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Govt, council and green groups attack Marshall's renewable energy plan

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The State Government, the Lord Mayor and environment groups have lined up to attack the Opposition’s proposal to scrap South Australia’s renewable energy target.

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Opposition Leader Steven Marshall says he would move to scrap the state’s renewable energy target (RET) in favour of relying on the national RET, set by the Federal Government, if the Liberal Party wins next year’s state election. Opposition leaders in Victoria and Queensland have made the same promise for their states.

South Australia’s target – 50 per cent renewable energy by 2025 – is “aspirational” and not backed by direct funding.

By contrast, the national RET – 23.5 per cent renewable energy by 2025 – is backed by federal funding for the most efficient renewable energy generators.

South Australia currently gets about 40 per cent of its power from renewables.

Lord Mayor Martin Haese told InDaily removing the state’s RET would be a “crying shame” in his opinion, because it would slow the momentum of renewable energy investment in South Australia.

He said that despite the state RET’s aspirational nature, it had been a “needed” investment attractor for the state.

Haese said that it was “too early to say” whether removing the target would threaten the city council’s aspiration for Adelaide to become carbon neutral by 2025, but it would “slow the flow and actually direct investment [away] from South Australia”.

It would be a “crying shame if we were to stop that flow [of investment] or stop South Australia from getting its fair share,” he said.

Haese added that South Australians deserved grid stability, he said, but “grid stability isn’t entirely tied with renewable energy” and that a “diversity” of energy sources and “substantial investment in large [scale] solar battery storage technology” would counter the intermittent nature of wind and solar power.

Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis told ABC Adelaide this morning that: “If you abolish the [state] renewable energy target no-one’s going to build a solar thermal plant at Port Augusta.”

“No-one, because you’ll have the Opposition a year out from the election saying ‘we want no more renewable energy’.”

But Marshall told the program that Koutsantonis’ comments on Port Augusta were “rubbish” and that that “we’re very keen to look at solar thermal”.

“The issue that we worry about night and day is the intermittency of the renewable energy obsession that Tom Koutsantonis and [Premier] Jay Weatherill has had and it’s really affected every single business, every single household,” he said.

Marshall argued that rather than discouraging investment, scrapping the state’s RET would give investors certainty.

“We’re sending a strong message we want to provide certainty to potential investors in terms of generators in this state that intermittent renewables are not going to help the stability of our grid – and so unless they can provide some sort of market impact assessment that says that it’s not going to in any way further destabilise our grid then we won’t be approving them,” he said.

While the state’s RET does not directly fund renewable energy projects, a development amendment approved by the State Government in 2012 made it easier for wind farms to be constructed on rural properties. The State Government also approved payroll tax incentives for solar and wind projects in 2009.

The Liberal Party has been critical of the state RET since mid-2013.

Electricity generators: we need national energy policy

The Australian Energy Council represents electricity generators. Its Chief Executive Matthew Warren told InDaily Australia’s electricity sector needed billions of dollars of new investment – and that required nationally co-ordinated energy and climate policy.

“We operate in a national electricity market which benefits from a national approach to energy, he said.

“We think energy policy is most efficiently and effectively delivered at the national level, with the co-ordinated support and input of state and federal governments.

“State-based targets may be in part borne out of frustration at a lack of progress at the national level.”

He added that the energy industry “has always advocated for a market-based policy that targets emission reduction, rather than backing any technology”.

But Repower Port Augusta campaigner Dan Spencer told InDaily scrapping the state’s renewable energy target risked discouraging investment in renewable energy generation.

“We saw investment basically collapse when the Abbott Government announced the review of the [national] renewable energy target,” said Spencer. “We’re only now … really seeing that pick up again.”

He stressed, however, that South Australia’s RET was not a direct financial incentive. He suggested that if the Liberal Party instead proposed a requirement for storage to be part of new renewable energy projects, “we’d be getting somewhere”.

Clean Energy Council Chief Executive Kane Thornton told InDaily that, with or without the state’s RET, “whenever we’re going to have [future] investment in energy in Australia, it’s going to be in renewable energy”.

He said that the high costs associated with new fossil fuel power stations were prohibitive for investors.

He added that while scrapping the state target would make renewable energy investors “nervous”, the impact would be “limited because those investments are still supported by the federal government’s policy”.

SA headed for 95% renewables: 2016 report

Late last year, a report from global financial services company Deutsche Bank found that, on its current trajectory, South Australia would produce 95 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.

“In 2014, South Australia introduced a target to be at 50 per cent renewable generation by 2025, and has a committed $10 billion investment target by this date,” the report reads.

“We expect the state to easily achieve this, currently at 40 per cent [renewable energy] and with a significant development pipeline.

“We assess that after closures the state would be long 4.5TWh of energy and be 95 per cent renewable – far above the current 50 per cent target.”

However, a State Government spokesperson described the report at the time as “extremely speculative”.

“It assumes current gas generation in South Australia will exit the market, something that is not forecast by AEMO – gas will be a key lower emissions fuel to support the transition to a carbon constrained future energy supply,” the spokesperson said.

Marshall can’t “have it both ways”: Parnell

SA Greens Leader Mark Parnell said in a statement that Marshall’s position on climate change and renewables was inconsistent.

“Steven Marshall makes no sense when in the same breath he accepts the science of climate change, but dismisses action to combat global warming as ideological”, Parnell said.

“He can’t have it both ways.

“If you accept the science of climate change, you accept the urgency – if you accept the urgency, you need to do something about it.”

He argued that handing control of renewable energy policy to the Coalition Government would lock the state into inaction on climate change into the future.

ACF climate change campaigner Gavan McFadzean said that “by lining up behind [Prime Minister] Malcolm Turnbull, the Queensland, Victorian and SA oppositions have shown they are not ready to guide their states into the future”.

“Coal is turbo-charging the heatwaves and bushfires we’re experiencing this summer and coal is the driving force behind the coral bleaching that damaged huge sections of the Great Barrier Reef last year.”

Turnbull was told renewables didn’t cause September blackout

Emails released under freedom of information and published in part by Fairfax Media this morning, showed Turnbull’s officials were advised the morning after last year’s statewide blackout that the problem had not been SA’s heavy reliance on wind power.

“[Electricity market regulator] AEMO’s advice is that the generation mix (ie renewable or fossil fuel) was not to blame for yesterday’s events – it was the loss of 1000 MW of power in such a short space of time as transmission lines fell over,” one email read, Fairfax reported.

Turnbull insisted this morning that the introduction of a massive amount of wind energy made the SA grid very vulnerable.

“Of course windmills did not cause a blackout. The blackout, as I have said many times, was caused by a storm breaching transmission lines,” he said.

“That’s perfectly obvious.”

Turnbull said renewables had a very big place in Australia’s energy mix.

But he said wind and solar shared one characteristic: wind didn’t blow all the time and the sun wasn’t always shining.

“So you have to have either storage or backup power to keep the lights on and to ensure that energy is secure and affordable and you meet your targets,” he said.

-with AAP

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