A Melbourne university student is looking to pull off a corporate coup for the ages, as he seeks to land himself on the board of embattled energy retailer AGL.
First year student Ashjayeen Sharif announced on Monday his campaign to become a director of Australia’s largest electricity generator. Backed by Greenpeace, Sharif is running on a platform of dumping AGL’s ageing coal-fired stations and replacing them with renewable power.
“I’m a young person worried about climate change and so I decided to take matters into my own hands and go straight to the source – AGL, Australia’s biggest corporate climate polluter,” Sharif said.
“AGL’s current leaders have shown they can’t be trusted to do the right thing on climate change, and so I’m stepping up to become a director, because I’m confident I could do a better job.”
Published as a full-page advertisement in Monday’s Australian Financial Review, Sharif has penned an open letter to AGL and fellow shareholders, asking for them to support his bid at the September 22 AGM.
“Extreme fire seasons, crippling droughts, mass flooding. The collapse of our food systems, and incalculable damage to our economy. all of this will happen in my lifetime, and that of your children. This is not the future I want,” he wrote, noting
“If AGL brings forward the closure of Loy Yang A and Bayswater power stations to 2030 or earlier — the date climate science marks as the cut-off for coal closure — young people like me have a better chance at a safe, healthy future.”
Currently, AGL plans on shutting Bayswater in 2035, with Victoria’s Loy Yang A scheduled to follow in 2047, as part of what the company calls “an orderly transition”.
Self-nominating to the AGL board, Sharif promises if elected he will use his new position to push the company to exit coal sooner and transform it into a “renewable energy powerhouse”.
“I’m furious at the board and executive’s failure to get on top of the speed and scale of the renewable energy transition,” Sharif said. “Their coal obsession has cost shareholders billions of dollars, when AGL could have been transforming into a renewable superpower.”
AGL is bleeding cash
The bid comes at a difficult time for AGL, which has become the target of environmental and corporate activists alike.
Labelled ‘Australia’s biggest polluter’ by Greenpeace, the company last week announced a $2.06 billion loss as it languishes in an “extremely challenging” low-margin energy market that has been rocked by the rapid rise of renewables.
Having resisted pressure to dump them, AGL’s strategy of hanging onto expensive ageing coal-fired power stations doesn’t seem to be a profitable one. One of its largest, Bayswater, now looks like becoming unviable after its largest client, aluminium smelter Toamgo, announced it would run on renewable power when its contract with AGL expires.
It’s the latest blow for the energy supplier, which has seen its value fall by 70% since 2017. Shareholders have vented their frustration and put the board on notice, after delivering a strike against its remuneration report back in October.
A second strike at the AGM next month, requiring just a 25% dissenting vote, would cause a board spill and trigger the dissolution of all non-executive directors from it.
Given the prevailing sentiment among shareholders, Sharif may find plenty who agree that a change of direction is required.