Activist company

Australia’s biggest energy company sees huge upheaval at the top

Australiathe biggest carbon emitter AGL on Monday abruptly announced the departure of its chairman, CEO and a series of board members, while abandoning a long-standing decision to spin off its lucrative coal business.

In a statement to investors, the company said Pierre Botten resign as president and Graeme Hunt would step down as CEO when a replacement is found.

The operations of AGL, Australia’s largest energy company, have come under intense scrutiny since billionaire environmental activist Mike Cannon-Brookes tried to buy the company for around $6 billion.

AGL rejected the offer in March, saying the offer was “far below the fair value of the business”.

Cannon-Brookes, a 42-year-old tech mogul, has launched his bold bid to acquire the company to shut down its heavily polluting coal-fired power plants and reorient the grid to focus on renewables.

He had opposed a “split off” of AGL’s coal and retail businesses, saying that if it was allowed to be spun off its takeover would no longer make sense.

Australia is one of the world’s largest producers of coal and gas and, during a decade of conservative rule, has supported the construction of new fossil fuel projects.

But Australians – hit by a series of intense droughts, floods and bushfires – overwhelmingly support more action to tackle climate change and recently voted in a centre-left government to do just that.

Cannon-Brookes described the news as a “great day for Australia” and said there was a “better and greener way ahead”.

It was also welcomed by environmental group Greenpeace, which said AGL’s outgoing leadership had “failed to understand the changing political landscape towards climate action”.

Director of the Institute of Energy at Monash University Ariel Liebmann said preserving the entire company could help Australia move away from fossil fuels.

“Abandoning the split is a great outcome not only for AGL shareholders, as it will preserve shareholder value, but also for energy consumers and Australia’s transition to renewables,” said he declared.

A split company would have had less leverage to raise funds for renewable projects and more incentives to retain coal and gas generators.

“AGL Energy, in its current state, can manage an accelerated withdrawal of its coal and gas fleet in a much more orderly fashion,” he added.