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Jay's race to install back-up generation

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SA Power Networks says it will race to meet a "challenging" December deadline set by the State Government to install a series of back-up generators across South Australia to prevent blackouts next summer.

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While the state waits for the key elements of Premier Jay Weatherill’s $550 million energy plan to be built, SA Power Networks has revealed that it will install 200 megawatts of back-up generation by December 2017.

With a state election looming in March, Weatherill says he’s hoping to have a centrepiece of yesterday’s plan – Australia’s “largest” battery – installed by summer, and hasn’t entirely ruled out the “unlikely” prospect of a new gas-fired plant being built this year.

However, the Government is taking no chances on a pre-election power shortage, with distributor SA Power Networks being asked to supply conventional back-up – possibly diesel-powered – in time for summer.

In a statement provided to InDaily, SA Power Networks said the plan’s timing was challenging.

“SA Power Networks has had preliminary discussions with the State Government and is pleased to support its plan to install temporary generation by 1 December 2017 to support energy supply for the community next summer,” a spokesman said.

“We will assist the government to procure and install 200MW of generation at yet to be finalised locations and ensure safe connection into the SA distribution network.

“While the 1 December 2017 goal is challenging and will require early identification of sufficient generation; suitable sites; and expedited approvals from government, regulatory and energy market bodies; we are focused on assisting in delivering improved generation supply options for the people of South Australia.”

The spokesman said the generation was likely to be spread across a “few” large sites.

Weatherill agreed today that next summer would be a challenge for the state, particularly with the imminent closure of Victoria’s Hazelwood coal-fired power station.

“Absolutely and we’ve got Hazelwood closing which will put a lot of pressure on Victoria’s capacity to assist,” the Premier told FIVEaa.

“We want to be less reliant on Victoria and New South Wales and we’ve got to act immediately. This plan will start rolling out from today and you’ll see further announcements throughout the course of this week.

“You’re right though – summer’s gonna be difficult. We want the battery there before summer. If I can get the generator here before summer that’d be great but that’s gonna be tough.”

The two key elements of Weatherill’s plan, announced yesterday, include funding Australia’s “largest” battery to store energy from South Australia’s renewable power generation, and the construction of a government-owned $360 million gas-fired power plant.

While that plant is designed to be in place “as soon as possible”, the plan flagged temporary measures to fill any gaps in supply during extreme peaks.

These measures are likely to be anything but green, with diesel generation one choice under consideration by SA Power Networks.

Weatherill said today the interim options could include diesel-powered generators, but may also be hybrid gas.

The costs would be revealed in the State Budget.

“We’ll be asking SA Power Networks to essentially provide for that; now how they meet that need is a matter for them,” he told ABC radio. “We’d prefer it to be as clean as possible, but it may be a hybrid generator which uses gas or other technologies.”

When Tasmania faced a power crisis last year, caused by low dam levels affecting its hydro-electric scheme and its interconnector to the mainland being out of action, it brought in 100MW of diesel generators at a reported cost of $11 million per month.

Opposition Leader Steven Marshall said burning diesel fuel was part of Weatherill’s energy plan.

“Hidden inside the book that Jay Weatherill is walking around clutching to his chest is a plan to burn huge amounts of diesel,” he said.

“Labor’s plan to ship in massive diesel generators is an admission that the electricity generation mix in South Australia is wrong.

“It’s an expensive measure that doesn’t appear to have been properly accounted for in their half a billion dollar proposal.”

Meanwhile, Weatherill hasn’t ruled out the new gas-fired plant being in place by next summer.

“That’s unlikely but we’re … given some very, we think, heroic estimates about how quick it should be,” he said. “We don’t necessarily believe them but some people are telling us it could be that quick.”

The plant would need to be built near both gas supply and a large transmission network.

“There’s any number of locations – we haven’t selected a site.”

The Government announced this morning that it was pushing ahead immediately to procure “Australia’s largest battery” through its new $150 million Renewable Technology Fund.

A two-week Expressions of Interest period has opened, with the Government seeking an Australian or international company to build, operate and maintain the battery which must have a capacity of 100MW and “be operational in time for this summer”.

Billionaire Tesla boss Elon Musk has already expressed interest in the project, along with local companies such as South Australia’s Zen Energy.

Weatherill today indicated that Tesla might have an edge, saying the high-profile giant’s reputation could be a bonus for South Australia.

“The criteria that we’ll be using to consider this is, of course, its (a company’s) technical capacity to do the job, second to get in place by summer – we want it here as soon as possible – and thirdly we will be considering some of the collateral benefits,” he told a press conference.

“So industry development – if people are talking about setting up factories here and creating South Australian jobs, the reputational benefit of having a company that’s of the significance of Tesla coming here to South Australia could be a consideration. All of these things will be weighed up and put into the tender process.”

He said that while he’d “love” to see a South Australian company win the tender, there would be other opportunities for local businesses through the Renewable Technology Fund.

Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis said the grid-scale battery would store renewable energy “24 hours, seven days a week”.

“If the wind is blowing in the middle of the night, we can use that power when people wake up,” he said.

“The State Government is setting ambitious timeframes to build Australia’s largest grid-scale battery, but we believe these timeframes are achievable.”

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