The proposed reboot of South Australia’s retired Northern coal-power plant as a federal government-owned generation asset has been slammed as “uninformed and baffling” by the state government, and likened to “restarting the whaling industry” to provide fuel for street lamps.
The policy, proposed by federal resources minister Matt Canavan, was aired on Friday by South Australia’s Liberal energy spokesperson, Dan van Holst Pellekaan, in The Advertiser newspaper.
South Australian energy minister Tom Koutsantonis said the idea, as well as being “astounding”, betrayed the Coalition’s fundamental lack of understanding of the energy market, considering the Northern Power Station had been closed by its private operators in May on commercial grounds.
Koutsantonis also pointed out that the ageing facility – which is now owned by Flinders Power – was privatised by the Liberal Party in 1999.
To be fair to van Holst Pellekanan and Canavan, however, the idea that coal is somehow vital to the smooth running of South Australia’s grid is not unique to them.
Just last week, in an opinion piece written for the Australian Financial Review, the federal minister for industry, science and innovation, Greg Hunt, said a coal-fired generator could have kept the state’s lights on during the “system black” event two weeks ago, and avoided much of the fallout.
This is not what many analysts and energy industry experts are saying about South Australia’s system-wide blackout. But even if it was, Koutsantonis notes it would likely take more than a year in mining and recommissioning work before the plant would be ready to generate electricity.
“It is astounding that the Liberal Party is now calling for a power station, that they privatised, to be purchased by the state government and reopened.
Koutsantonis – who has been busily defending his government’s ambitious renewables policies since the “system black” event that was triggered by a freak storm – urged the state Liberal party to advocate for reform of the National Electricity Market that better integrated renewable energy, rather than looking to the past for solutions.
“Energy experts, and indeed the Federal Liberal Government, agree and acknowledge that renewable energy is the future of the National Electricity Market,” he said.
“This is a thought bubble from Mr Pellekaan and Mr Marshall that reveals the Liberal policy is a return to inefficient, dirty coal-fired power for South Australia.
“They are so addicted to coal that they are willing to use taxpayer money to subsidise it so that this industry, which is in rapid decline around the country, can continue to operate,” he said.
“This policy is akin to announcing the Liberals would restart the whaling industry to light our street lamps – the Liberals want to return to a previous century rather than prepare our state and our economy for the future.”