Reaction to SA storms shows why Aussies are switching off politics | RenewEconomy

Reaction to SA storms shows why Aussies are switching off politics

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Politicians and others were fast to use SA storms as an opportunity to pin the situation on renewable energy, before anyone even knew what had happened.

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Yesterday a once-in-50-year storm took out the entire South Australian power system. More than 20 huge electricity pylons were toppled by furious winds in storm supercells at multiple locations across the state, triggering what the electricity system operator calls a “System Black”.

The rest of us know it as a blackout. The state was cut off from the rest of the national electricity grid and the power went down. A huge team of experts scrambled to make sure residents were safe and secure, and to re-start the power system.

Many South Australians handled the situation pretty well, lighting candles and finding some ways to be light-hearted despite all the chaos caused by the storms.

Given the remarkable weather conditions, what happened in South Australia could have happened anywhere. But what was extraordinary was how fast politicians and others tried to use this as an opportunity to pin the situation on renewable energy, before anyone even knew what had happened.

It is even more extraordinary when we have just been through a Federal Election where Australians voted away from the major parties in droves. This is partly because they are sick of politicians playing games among themselves rather than working together to get things done for the people they are supposed to represent.

I’m not sure they got the hint, because even the minor parties were playing political games yesterday, instead of working out how they might be able to help the situation.

Senator Nick Xenophon was one of the earliest to go out, saying long before any facts were on the table: “We have relied too much on wind rather than baseload renewables, rather than baseload power, including gas which is a fossil fuel but it is 50 per cent cleaner than coal and a good transitional fuel.”

Never mind that this had absolutely nothing to do with the situation at hand and that he had no information about what had happened. The power went out, and in his mind it must have somehow been caused by wind energy, which he opposes. But he wasn’t the only one to leap to conclusions.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said the blackout should raise issues about renewable energy and the lack of coal-fired power. And SA Opposition Leader Steven Marshall attacked the state government, saying it had serious questions to answer.

We also had Chris Uhlmann, a senior and credible ABC journalist, blaming renewable energy – again before anyone knew anything. And even after ElectraNet, federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg, SA Premier Jay Weatherill, the grid operator and Tony Wood from the Grattan Institute all confirmed that the outage was due to extreme weather, Mr Uhlmann doubled down, trying hard to find a way to make renewables the centre of the story.

We can’t expect everyone to be on board with the move to cleaner sources of energy which is happening across the world, and there are inevitable challenges that need to be addressed.

But in the middle of a crisis caused by severe storms which took out a lot of massive electricity towers, our politicians should be trying to work together to help get everything back on track rather than blaming each other. We can and should be doing a lot better than this.

Electricity is complicated. Let’s not make up our own facts about it just because it suits our political agenda. If you do, you shouldn’t be surprised when people continue to switch off their support for politicians.

Tom Butler is Clean Energy Council Policy Manager.

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  1. Rod 4 years ago

    Xenophoney should stick to failing miserably at reducing the Pokies
    The last intelligent thing to come out of Marshall’s mouth was “Vote Labor tomorrow” on the eve of the last State Election. Idiot.

    • MaxG 4 years ago


  2. Brian Bartlett 4 years ago

    Actually electricity is not complicated, it is amazingly simple. A year 6 primary school education is sufficient to be able to connect a 5 Watt LED light bulb to a 12V AGM or Lithium battery.

    The same backup battery installed in many home security systems, up-size’d a bit, could be used to operate several LED lights in strategic locations in a house. Include some usb outlets and recharging mobile phones to keep communication channels open would be a cinch. Just as smoke alarms are now compulsory we could do the same with emergency lighting and power. If every home had this there would be no such thing as blackouts.

    Costs of a few hundred dollars per house for real security in natural disasters. Perhaps we could start with the elderly and people with disabilities. Thousands of jobs could be created overnight. Young people with no job could be trained in basic electronics along the way. Add a small solar panel and it would be completely grid independent.

    Australian renewable businesses are the last viable surviving electronics industry left in this country, and we make the best off grid equipment in the world. I know because mine has been running 24/7 for the last 23 years without a failure. No ‘blackouts’ in a smart home.

    There is no reason why we can’t put backup batteries in refrigerators or washing machines or TV’s. We do it with laptops and mobile phones so we know it works. Scaling it up with modern, efficient appliances should be child’s play.

  3. Mags 4 years ago

    Yep, they are treating us like mushrooms, we are getting fed up with it, we are actually better informed than them most of the time.

  4. JeffJL 4 years ago

    Why blame all major parties. The Liberals and Nationals are the ones driving people away from politics with these antics. Don’t try and be balanced and spray everybody. Put the blame for the degradation of politics in this case to the ones responsible. The Nationals; The Liberals; Team Xenophon; Chris Uhlmann et al.

  5. Mike Dill 4 years ago

    Situations like this make being able to ‘island’ off the grid easy to understand. I expect more people to avoid the grid and the politicians entirely every year going forward.

    • Ian Porter 4 years ago

      Actually thats the wrong approach and not what will happen. In the case of the grid, together is better and more reliable than individual islands. The grid becomes more relevant (and necessary) than today in a renewables world. How the power is generated will change, but it will not mean the end of the grid.

      • Mike Dill 4 years ago

        Yes, this the wrong approach. Being part of the grid makes it more resilient. Unfortunately, the politicians and utilities are not looking out for the ‘little people’.

        • Ian Porter 4 years ago

          They (errant politicians) will fail, loose, crash and burn. Markets always dictate end results and demand, not politicians tinkering with things they don’t understand. They can hamper and slow the rate of change, but they cannot change the fact that a) the public are onside with RE b) Cost metrics of RE technologies will drive the market at the hip pocket level. 3) Utilities will be forced to adapt or lose out.

          Politicians will join the bandwagon after the horse has bolted as they have always done after every disruptive technology revolution in history: Think, internet, telecoms, air travel, taxis, B&B accomodation, rail electrification, banking, the list goes on. The one thing that is bugging the hell out of them is the sudden and ubiquitous 24/7 media cycle. To that they are caught with their pants down and a good example of this is the SA power crisis: It will come back and bite them because the facts are not all out yet, but when they are, history will judge many of them poorly and it will be there for all to see.

  6. JustThink4Once 4 years ago

    Politicians are people who, when they see light at the end of the tunnel, go out and buy some more tunnel.

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