Following the long and widespread electricity blackout in South Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull took a swipe at Labor governments for their renewable targets, South Australia’s reliance on renewable electricity was widely defended, while NSW electricians are worried about it happening in that state.
The Prime Minister
Mr Turnbull said, reported in The Conversation, that there was no doubt that heavy reliance on intermittent renewables “does place very different strains and pressures on a grid than reliance on traditional base load power”.
“Energy security should always be the key priority,” he said. “Now, 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.” He said this was not just SA but the same observation could be made about Queensland and Victoria.
Queensland to the rescue
The Queensland Government-owned transmission company, Powerlink Queensland, has offered assistance to South Australia to restore its electricity supplies, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.
Ms Palaszczuk said Powerlink had offered to assist ElectraNet with recovery efforts after storms severely damaged its electricity transmission network.
Powerlink, on behalf of the Queensland Government, owned a minority stake in ElectraNet until December 2012.
“Powerlink is uniquely placed to assist ElectraNet,” the Premier said. “Powerlink has contacted their colleagues at ElectraNet to let them know that Powerlink is here to help as required.”
Powerlink Queensland chief executive Merryn York said Powerlink was mobilising special temporary tower structures that can replace damaged towers in the short term and help restore electricity supply in the safest possible manner.
“Our expert design team can also provide rapid design solutions to help rebuild damaged infrastructure,” she said.
“Powerlink can also provide on-the-ground crews to travel to South Australia and assist with restoration efforts.”
It’s not the wind power
It was reported by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) that the cause of the outages was the high winds bringing down powerlines, which would have caused the same outages regardless of the nature of generation.
The Greens called Mr Turnbull’s attack on renewables reprehensible and reactionary.
“The storms in South Australia show we need more renewable energy to tackle climate change, not less,” said the Greens’ energy & climate change spokesperson, Adam Bandt.
“Using a severe storm to attack renewables is a reprehensible act from a Prime Minister who should know better.
“Climate change is threatening our way of life and driving storms like the ones that we’ve seen in South Australia.
“The storms and power outage in South Australia are a wake-up call, showing the country what will happen if we don’t get off fossil fuels and on to renewables.
The Climate Council has called South Australia’s storm ‘a disturbing preview of what’s likely to come if Australia fails to act on climate change’, ‘occurring in a warmer and wetter atmosphere’.
Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth Australia said the South Australian storm was a wake-up call to act on climate change and disaster preparedness.
“As emergency workers assist South Australians with the fallout from a historic storm that knocked down multiple power lines, causing a blackout across the state, national environment organisation Friends of the Earth say the storm is a wake-up call to act on climate change and disaster preparedness.
“Playing politics while South Australians deal with an unprecedented natural disaster is dangerous and the community expects better. The facts are that climate change is set to increase the number of extreme weather events, yet ideologues have wasted no time in blaming renewables for the state-wide blackout,” said Cam Walker, Friends of the Earth’s campaigns coordinator.
“Analysis of the National Electricity Market shows wind generators were providing reliable renewable energy at the time the storm hit and were ordered to shut down alongside all other generators.”
The professionals agree…
The leader of the body representing electrical professionals in South Australia has hit back at claims by political figures that South Australia’s commitment to renewable energy was the cause of last night’s state-wide blackout, saying that they were ill-informed and malicious.
“The people making these claims don’t know what they’re talking about,” Communication Electrical and Plumbing Union South Australia secretary John Adley said.
“The outage is simply being used by friends of the coal industry to bash renewables.
“It doesn’t matter how you generate your electricity, when 22 transmission towers blow over in an extreme weather event, the power goes off.”
Mr Adley said that, if anything, renewable energy sources had the potential to create a more secure electricity supply system.
“When you have widespread use of distributed generation technologies like PV solar in homes, the network is actually less vulnerable to events like this, because your supply is not purely linear,” he said.
“But an event of this magnitude that was capable of tripping out the interconnector with Victoria is going to cause havoc on an electricity grid without regard to the type of technology used to generate the power.”
… and are worried
The axing of more than 2,600 front-line power workers since 2012 has left NSW at risk of falling victim to similar chaos to that experienced in South Australia during the past 24 hours, the Electrical Trades Union has warned.
The union said cuts, overseen by the state and federal governments over the past four years, had drastically reduced the number of skilled workers available to respond to major incidents, natural disasters and wild weather, leaving the public at risk of lengthy power outages.
ETU assistant secretary Dave McKinley said the number of front-line power workers across NSW had shrunk by a quarter since 2012, leaving the state increasingly vulnerable to the kind of extreme weather event that struck South Australia.
“What has occurred in South Australia could easily happen in NSW,” Mr McKinley said.
“Whilst it is impossible to prevent network damage caused by wild winds and extreme weather, the ability to restore power for consumers is dependent on having the skilled workers available to respond.
“In NSW, we have seen more than a quarter of the entire workforce slashed in the last four years, including 1,385 workers at Ausgrid, 446 from Endeavour Energy, and 800 from Essential Energy.
“When the next disaster inevitably hits, this loss of skilled workers will have a devastating effect on response times and the speed at which power can be reconnected, particularly in the event of a state-wide natural disaster.
“The situation had been exacerbated by the NSW Government’s decision to respond to a recent ruling by the Federal Government’s energy regulator by further slashing the number of front-line power workers.
“We are urging [the power companies] to take a good hard look at the resources they have available moving forward, so they can ensure they have the skilled workers and specialist equipment needed to respond to similar events when they occur in NSW.”