MARK BUTLER MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY, MEMBER FOR PORT ADELAIDE : Well this morning a report from the Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has confirmed last week’s power outage in South Australia was a product from a once in a generation storm event; an event that in particular brought down very significant parts of South Australia’s transmission network.
Over the past several days, we’ve seen behaviour from some of our political leaders that have frankly been appalling. There used to be a protocol in Australia whereby political leaders would refrain from political debate or seeking to score political points when an emergency was still unfolding, when our community was still facing risk. When emergency service personnel and, in the case of the last several days, army personnel as well were putting themselves in harm’s way to protect our community. We’ve seen a number of leaders; Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Senator Nick Xenophon here in South Australia outrageously breach that protocol.
We know over the last several years of experience that there has always been a group of political leaders, business leaders, and certainly media commentators that have been willing to grasp at any opportunity, real or imagined, to seek to block Australia’s transition to modern, clean renewable energy. What we have seen over the last few days is Malcolm Turnbull join that group. It is now Malcolm Turnbull’s policy, not simply something he has inherited from Tony Abbott, but his own policy not to take serious action on climate change and not to have a renewable energy policy beyond 2019/2020.
Labor doesn’t just see our transition to modern clean energy as desirable for Australia, we see it as imperative. It is imperative if we are going to meet the commitments we have made through the Paris conference to reduce carbon pollution levels. But it is also imperative as over the course of the next 15 years a very significant part of Australia’s electricity infrastructure and power plants reach the end of their lives and have to be replaced. Labor wants them replaced with clean, renewable energy which increasingly will be the cheapest form of energy available to Australians.
What’s abundantly clear from the last several days is that Malcolm Turnbull’s plan for the future of Australian energy is to replace old coal-fired power plants with new coal-fired power plants. That’s hardly innovation.
NICK HARMSEN: The AEMO report says that six wind farms were knocked out by this storm. No gas generators, no other generation was knocked out. Does this raise the stability of wind in the grid if we don’t know why those wind farms went down?
BUTLER: What we do know is that they went out within a matter of a few seconds of the transmission lines coming down. What is very clear is that the storm caused 23 transmission towers and a substantial number of transmission lines to come down. And within a matter of seconds that tripped a number of wind generators in the north of the state. We also know that the storm caused damage to some of the thermal generators, the gas-fired generators which affected our ability to restart the system as quickly as we possibly could. The AEMO report this morning confirms that, as the Premier said this morning - no storm, no blackout. It was the result of a once in a generation storm.
HARMSEN: But given the gas generators stayed on isn’t there a chance that no wind power, no blackout?
BUTLER: AEMO has not said that. They have not said that without the transmission towers going down there would have been any problem whatsoever with South Australia’s electricity system.
HARMSEN: What about the bigger question regarding stability of the grid with the mix of renewables in SA. The South Australian government has acknowledged a problem there. There is now not necessarily the ability to provide frequency control in SA. Is there an argument to say South Australia has gone to hard too fast without considering the broader grid implications of the mix of renewable energy?
BUTLER: Let me say first of all that all of the renewable energy built in South Australia has been built as part of the bipartisan federal Renewable Energy Target. This is going back to John Howard’s renewable energy target and currently as part of the bipartisan renewable energy target operating under the Turnbull government. Some notion that South Australia has gone out on its own is simply false.
HARMSEN: It has encouraged wind farms with planning approvals and payroll tax rebates.
BUTLER: South Australia has more open space and certainly has been a friendlier place to invest in clean renewable energy unlike some of the eastern states where there has been opposition to renewable energy projects- that is true. Let’s be clear this has all operated under a federal renewable energy target, going back to John Howard. Obviously as you transition from one system to a new system - whether that is electricity or anything else - there are challenges that any system needs to meet to ensure that transition is smooth.
It is important to say there is no history of any supply interruption, in Australia, caused by renewable energy. We have supply interruptions, black outs that are caused by transmission lines going down; we have gas-fired power stations being brought out of the system because gas is too expensive. We have old coal-fired power stations being shut down for maintenance. All of these cause pressure on our supply of electricity. Of course we are going to have to look at ways in which we ensure the new renewable energy system which is the way of the future, not just for Australian but for the 150 countries that have renewable energy targets as well continues to provide reliable, secure, affordable energy. That’s what Andy Vesey, the head of AGL was talking about yesterday with the wave of battery storage technology that is coming our way. South Australia could be a leader in this. We can attract new investment and lead the way for the rest of the world, not just for the rest of the country.
HARMSEN: What about the question that the state renewable energy targets are unrealistic and in a national energy market it makes sense to have a solo target for the country?
BUTLER: On this I agree with Malcolm Turnbull, the problem is that under Mr. Turnbull Australia does not have any renewable energy target beyond 2019/2020.Now if you took to the industry they need to know what the rules for investment are going to be beyond 2020. Malcolm Turnbull has confirmed over the last several days that as far as his government is concerned, there should be no building of new renewable energy beyond the next 3 or 4 years. Well that is simply unacceptable. Of course if there is no federal policy, which is the case under Malcolm Turnbull, the state governments will fill that vacuum. Our preferred position is that there is a single national target of 50% clean renewable energy by 2030. Now at the moment we just don’t have any policy whatsoever and that’s why the states are filling that vacuum.