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Weatherill turns his energy attack on the media

Local

Premier Jay Weatherill has continued his aggressive sales pitch for his energy plan, accusing the Murdoch media empire's national newspaper of conducting a "jihad" against renewable energy.

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Under questioning today about two 2009 reports provided to the State Government which warned that the increased penetration of wind power in the local market could destabilise the system, Weatherill flatly denied that renewables had led to any blackouts in South Australia.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has drawn attention to the reports, prepared for the Department of Premier and Cabinet, which found that South Australia should not go beyond 20 per cent of generation being provided via wind energy, or the stability of the grid would be affected.

However, Weatherill said South Australia’s experience since 2009 had proven the warnings to be incorrect.

“The evidence is manifest – we’ve had eight years of the operation of the system and there hasn’t been a blackout as a consequence of the increase in renewable energy,” he said, while touring a renewable energy company’s premises at Tonsley this morning.

When questioned by journalists about how he should make such a claim given last year’s state-wide blackout, he said: “I’ve just said it and there’s no evidence to the contrary.”

He then turned his attack on The Australian newspaper’s coverage of South Australia’s energy problems, pointing to a departmental memo given to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull the day after the September blackout which concluded that the event had been caused by storms.

“I know that’s inconvenient for The Australian and I know that they’re wanting to continue their jihad against renewable energy but all of the evidence is to the contrary,” he said.

“Renewables are a given – they are our future. What is in error here is the absence of a national price on carbon.

“Renewable energy is the future for South Australia and for the nation. The thing is that those who are opposed to renewable energy are losing the argument… they’re becoming increasingly shrill.”

Xenophon told ABC radio today that while he believed Weatherill’s energy plan announced last week was a good one, it was reasonable to ask whether problems with the electricity grid could have been avoided if the Government had listened to independent advice in 2009.

Weatherill last week garnered national attention when he took on federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg during a live-to-air press conference over what he said was the Federal Government’s anti-South Australian approach to the energy debate.

The Premier has been campaigning hard to sell his $550 million energy plan, but since then he has been faced with repeated questions about the Government’s discussions with Alinta, the owner of the Port Augusta coal-fired power plant which was closed last year.

The Opposition claims the company offered to keep the station open at relatively low cost. FOI documents back the proposition that an offer was made.

In a leaders’ debate with Opposition Leader Steven Marshall on Friday, Weatherill appeared to deny that any such offer had been made, but quickly modified his answer to suggest that the company didn’t make any offer that suited South Australia’s needs.

He repeated the claim today.

“We know that there was no offer to us that met our needs,” he said.

“We’re not interested in coal-fired stations.”

Weatherill wouldn’t reveal whether the Government would release Alinta’s offer if the company agreed to waive confidentiality, saying he would need to take “advice” on the issue.

However, he rejected claims that he was pleased the power station had closed.

He said it was “a sad thing that the power station had to close in the way it did”, adding that coal-fired power stations were closing across the nation “in an unplanned way”. This could have been avoided if there was a price on carbon.

Liberal deputy leader Vickie Chapman said the Government needed to come clean on the Alinta proposal.

She also attacked the Government for spending $500,000 on an advertising campaign to promote the State Government’s energy plan.

“The advertising campaign is a scandalous misuse of public money,” she said.

“Jay Weatherill’s energy policy failures have cost South Australians dearly and now he is making us fund an advertising campaign designed to cover-up his culpability.”

Weatherill said the campaign was needed to reassure South Australians and counter reputational damage caused by external criticism of the state’s energy security.

He believed his own appearance in the campaign was allowed within State Government guidelines preventing taxpayers’ money being spent on political advertising.

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