electricity they provide is mostly from fossil fuels.

Alinta Energy’s climate record

Alinta Energy claims to deliver sustainable energy to its customers. However, the company has no plans to stop providing fossil fuel energy. In fact, in 2018, only seven per cent of its power came from renewable sources. Instead, the majority of Alinta’s generated power comes from gas-fired power stations. Alinta Energy’s poor climate record should come as no surprise. Just look at its long list of fossil fuel assets. The company will want to keep making money from them for as long as possible.

Renewable energy companies enter the market

There is a similar story across Australia’s energy market. A small number of energy providers have long dominated. This lack of competition has been costly to consumers. But, this has also prevented Australia from transitioning to cleaner energy. This is because these companies have traditionally sourced their energy from fossil fuels. It is only recently that new companies providing renewable energy have increased competition. This has helped most states reduce their reliance on fossil fuels somewhat. Consequently, this has forced Australia’s biggest energy providers to up their investment in renewables.

Alinta Energy’s renewable energy plans

Likewise, Alinta Energy has also announced more renewable energy projects. For example, in June 2021, the company announced a new 90MW solar farm near Port Hedland in Western Australia. Along with this, Alinta will also build a four-hour big battery to hook up to the farm. Both projects will be the largest of their type away from a major grid in Australia. Plus, in May 2021, the Yandin Wind Farm in Western Australia officially opened. This joint venture between Alinta Energy and RATCH-Australia is Western Australia’s largest renewable energy facility.

Alinta wind farm

“Alinta wind farm” by julie burgher (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Alinta Energy is committed to gas

Such projects are encouraging. However, the company’s continued commitment to gas completely undermines them. In March 2021, Alinta Energy agreed to supply coal seam gas from a new project in Queensland. As mentioned above, the International Energy Agency said that the world could have no new fossil fuel development.

Alternative options to Alinta Energy

Therefore, Australians must use their consumer power. Along with other major retailers, Alinta Energy still ranks very low in terms of providing clean energy. But other companies put their concern over climate change first. These include Powershop and Diamond Energy. Why not reward these renewable energy providers?