Energy policy worsened SA blackout, Greg Hunt says

Updated October 03, 2016 14:24:32

A power transmission tower damaged and lying on its side in South Australia. Photo: Greg Hunt says while the storm damaged the transmission towers, the state’s energy policy made things worse. (ABC News: Dean Faulkner)

Federal Industry Minister Greg Hunt has blamed the South Australian Government for exacerbating last week’s state-wide power outage.

Key points:

  • On Wednesday afternoon, entire state plunged into darkness
  • Greg Hunt argues state’s energy policy made things worse
  • Mr Hunt pushes for Australia to continue to have reliable baseload power supply

The entire state was plunged into darkness after wild weather knocked out three transmission lines and more than 20 towers on Wednesday afternoon.

In an opinion piece published in Fairfax, Mr Hunt acknowledged the storm caused the toppling of the poles.

But he said the state’s energy policy made things worse.

“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,” Mr Hunt wrote.

“This would not only have saved millions of dollars of lost income, but provided a basis for future investment security.

“The South Australian Government’s conscious policy to drive baseload energy out of the system meant the system collapsed further and faster than it would otherwise have done and recovered far more slowly than it should have.”

Australian steel and iron ore producer Arrium estimated the loss of production while electricity was down would cost the company $30 million, while Port Pirie’s Nyrstar Smelter reported it could be out of action for up to two weeks due to the damage caused by the power outage.

The smelter estimated it could lose between “3-5 million euros” after the blast furnace was damaged in the blackout.

Several electricity pylons near Melrose in South Australia's Mid North were toppled in the storm Video: Several electricity pylons near Melrose in South Australia’s Mid North were toppled in the storm (ABC News)

Mr Hunt pushed for Australia to continue to have reliable baseload power supply, for the states to engage in better planning of renewables expansion and for a more integrated system of providing consumer and investment security.

“This means that the states will have to consider new or upgraded interconnectors between Tasmania and the mainland, and South Australia and the eastern states,” he said.

Mr Hunt’s comments come after Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said the Government would ask the energy regulator to look into whether more investment was needed in electricity infrastructure.

Labor won’t use SA storm to win ‘Tony-Abbott like’ points: Shorten

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has accused Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of trying to score “Tony Abbott-like” points on renewable energy following last week’s power outage in South Australia.

Mr Shorten told reporters in Adelaide that there needed to be a discussion about improving energy security, but stressed that “renewable energy didn’t cause the storm”.

“The fact is that it didn’t matter how power was generated — this was a failure of the transmission systems,” he said.

“Labor is up for a discussion about how you regulate and sort out a national energy market, but we won’t use this storm and the damage it has caused to score some sort of Tony Abbott-like point about renewable energy.

“Wrong time, wrong issue, wrong direction, Mr Turnbull.”

Greens Leader Richard Di Natale said Mr Hunt’s comments showed a lack of understanding about power grids.

“Greg Hunt clearly needs a lesson in how electricity is generated and then transmitted,” Senator Di Natale said.

“Those wires don’t generate electricity; they transmit it.

“What we saw was a storm event. No question that we’re going to see more of these as a result of dangerous climate change, knocking down our transmission infrastructure and that’s what caused the problem here.”

Topics: alternative-energy, wind-energy, electricity-energy-and-utilities, industry, government-and-politics, australia, sa

First posted October 03, 2016 09:07:20

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