Weatherill: Why state election will be referendum on renewables

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

South Australia Premier Jay Weatherill might not be able to see much daylight between his Labor Party and the rival Liberals and SA Best, but he’s certainly making sure there is a big difference between his energy policy and those of the Opposition and the upstart party of Nick Xenophon.

Over the past few weeks, before and since the start of the official election campaign, Weatherill has been trotting out almost daily announcements about significant new investments and new targets for renewable energy and energy storage in the state.

It was capped this week with his world-leading 75 per cent renewables target by 2025, the Australia-first “renewable storage” target of 750MW, Australia’s first battery manufacturing plant, to be built by Germany’s sonnen, and any number of individual renewable and storage projects.

There is good reason for this. Renewable energy, according to the polls, is a lot more popular than the Labor government, struggling under the burden of 16 years in power and about an even bet with the Liberals, with Xenophon the wild-card.

Weatherill may well have thought, when interviewed by RenewEconomy at the Paris climate talks in late 2015, that his government’s push into renewable energy was something of an “experiment” – a comment that has been used against him after the controversial power outages of 2016 and 2017 – but now he wants his government to be seen as synonymous with the technology.

“What will happen, should we not be successful (at the March 17 poll), the opponents of renewable energy will say South Australia’s leadership in renewable energy was the cause of their demise,” Weatherill says in an interview on RenewEconomy’s popular Energy Insiders podcast.

“That will be used against any other government that wants to push deeply into renewable energy.

“We have been facing a massive campaign of misinformation waged by the coal lobby against the South Australia government.

“We know that they are fully cashed up and have very effective message mechanisms …. anything that  goes wrong in the South Australia market is blamed on renewable energy, and anything that goes wrong in coal-rich NSW or Victoria gets another explanation.”

Weatherill insists the pursuit of renewable energy has been a success.  The Australian Energy Market Operator, having “dropped the ball” is now managing the system properly (new CEO Audrey Zibelman has been a “breath of fresh air”, he says), and renewables have not been the cause of any outages.

“What we have demonstrated is that despite having 48.9 per cent renewable energy, we haven’t had any reliability issues that caused outages because of the size of our renewable energy,” Weatherill says

The blackouts in September 2016, and in February last year, were caused by major weather events and failures in the National Energy Market, the latter when “perfectly good supply” (a major unit at the Pelican Point gas generator) was not  switched on because of “the way the market works.”

That prompted the SA government to intervene, building its own emergency back-up, and launching a series of initiatives that has seen the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery built by Tesla, and the world’s biggest solar tower with molten salt storage due in 2020.

This has been accompanied by a series of investments and studies in battery storage, pumped hydro and hydrogen energy projects, along with virtual power plants and micro-grids.

And the Tesla big battery, next to the Hornsdale wind farm, is already having an impact, particularly in markets that provide network services known as FCAS (Frequency Control and Ancillary Services).

“The Tesla big battery is already smashing the FCAS market, and we will get fantastic benefits from not being ripped of by the existing generators for those FCAS services,” Weatherill says.

It is because of the need to increase competition in the local market and bring the influence of the Tesla battery and other dispatchable renewable technologies on to local prices, that Weatherill opposes building a new interconnector in the short term.

“In the short term, (a new interconnector) would basically prevent another competitor coming in on our side of the market – we think interconnectors are a good medium-term option, although expensive, to export renewable energy to other states.

“Our problem at the moment is market power on our side of the border – what we need is more generation capacity. That’s where we are putting our focus.”

South Australia has been at loggerheads with the federal Coalition government and the state Liberals since those blackouts – both over the course of national policy (SA Labor opposes the national Energy Guarantee), and the Coalition’s criticism of the big battery.

The baiting between Adelaide and Canberra erupted after the state-wide blackout, and intensified after Weatherill gave federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg a tongue lashing last year.

And, the baiting continues, as this image above illustrates – energy minister Tom Koutsantonis brandishing some special edition coffee mugs.

Labor’s 75 per cent renewable energy target compares to the Liberals’ pledge to can any state-based initiative, even though both have programs to encourage battery storage in households.

Xenophon’s SA Best is only now starting to roll out its policy proposals, which include creating a new “not-for-profit” retailer, and a tender for 150MW of “dispatchable” renewables.

Weatherill is hopeful Labor can continue without having to strike a deal with Xenophon’s SA Best, but says he is confident, if he must, in being able to convince Xenophon to come on board with Labor’s energy policy, notwithstanding Xenophon’s support of anti-wind campaigns in the past.

“I think I can persuade Nick that this is an appropriate future for South Australia,” he says. “I hope to get there on my lonesome without a coalition. If we do (need to strike a deal), I won’t be compromised on this, because it is critical for the future of the state.”

Weatherill admits that the involvement of Tesla’s Elon Musk with the big battery, Sanjeev Gupta with his plans for a green energy-led revival of the Whyalla steelworks, and sonnen’s proposed manufacturing plant validate his government position.

“People are proud of our leadership on renewable energy. Even people who are not completely convinced about climate change believe that renewables are the technologies of the future. No one is going to build a new coal plant,” he said.

“It is not just South Australia dreaming this up. There are big advantages in being first mover, in circumstance where you anticipate the future clearly, you assertively pursue it and you get the benefits of that.”

South Australia has not had to resort to any state-based mechanism to attract investment – it has previously been better at doing that than other states. And it expects to continue.

“If you have got a hostile investment climate, you won’t get investment in renewable energy,” Weatherill says. “It comes down to planning, the regulatory environment, using state govt procurement, using funding mechanisms like loans and grants.

“If we are not in government, we will have a Liberal party that is determined to abolish state-based renewable targets, given comfort by a federal coalition that is dominated by coal interests and that will do everything to scuttle renewable targets.”

And he pointed to two new investments that highlight that transition – the SolarReserve solar tower to be built in Port Augusta, helping replace the closed coal-fired generator; and the new solar-plus-battery microgrid to be built at the old Holden plant by Carnegie Clean Energy.

“That is another fantastic message of renewables and hope for the northern suburbs staring at the loss of the car industry,” he says.



  • Joe

    In the wake of Premier Jay announcing the 75% RE Target and 25% RE Storage Target came the predictable public spray at Premier Jay from our Joshie, The (Non ) Environment Minister with these gems that quoted the Joshie ….”complete madness”, “a thought bubble”, “he is like a problem gambler doubling down to chase his losses”. The REAL GAMBLER(S) is (are ) of course the Joshie and his COALition mates, the cheer squad of The MCA, Rupert & his newsrags and the radio cowboy shock jocks. They are putting it all on the table to not do anything meaningful or more preferably still, not to do anything at all when it comes to the ‘climate emergency’. It is not theirs to gamble with in the first place. Deep down they all know that climate change is real and yet their self interest steers them to this insanity of promoting and continuing business as usual with FF usage whilst at the same time blackballing progress with RE. These guys have families…what will they say to their children as the world continues to turn to shite…..oh, of course they’ll say….. going 75% RE is madness, a thought bubble, its a gamble….. The Planet is not a game of roulette.

  • DJR96

    The premise of the article, if Jay wins the State election, and it certainly looks like energy policy will be by far and away the deciding factor, will the other States and Feds finally change their tune and get on board too? We can only hope so……

    • Patrick Comerford

      Premier Jay needs all the help he can get. He is the vanguard for the RE industry in this country and is getting sweet FA assistance from most states and of course the bonker rabble in Canberra. He can though in my opinion draw some comfort from the last Qld state election where the polls were showing a hung parliament at best. There was an equally hostile. Murdoch press i.e. The courier mail much like the advertiser, a thoroughly un impressive opposition leader and the ” Poorline” third way who was supposed to hold the balance of power. So what changed for Labor to gain a majority government. Assuming Aussies are the same regardless of the state they live in (I know some may disagree with that) the result for labor hinged on two identifiable issues. The first was opposition to the Adani mine getting taxpayer subsidies and the second was that Labor was already starting to promote a number of impressive RE prospects along with noises about battery gigafactories in central and North Queensland which were tangible job creating opportunities for an area we are led to believe is in need of. As it turned out enough voters bought the message. Let’s sincerely hope the voters in SA are as smart as the voters in Queensland were.

  • Chris Drongers

    What have the Liberals to offer?
    -From the bottom of the Murray, South Australian’s see Liberal governments in Sydney and Canberra encouraging by failure to stop, water theft in the Darling,
    -in the electricity market the LNP condones predatory bidding behaviour by generators and moves with glacial slowness on 5minute generation bidding,
    -cannot come up with a consistent position on climate change (fake, real, problem , disaster?)
    The Australian is rattled by Wetherill’s support of renewables in SA as well with today’s paper having some of the weakest pro-coal, blame renewables polemic I can recall.
    Hard to argue when two of the world’s most advanced energy companies (Sonnen and Tesla) plus an old world industry stalwart in steel see South Australia As the place to do business.

    • Joe

      The Murray / Water Theft issue says it all about The COALItion, Federal & NSW. Bonking Baaaananabe did nothing and it happened under his watch. In NSW Minister ( Nile / Niall ) Blair’s answer is…Imma pulling NSW out of The Murray –
      Darling Basin Agreement. Well done chaps, NOT.

      • mick

        mate barny did some thing all right he sat his arse down in a pub and told the cockies dont worry about the environment take as much water as you want

        • Steven Gannon

          He also once said to the media that letting water flow to Menindee Lakes was pointless.

          • Joe

            And look what happened to the Menindee grape growers. ‘Menindee Grapes’, one of finest tasting grapes are now finished for ever. Thank you Bonking Baaaananabee and ‘Nile’ Blair for allowing the water theft and the death of Menindee Grapes.

        • Chris Drongers

          NP supports farmers, as long as they are wide area farmers with big areas of cotton, cattle, wheat or sheep on big spreads. Farmers on several hundred hectares of irrigated fruit farms giving several times the economic return per ML of water don’t count as ‘real farmers’ to the Nationals.
          Lack of imagination in farming, in economics, in energy generation and consumption (let’s raise household, transport and business energy efficiency? Nahh, God gave us coal and oil to burn; let’s switch to distributed, renewable energy that will use less transmission, burn less coal/gas, open generation to small punters? Nah, God favours corporations)
          Nationals and probably Liberals lack imagination.

  • Durham 52

    As someone who lived and worked in South Australia’s mid north/Eyre Peninsula for twenty years and witnessed the “death by a thousand cuts” of the steel, railway and lead industries along with wheat farming and the wind down of the car industry in Elizabeth, all I can say is ,please South Australians, don’t vote out the only party with any positive plan for the states future, industry development and electricity security.

    The LNP will only aid and abet the hopeless federal government, will stifle the development of a renewables led recovery and appease the big end of town just like the feds. As for Xenophon, his track record in Canberra has been to side with the right wing LNP/IPA government on nearly every issue. His opposition to wind farms puts him in the illustrious company of Tony Abbott, surely not a place any thinking politician would want to be? But Nick is always on the lookout for a headline and a few votes, so maybe that’s the reason for such an odd position?

    • Hettie

      Great post. Have you posted it in places with a wider readership? It seems a pity if only the already convinced audience here is to read it.

      • Durham 52

        Yes Hettie, I’ve thought of sending it to the Adelaide Advertiser, the only game in town regards a daily news paper in SA. Sadly the chances of getting published are next to zero given that it’s a Rupert Mudrake rag. (I know from my years as a union rep and environment supporter that getting any views or opinions to the left of right wing conservative published in the “Tizza” is a largely futile experience. Though write complaining that wind farms are giving your Goldfish headaches and I’m sure that would get published….) Please give me any suggestions as to possible useful places to post.

        • Hettie

          There are several independent papers that publish on line, and some in hard copy too.
          Of those that do hard copy, The Saturday Paper and the Guardian, which has a stated policy of informing about climate change, and is very anti coal.
          On line only, The New Matilda, Independent Australia, (which told about Barnaby’s baby well before the byelection), and the New Daily.
          Then there are social media opportunities. I don’t do twitter, but am active on Facebook.
          There is much more to FB than pictures of your dinner, kittens and puppies. Lots of special interest groups, some specifically against the Coalition, others that are climate oriented. There may even be a group devoted to South Australian issues.
          The Search function is quite good. Or you could share this Renew Economy article on your own page, and use the comment as a preamble. Posted “public” it will reach a surprisingly large audience.

          I belong to groups in support of refugees, gardening groups, Greens discussion groups, anti coalition groups, and follow the Climate Council, to keep abreast of climate news. And I get the online issues of all the papers I mentioned, mostly as daily emails.
          That should keep you busy for a while.
          Good luck!

          • Marg1

            Good on you Hettie for such a detailed amount of contacts for Durham 52 to send to. I thought his post was great too, hopefully it will get out to lots.

        • Alastair Leith

          Same problem as WA/Perth with The West then. Happy to publish CC denial letters and nuclear fanboy odes every week but any sensible discussion of renewables and storage on topical matters by members of SEN rarely make it to print.

    • Chris Fraser

      So true. Perhaps Nick has been taking weather-vane lessons from Big Tony.

    • Steven Gannon

      At least they voted down the water bill in the senate last week. They’ve taken a tough stance on the issue.

      • Durham 52

        I take it you mean the Xenophon party senators left federally? I wonder if the result would have been the same if Nick had still been there? It will be interesting to see if voting patterns change without him no longer there to “guide” his senators.

        • Marg1

          Yes Nick is just a LNP light I reckon, always ends up voting with them .

  • Ren Stimpy

    SA have quite a lot of momentum in investment in clean energy and now clean manufacturing, not least because of Jay’s leadership in this inevitable energy revolution. The key word is inevitable. Every state will make this same transition inevitably, SA is just the one who leads the mob, mainly by necessity being a state situated geographically at the arse-end of the grid and always having high power prices, even well before renewables (let alone storage) was an option. It would be a shame to see the state leading the transition take two steps backwards by throwing out their visionary leader just as his vision is starting to pay dividends.

    • Joe

      The First Mover is always open to criticism and attack from those that are afraid of change. But the First Mover is also in a position to reap the rewards and the rewards are coming the way of Premier Jay and the good state of SA.

  • Alan S

    Nick announced that SA Best aims to reduce SA electricity cost by 20 %. Does he mean wholesale or retail? He might reduce wholesale but retail will be a challenge as transmission and distribution infrastructure accounts for 48 % of the retail cost to consumers according to the Clean Energy Council. This isn’t going to reduce without agreement by the two monopolies that control these and I wouldn’t hold my breath. You can blame the people who carved up ETSA and sold it off back in 1999.

  • Radbug

    30 Newspolls in a row is coming up. Bill Shorten will have a picnic with that one, not to mention Barnaby sitting behind Malcolm, on the other side of the despatch box! I said to myself that being PM after one term in Opposition would not be good for Bill & his people. I’m glad the Coalition won in 2016. Bill is going to be one Australia’s great PM’s.

  • Brett Mashado

    It is a shame SA Labor are hell bent on extracting gas from prime agricultural land in the lower South East of South Australia. Fracking and conventional gas is on their wish list. I do love the renewable projects that have been rolling out but the push for more Fossil Fuels in a food bowl is crazy. How many more years must this duplicity go on? The Renewable ball is rolling , let us ditch the gas too.

    • BushAxe

      Labor seem more interested in pushing hydrogen production, has there been any announcements on SE gas or is it more a case of Labor not wanting to be seen to opposing investment?

      • Brett Mashado

        $17.84 million in grants to explore SE for gas , I think would be seen as promoting development.
        Give that money to develop renewables to hydrogen and we can protect the SE for good.
        Gas exploration is hit and miss and it eventually runs out.
        Renewables to gas is guaranteed ongoing production.

    • Rod

      I’m not happy with Labor’s support for fracking the SE or the subsidy given to gas drillers in the energy plan but do you really think the Libs will ban fracking if the COALition keep threatening the other recalcitrant States? Xenophon flip flops depending on where the votes and accolades are so I wouldn’t trust him either.

  • Chris Fraser

    Hi Tom … Spot the Mug. Maybe Josh is looking for a job as a REAL Environment Minister, any vacancies ?

  • john

    I for 1 would be very surprised if the present government is tossed out.

    • Kate

      …but then, the americans voted in Trump…

      Expect the stupidity of entrenched pro-Lib voter bias. Let’s hope the undecided voters are keeping their minds – and ears – open.

  • john

    When a German company desides to invest in Australia they do not do it on a whim they do it because they see the vision of the government in power.
    One would think perhaps the people in South Australia would realise the somber thinking of that company.
    One would expect that the electors of South Australia would have such sense.

    • Greg Hudson

      Another thought… Maybe Sonnen are sick of being undercut on pricing by Tesla and want to actually ‘do’ something about it…

  • Ian

    Solar households SA

    • Rod

      You would assume all happy solar owners would support large scale renewables but that would be wrong. Some contributors on regressive forums swear they don’t care about the environment and only installed solar due to high electricity prices.
      The irony escapes most of them when you point out what is economically sound for the household can also apply to the grid.

  • Michael Griffin

    Everywhere the Liberals have been in.power they have privatised public electricity infrastructure that has led to higher prices. Kennet in Vic, Olsen in SA and Baird in NSW. Libs in WA took privatising the electricity network to the last state election there and were soundly defeated. Its the Liberals that have caused problems with the electricity network. Next they will sell off public schools and public hospitals. SA cant risk a liberal gov.

    • Andrew Scott

      It is not just a Liberal and National Party phenomenon.

      During their 16 years in office SA Labor governments have also enthusiastically embraced privatisation of public facilities, services and resources.

      Selloff of our South East Forestry, the Motor Accident Commission, The State Land Titles Office and many public school sites for carve-up by residential so called ‘developers’ are just a few examples that quickly come to mind. There are many more.

      Another SA Labor strategy that leads to privatisation of Crown resources is government provision of grants for accelerated exploration for minerals and fossil fuels.

  • Rod

    Not that I want to condone gambling when talking about No No Pokies Nick but the current odds on Sportsbet are:
    Labor 2.25. South Australia Best Party 2.55. Liberals 2.85 …

  • john

    Perhaps this report on the relative LCOE costs of electricity from Lazard should be looked at.

    The embedded graph comes from an article in ThinkProgress.

    • Tom

      The other thing about this graph is that Lazard, being American, plugs in cheap fuel costs for methane (gas). Here the fuel cost alone at today’s price of $8/GJ is about US$40/MWh (approx 6.5GJ/MWh).

  • john

    Further to the world wide figures this cements the future for solar and wind.

  • onesecond

    South Australians take note. This is also a referendum on your stupidity level. If you let those Liberals destroy any progress that has been made, this level will have gone truly through the roof.

    • Kate

      Speaking as a South Australian, hear hear.

  • Marg1

    All the way with Jay! I live in NSW and only wish we had Jay as our Premier – someone with vision and understanding of where the future is. Good luck, Jay I hope you get re-elected for SA’s and Australia’s sake.

  • Nick

    75% renewables, that is fantastic. Keep it up SA. I only wish the rest of the country/world would get it’s act together as well.

  • neroden

    Best of luck to Premier Jay. South Australia stands at a crossroads: go into a bright future with Jay, or make a gigantic mess with the Libs. 🙁