Mike Cannon-Brookes has warned Australians that power bills are about to soar – and the solution is to build more renewable energy sources such as wind and solar farms.
The Atlassian founder and climate change activist – who is worth an estimated $20billion – told the Today show on Wednesday: ‘Your energy bill is about to go up significantly, unfortunately.’
Wholesale electricity prices have doubled since last year as the price of coal and gas soars due to war in Europe and a worldwide energy crunch.
Consumers have been warned to expect price hikes in July when providers typically change their rates.
Mike Cannon-Brookes with wife Annie are pictured together in Sydney
It comes as Australians face increased cost of living pressures with the Reserve Bank on Tuesday raising interest rates to ease rising inflation, pushing up mortgage bills by an average of $80 a month.
The move three weeks before the May 21 election threatens to harm Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s re-election chances after he warned rates would go up under Labor.
Mr Cannon-Brookes, who has taken an 11 per cent stake in energy company AGL, said there were two main reasons for the energy price spike.
‘The first is because of the prices of coal and gas and we have so much fossil fuel-generated energy in our grid. That will drive your bill up,’ he said.
‘Secondly is because of the unreliability of the coal-power plants we have. We see that at the moment.
‘The faster we can move Australia to decarbonise to renewables, the quicker we can bring your bill down which will help towards your day-to-day costs of living.’
Mr Cannon-Brookes, who has taken an 11 per cent stake in energy company AGL, said there were two main reasons for the energy price spike
Mr Cannon-Brookes has taken a large stake in AGL to push the company to faster reduce its carbon emissions.
He is opposing a plan to break-up the company into two separate entities, fearing it would be bad for the environment.
‘Renewables are the cheapest source of energy generation that we have. They have been for a little while now,’ he said.
‘They continue to get cheaper. So the more renewables we build, the cheaper they will get.
‘The longer that the fossil fuel plants stay in our grid, the more unstable our grid will be and the more expensive your bill will ultimately be as a consumer.’
Newly installed as AGL Energy’s largest shareholder, Mr Cannon-Brookes said the current board’s plan to split the company into something ‘smaller and weaker’ would be a poor outcome for investors, workers, and the climate.
Greenpeace activists stage a protest outside the AGL Energy headquarters in Melbourne earlier this year
His push to more quickly power Australia with renewable energy comes amid a tight election where climate politics is heartfelt by those hit by more severe and frequent floods, storms and bushfires.
The billionaire said he sees a compelling future for AGL Energy at the helm of Australia’s rapid transformation to renewables.
‘It’s an investment. It’s not being done by a philanthropic group. It’s being done by my investment group,’ he said.
‘I’m not throwing away $650 million.’
The AGL Energy board has dismissed his criticism of the imminent split of the company, saying in a statement to the ASX on Tuesday that the demerger is in the best interests of all shareholders.
The Atlassian co-founder tweeted on Monday night he had built his stake in AGL Energy to more than 11 per cent, seeking to influence its future by becoming the largest shareholder and rallying others to his cause.
‘It’s a really critical moment,’ Mr Cannon-Brookes said.
‘It has a bright future but it’s not going to harness that future by demerging.’
His intervention comes after AGL issued a letter to shareholders asking them to back the board’s plan to split the company into an energy retailer called AGL Australia and a coal-fired electricity generator called Accel Energy.
The new entities will have a target to reduce emissions to net zero by 2040 and 2047, respectively, which is too slow for the biggest shareholder.
AGL said it remains committed to ‘a responsible transition of Australia’s energy system’ and plans to split the company by June 30.
For the demerger to succeed, 75 per cent shareholder approval is required when the vote is held on June 15.
Superannuation fund Hesta, which owns a 0.36 per cent stake on behalf of its members, is against the demerger.
Mike Cannon-Brookes has warned Australians that power bills are about to soar. Pictured: The Loy Yang coal-fired power station in Victoria
‘We’re not convinced the proposed AGL demerger will achieve emissions reduction and coal asset closure aligned with the Paris Agreement, nor that AGL’s plans provide an equitable transition for affected workers or communities,’ Hesta CEO Debby Blakey told AAP.
Mr Cannon-Brookes said many shareholders – big and small – are worried but have only been presented with one option by the board.
‘There’s one candidate, there’s one box, put a number in a box, but there’s only one box,’ he said.
‘The way it’s been set up by the company, to say there is no other option, is frustrating a lot of shareholders.’
Asked on the campaign trail whether it was embarrassing that a tech billionaire was showing more leadership on emissions than the government, Scott Morrison said the Coalition had a practical plan for net zero by 2050.
‘If you allow electricity prices to rise by having unbalanced emissions reduction targets, then the price of all of this goes up,’ he told reporters.
Mr Cannon-Brookes has launched a website – Keep it together Australia – setting out his case for shareholders to block the demerger.
The timing is driven by the demerger timetable, after the board rejected his takeover bid earlier this year.
‘The only thing I’m focused on is winning this vote,’ he said.
‘I know there’s another campaign going on, but I’ve spent far less time thinking about it.’