Nick Xenophon’s newly formed SA Best party says that having 90 per cent renewable energy (i.e. wind and solar) in South Australia by 2030 is perfectly feasible. But it stresses that this is not a target, unlike Labor’s 75 per cent ambition for 2025.
The comments by SA Best’s environment and energy spokesman Graham Davies, and you can read more here, underlines the extraordinary developments in the South Australian energy debate, where it is now clear that South Australia’s push into renewables is unstoppable, and should not be stopped.
It is a dramatic contrast to the tone of the debate that is being had at federal level, but probably not surprising given how far ahead South Australia is to the rest of the country, and the world.
In South Australia, the share of wind and solar is already at 50 per cent, and these technologies are popular. Contrast this to the debate in the coal states on the eastern seaboard, where even a 20 per cent renewables target (hydro included) has the conservatives reaching for the smelling salts.
SA Best’s Davies says it is clear that wind and solar are the cheapest technologies. He says the difference between SA Best and Labor is over the need for any sort of target.
South Australia, as mentioned, is already generating 50 per cent of its needs from large-scale wind and rooftop solar, and has some 500MW of new large-scale wind and solar capacity under construction, along with a handful of storage projects, and a lot more in the pipeline.
Labor has sought to make a new benchmark by outlining the 75 per cent target by 2025, which follows a slew of announcements for new solar farms with battery storage, a Tesla virtual power plant, further incentives for household storage, and investments in hydrogen and support for pumped hydro.
In reality though, Labor’s target – while seemingly ambitious – reflects little more than the new wind and solar farms which are being built now, along with 150MW solar tower at Port Augusta and the 1GW of solar and storage that UK billionaire Sanjeev Gupta says is essential to save Whyalla’s steel industry.
But, as Weatherill explained in this Energy Insiders podcast last week, having the door open to investment is as important as having a target.
SA Best is now keen to show that it, too, is a supporter of wind and solar, something that many would have good reason to doubt given Xenophon’s speeches and actions in the past, and the unknown quality of his candidates in the March 17 poll.
Xenophon played a key role in getting the federal government to support the Port Augusta solar tower and storage plant, but he is best known as an opponent of wind energy, having supported the creation of the Wind Commissioner and new research into the supposed health impacts of wind farms.
Those investigations came to nought, at least in finding any adverse impacts, and the Wind Commissioner has struggled to find anyone who has a legitimate and abiding complaint.
Davies insists: “Nick certainly supports all forms of renewables. He recognises the issue with the medical research …. there is no evidence, the noise thing has been resolved.”
Davies is an engineer and energy consultant who has worked on wind projects and has been a major critic of the pricing of the Coober Pedy renewable-based micro-grid, for which he blames Labor.
He is contesting the seat of Waite, vacated by former Liberal leader Martin Hamilton-Smith, who defected and became a minister in the Weatherill government and has decided to retire from politics.
“My personal prediction is that this (the cheap cost of wind and solar) will result in around 90 per cent renewables by 2030, but this is a prediction, not a target,” says Davies.
“South Australia can lead the nation not just on energy generation, but all the manufacturing, construction and jobs that could go with this in areas such as PV panels, components, smart energy, CST mirrors.”
Even the Liberals are trying their best to look like they support renewables, announcing plans for $100 million grants for household storage.
But they refuse to endorse a state-based target, to keep in line with the Liberal-National policy in Canberra, and their policy document makes multiple references to the need for “baseload”, when South Australia’s problems are more what to do about demand peaks, not troughs.
But what exactly do the Liberals – both state and federal – propose to do to stop more wind and solar from rolling out? Tell Gupta that he can’t build solar to save the jobs at Whyalla?
The situation appears untenable. But federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg continues to play cheap politics, describing the investments in wind and solar (which the state Liberals cannot and won’t stop) as reckless.
He issued a statement on Tuesday asking if Labor’s federal leader Bill Shorten and climate spokesman Mark Butler (a South Australian) supported Weatherill’s “reckless example.”
It shows a complete disconnect between Coalition rhetoric and the reality on the ground. Frydenberg railed against “uncoordinated, unilateral state actions”, and sadly these thoughts were echoed by the head of Energy Security Board, Kerry Schott, at a forum on Monday.
Frydenberg sought to justify his position by quoting the Business Council of Australia, the notoriously anti-renewable Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Grattan Institute, which is not regarded as a particularly progressive think tanks (at least on energy).
“How long will it take Bill Shorten to follow Jay Weatherill’s example in adopting another reckless, ideological and ill-planned renewable energy target?” Frydenberg asked.
But Frydenberg’s position is being undermined the more we learn about the Coalition’s pet projects, the National Energy Guarantee and Snowy Hydro 2.0. Both are effectively useless without high ambitions for wind and solar.
The response from energy utilities small and large, bankers, financiers and others at the ESB forum on Monday was that the NEG would likely reduce competition and push up prices, and there was little point to it if it didn’t have more ambitious emissions reduction targets.
Origin and PowerShop, among others, wanted stronger emissions targets – the sort that would take the country closer to Labor’s target of 50 per cent by 2030. There is absolutely no technology impediment to such a target.
Snowy Hydro has admitted that unless there is a majority of renewable energy in the system then the economics of the Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro project won’t make sense and it will spend most of its time using coal power to push water up hill
And the advice from independent parties – the CSIRO, the networks lobby the Finkel review and the subsequent study on storage – is clear: Australia has the potential to go for a high renewables grid that would not just be cleaner, but cheaper and more reliable.
And Davies makes it clear that SA Best will not support the NEG. “It is a dangerous policy, designed to impede. It’s not a policy of substance. It is a delaying tactic.”