SA blackout sparks energy debate

A state-wide blackout in South Australia amid Hazelwood closure speculation signals the importance of the Latrobe Valley’s baseload power, Member for Morwell Russell Northe argues.

Hundreds of thousands of lightening strikes blasted South Australia into darkness, leaving 1.7 million residents cut off from the national power grid on Wednesday.

The reliability of renewable energy – 40 per cent of the southern state’s energy supply – was called into question by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

He criticised state Labor governments for setting “extremely aggressive, extremely unrealistic” renewable energy targets that “paid little or no attention to energy supply”.

But the Victorian Government – which has set a renewable energy target of 25 per cent by 2020 and 40 per cent by 2025 – was quick to shut down Mr Turnbull’s comments.

Energy, Environment and Climate Change Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said “all evidence” showed South Australia’s outage was caused by extreme weather, and the Federal Government was using the blackout to push an “anti-renewable energy agenda”.

“It doesn’t matter if energy is created by coal, nuclear, gas or renewable sources. Without power lines it cannot go from point A to point B,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

South Australia’s Premier, Jay Weatherill, said he was advised by the Australian Energy Market Operator the severe storm damaged transmission and distribution and electricity assets in the state, leading to the outage.

He said the damage triggered an automatic cut at the interconnector, which links South Australia and Victoria and as a result the state could not use Victoria’s supply for backup during the storm.

Environment Victoria campaigns manager Nicholas Aberle said it was frustrating that people thought the blackout had “something to do” with renewables.

“The transmission lines fell over. This is not an energy problem, this is a weather problem,” Dr Aberle said.

“It’s crazy to suggest that they are connected.”

Member for Morwell Russell Northe said in the case of Wednesday’s storm “one could argue that no matter what power was being supplied this same situation would have occurred”.

However, the event reinforced his “enormous concern” about energy supply as the Latrobe Valley prepared for the possibility of Hazelwood power station and mine closing as early as April 2017.

He said if Hazelwood was to close as early as six months from now it would only add to concern regarding the National Energy Market’s security supply, as brown coal was a reliable baseload power supply and the Latrobe Valley a key contributor.

But Dr Aberle said if Hazelwood were to close, Victoria’s energy supply could still be met.

“In 2015 it was estimated that Victoria had 2000 MW more power supply than we will ever need. Hazelwood is 1600 MW,” Dr Aberle said. South Australian treasurer, who is also the Mineral, Resources and Energy Minister, Tom Koutsantonis said Hazelwood’s closure would be “good” for the state.

Mr Koutsantonis said if Hazelwood closed, market forces would “compel” its Pelican Point gas power station to be switched on 24/7.

“It will mean massive investment in baseline generation here in the most efficient gas-fired generator in the country,” he said.

“The positive outcome for us is we’ll get 500 megawatts of baseload generation here in South Australia.”

New South Wales also imports energy from Victoria – about six per cent of its annual electricity needs.

A spokesperson for NSW’s Industry, Resources and Energy Minister Anthony Roberts said the state supported a smooth transition to increased renewable energies, but it “must be done in a way that ensures a secure, stable energy mix that is affordable and reliable for NSW consumers”.

He said the government does not expect any early closure of Hazelwood to have a significant impact on its electricity supply, as it exported only minimal amounts from Victoria, usually at times when prices are cheaper than NSW-based generation or other imports.