Taxpayers in South Australia face being slugged tens of millions of dollars for dirty carbon dioxide-emitting diesel generators the Weatherill government wants shipped in by December to prevent pre-election blackouts.
Premier Jay Weatherill has contracted the privately owned SA Power Networks, despite it being an electricity distributor rather than a generator, to install 200 megawatts of back-up “interim” generation across the state by December.
It cost the Tasmanian government more than $11 million a month to run 100MW of diesel power generators early last year when its interconnection to the mainland was down and low dam levels affected its hydro-electric scheme.
The South Australian move is aimed at ensuring there are no more embarrassing blackouts before the state’s Labor government seeks a historic fifth term at an election set for March 17 next year.
Mr Weatherill, an ideological opponent of dirty fuels such as coal, released a $550m “self-sufficient” six-point energy plan on Tuesday that included a $360m gas-fired power plant and $150m renewable technology fund, but key elements may not be in place by next summer.
Taking no chances of further blackouts cruelling his prospect of re-election, the Premier insisted the state could not afford to wait on energy security and he must act with “urgency”.
Energy experts say 200MW of diesel generation would produce about 0.745kg Co2 per kWh. This compares with brown coal at 0.98kg of Co2/kWh and natural gas at 0.555kg of Co2/kWh. However, the exact amount of emissions produced is dependent on how efficient individual generators are.
Mr Weatherill said yesterday that the state government would “prefer to have cleaner forms of generation” but made no apologies for turning to dirty diesel generators as a temporary fix.
SAPN, in a brief statement to The Australian yesterday, said preliminary talks had been held with the government about the Premier’s plan to “install temporary generation by December 1 to support energy supply for the community next summer”.
Spokesman Paul Roberts said SAPN would “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”.
He said the December 1 goal was “challenging and will require early identification of sufficient generation; suitable sites; and expedited approvals from government, and regulatory and energy market bodies”.
Mr Weatherill said next summer would be challenging for the state, with the closure at the end of this month of Victoria’s coal-fired Hazelwood Power Station, upon which South Australia relies via an interconnector for stable baseload power.
“Hazelwood closing will put a lot of pressure on Victoria’s capacity to assist,” he said.
“We want to be less reliant on Victoria and NSW and we’ve got to act immediately. Summer is going to be difficult. We want the battery there before summer.
“If I can get the (gas-fired) generator here before summer that would be great, but that is going to be tough.”
Mr Weatherill conceded yesterday that the interim temporary generation would likely involve diesel-powered generators, but sought to blame SAPN.
“We’ll be asking SA Power Networks to essentially provide for that; now how they meet that need is a matter for them,” he said.
Mr Weatherill has said the $550m cost of his energy plan would be covered by the state’s projected budget surpluses.
Asked yesterday if his plan included the money required to pay for the back-up diesel generators, the Premier said: “Sure, that’s contained within the envelope.
“You’ll see how we account for that in the (state) budget.”
Steps had already been taken to start procuring the temporary generation, he said. “We need to make sure there is no gap between sourcing some temporary generation and getting it connected.
“We want generators that can meet South Australia’s needs, we don’t have a preference.”
Opposition Leader Steven Marshall said he was gobsmacked that burning dirty diesel fuel was part of the Premier’s energy plan.
“First Jay Weatherill forced individual consumers to buy back-up diesel generators, now he’s forcing the entire state to be reliant on back-up diesel generators,” Mr Marshall said.
“Since Jay Weatherill forced the (coal-fired) Northern Power Station to close down, South Australians have suffered blackouts, price hikes and now tax rises to pay for that foolish decision.”
The Premier and Energy Minister and Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis donned hi-vis vests at Adelaide airport yesterday to inspect a rooftop solar array, as they announced a two-week window for local and international businesses to express an interest in building Australia’s biggest battery, with about $120m of taxpayers’ money on offer.
Billionaire Tesla boss Elon Musk has already expressed interest in the project, along with local companies such as South Australia’s Zen Energy.