ABC news reports continue to casually link South Australia’s large amount of renewable energy to the state’s blackout in late September, ignoring the impact of the major storms that swept across the state.
One reader, who had complained to the ABC about its coverage of the blackout, emailed RenewEconomy overnight to point out an article yesterday quoting deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce during a visit to the Hazelwood brown coal generator.
“Bloody hell, the ABC is at it again,” the reader said.
Joyce, who was one of the more prominent people blaming the blackout on wind energy, said the Hazelwood closure was a warning to Victoria not to go down the same path. But it wasn’t what Joyce had to say that riled the reader, but this statement of “fact” by the reporter.
“The South Australian Government was criticised after a statewide blackout in September that was largely blamed on its dependence on renewable energy,” the article said.
Largely blamed by who? Perhaps by ABC political editor Chris Uhlmann. By the federal government and state Coalition parties that used the blackout to attack renewable energy. And by the fossil fuel lobby.
Instead of blaming renewable energy, the blackout has now sparked reflection on the structure of Australia’ ageing grid, its inflexible market practices, and the actions and role of the market operator.
Interestingly, (as far as we can see) the ABC has yet to report on a major Bureau of Metereology report released on Monday that showed that the main transmission lines in South Australia were ripped out of the ground by a storm cell packing winds of up to 260km/h, equivalent to Cyclone Tracey and Cyclone Yasi.
The BoM identified seven different tornadoes that cut across the path of the three main transmission lines, ripping out more than 20 towers. Energy experts say it shows that the blackout would likely have occurred no matter what the source of generation – a point underlined previously by both the grid owner and the state’s main generator.
However, there are questions over the role of the Australian Energy Market Operator, which ignored multiple warnings about the threat of “destructive winds”, and put no contingency plans in place which might have reduced the impacts.
Meanwhile, the ABC’s Audience and Consumer Affairs division has rejected the 180 complaints about Uhlmann’s coverage.
In one letter, the ABC says Uhlmann was right to question whether the state’s “heavy reliance on wind turbines might have increased the risk of a state-wide blackout.” It said he did not suggest that renewable energy had caused the state-wide blackout.
In responding to another letter about Uhlmann’s interview with Senator Nick Xenophon, the unit said:
“Mr Uhlmann did not state that renewable energy, particularly wind power, was the cause of the blackout. Rather, he raised a series of newsworthy questions about the state’s energy mix, including about the possibilities of how the power could be out when the wind was blowing, and 40% of South Australia’s power is wind generated.
“In response Senator Xenophon made reference to the fact that wind turbines do typically shut down in extreme wind conditions; Mr Uhlmann repeated that suggestion when posing a follow-up question to the Senator. As the political editor, Mr Uhlmann ended the report with his analysis of the situation as it was understood at the time.”
Readers might wish to refer to this article for their own thoughts, his original piece and the later article that warned the whole nation faced a blackout if wind and solar continued to be deployed.
As Ben Eltham warned when also challenging Uhlmann on his reporting and analysis after the blackout, this apparent bias against wind energy was likely to filter through to mainstream ABC reporting on the event. The website Crikey on Monday noted that “Uhlmann was pivotal in driving the ABC’s coverage.” That appears to be validated.