SA blackout: Australia storms Right into the dark over renewables

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A host of conservative politicians, including PM Turnbull, have opportunistically used the South Australian power outage to cast doubt on renewable energy, writes John Passant.

Australia is in the dark. By that, I am not referring to the statewide blackout in South Australia.

I am referring to the reaction of some climate change deniers to the worst storm in 50 years in the state, a storm that tore down transmission poles and power lines, and cut out the two interconnectors, the mechanism for delivering power from interstate. Even with the interconnectors working, many areas would have been cut off because of the destroyed or damaged transmission poles and power lines.

One Nation’s tinfoil hat-wearing Senator Malcolm Roberts immediately blamed renewable energy, calling on

"South Australia and the country to urgently exit all climate change policies that are the direct cause of this huge mess in SA."

South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon warned that renewable energy and the supposed consequent lack of a baseload was the problem, before putting in a plug for gas-fired electricity stations.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said wind power

"... wasn’t working too well last night, because they had a blackout."

New ENERGY (my emphasis) and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said it was a weather event.  However, he also said that renewable energy, making up 41 per cent of all the state’s power,

"... does raise questions for the stability of the system."

He is, as his repetition of this weather event but renewables contradiction shows on AM on Thursday morning (29/9/16), playing a dangerous game.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull blamed renewable energy too. 

According to The Australian he

... blasted state Labor governments for imposing “ideological” renewable energy targets, describing the South Australian blackout as a "wake-up call'" to focus on energy security.

It gets worse; the report goes on to say:

The Prime Minister accepted fierce winds and lightning strikes were the “immediate cause” of the statewide power failure, but there was “no doubt” that the “extremely aggressive” shift to renewables had strained the electricity network.

‘“I regret to say that a number of the state Labor governments have over the years set priorities and renewable targets that are extremely aggressive, extremely unrealistic, and have paid little or no attention to energy security,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Launceston.

‘“Energy security should always be the key priority. If you are stuck in an elevator, if the lights won’t go on, if your fridge is thawing out … because the power is gone, you are not going to be concerned about the particular source of that power. Whether it is hydro, wind, solar, coal or gas, you want to know that the energy is secure.

‘“Let’s take this storm in South Australia … as a real wake-up call. Let’s end the ideology and focus on clear renewable targets.”

Where is this leading? The pathetic renewable energy targets we currently have will be under massive attack.

Tucked away in one Fairfax report was an unnamed cabinet minister’s comment that

"... the politics of renewable energy is about to change."

Prepare for the onslaught blaming renewable energy and justifying further attacks on the already pathetic renewable energy targets of Commonwealth, State and Territory governments. Coal equals stability will be the message.

On ABC AM on Thursday morning, Environment Minister Frydenberg called the renewable energy targets of the states and Territories "unrealistic". Turnbull has echoed him. Frydenberg linked 50 per cent renewable energy targets with people being stuck in lifts or without electricity in their homes.  

I know facts are dangerous things, but this insanity will kill us. This shut down would have occurred whether or not South Australia had renewable energy, a fact Frydenberg himself admits. With over 80,000 lightning strikes – one on a power plant – and with 22 transmission poles knocked over the interconnectors cut out.

According to South Australian premier Jay Weatherill:

"The system operated as it was planned to operate... just like a household if there's a surge of power through a faulty piece of equipment a trip occurs... to protect the various assets, so that it can be restored within hours."

What the climate change deniers in government want to do is use the worst storm in South Australia in 50 years to raise questions about renewable energy and thus move back to more coal. No doubt, nuclear energy will get renewed airing too.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is at the mercy of this group and may well lead the charge against renewables. A smooth, urbane climate change denier by his actions is much more dangerous than the tin foil hat brigade.

Looking at the situation longer term, fossil fuel induced climate change created the conditions for the worst storm in 50 years. These types of storms will become more frequent. More coal use in Australia, the Turnbull Government’s real agenda, will contribute to producing more extreme weather events more often in the future.

Just as you cannot reason with racists, you cannot reason with the real Senator Roberts on climate change, or his alter ego Malcolm Turnbull, and the coal industry he and his government represent.

The threat is real. There can be no greater indictment of capitalism than the fact that it fuels its profit needs by processes which will kill it in the medium term, and kill much of life on the planet, if the latest study of the history of climate change and potential temperature rises of 5 to 7 degrees are anywhere near correct.

Read more by John Passant on his website En PassantYou can also follow John on Twitter @JohnPassant.

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