The Coalition appears to have abandoned all pretence that it supports renewable energy, now contradicting assurances by the grid owner and market operator – and now the biggest generator in the country – that the source of energy was not at fault for the massive blackout in South Australia last week.
After prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and energy minister Josh Frydenberg used the opportunity to use the blackout to try and force the Labor states to abandon their own renewable energy targets, they were joint by industry, science and innovation minister Greg Hunt on Monday.
In an opinion piece written for the Australian Financial Review, and reported as the front page lead “SA blackout could have been avoided” – Hunt claimed that a coal fired generator could have kept the lights on in Olympic Dam and Whyalla and avoided much of the damage, and he also chastised the states for chasing unrealistic targets.
First on the targets:
“The South Australian and Victorian governments are seeking to drive out baseload power out of their systems for ideological reasons,” Hunt said, adding that their respective targets (50 per cent renewable energy by 2050 and 40 per cent by 2025) could only be achieved by driving out baseload generation.
This is what Hunt said last December, while environment minister and speaking in Paris during the climate talks:
“I have encouraged the states that if they want to do something extra, (they should) apply reverse auctions to the renewable energy target in the way the Australian Capital Territory has done.”
So there’s a change of tune. On one hand urging the states to do more. Then, chastising them for doing exactly that.
As for the statements about the ability of coal power to withstand the catastrophic event that brought down 23 transmission towers in 5 different locations and took out three of the four major lines linking South Australia’s north to the south east, Hunt appears to be taking his cue from the fossil fuel lobby.
He wrote in the AFR:
“As the Australian Industry Group has observed, if SA policy had not deliberately forced the Northern base load power station offline, supply to Whyalla’s Arrium Steel plant and to BHP’s Olympic Dam smelting operations would almost certainly have been continuous. This would not only have saved millions of dollars of lost income, but provided a basis for future investment security.
“The transmission lines from Port Augusta to Whyalla were not damaged by the storm. Power is only being impacted because of the damage on the other side of the gulf and the need to maintain stability in the network.
“Therefore if Port Augusta had retained base load generation this could have been available to assist in maintaining both the lines North and South West of Port Augusta.”
“Successive Labor administrations have embarked on the folly of thinking that the state’s economic future could be based on willful over-promotion of intermittent, expensive and unreliable renewable energy. South Australia has paid a high price for this deluded approach.”
To political reporter Sid Maher, who elevated this nonsense to the level of wishful surmise:
“Wednesday night’s total failure of power in South Australia … is a disaster for renewable energy zealots and should be a wake-up call for political leaders. Energy experts told The Australian yesterday the cascading shutdown … could have been caused by wind farms closing in sequence as the storm hit.”