Jay Weatherill lifts SA renewable energy target to 75pc, energy election heats up

Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg has likened South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill to a problem gambler "doubling down to chase his losses" after the state lifted its renewable energy target to 75 per cent by 2025.

Mr Weatherill, who faces an election on March 17 in which energy policy is one of the main issues, said on Wednesday he believed the majority of voters backed the ambitious move to lift the target.

"They don't want us to stop," Mr Weatherill said on Wednesday as he aimed to attract even more investment from big renewable energy players like Tesla.

He announced that Carnegie Clean Energy would set up a storage battery project with rooftop solar panels to form a "microgrid" at the former Holden car-making factory to supply power to future tenants of the site, which is being converted into a business park.

He also said the strong stance on renewable energy targets would attract even more investment from renewables firms. "We're sending a signal to the world," he said.

Mr Weatherill also revealed that South Australia had also set a 25 per cent target for renewable energy storage, and had injected an extra $20 million into a $150 million Renewable Technology Fund set up last year to attract investment.

'He is a problem gambler'

But the new 75 per cent target was labelled as a "thought bubble" by Mr Frydenberg, who had a public stoush with Mr Weatherill in the garage of a suburban Adelaide house in March, 2017.

"He is a problem gambler doubling down to chase his losses," Mr Frydenberg said. "Unfortunately South Australia has the least reliable grid".

He said that South Australian businesses and households were paying prices 20 per cent higher than other states, because the state had been too aggressive in its pursuit of renewables at the expense of a seamless transition which had hurt reliability and lifted prices.

"Weatherill has mismanaged the transition. Prices are higher as a result," Mr Frydenberg said.

Elon Musk's Tesla and French company Neoen have built the world's biggest storage battery near Jamestown in the state's mid-north as part of Mr Weatherill's $550 million energy fix-it plan for the state last year which also included a diesel-powered fast start generator to be turned on in emergencies.

There have also been several other big investments made in solar energy and wind power.

Tesla is also part of an $800 million virtual power plant project announced in early February.

Aggressive target

South Australia now generates 48.9 per cent of its energy production from renewable energy and has been the most aggressive of the Australian states in the take-up of renewables.

Mr Weatherill said the upping of the target to 75 per cent would deliver more investment as he cited projects involving Tesla's Elon Musk which have generated global headlines.

He said the federal government's National Energy Guarantee proposal was a "sell-out proposition", and his own plans were a major contrast in cultivating the industries of the future.

South Australia previously had a renewable energy target of 50 per cent which was set in September, 2014.

South Australian Liberal leader Steven Marshall wants to remove renewable energy targets, but has committed to a $100 million subsidy scheme which is means-tested to help households put storage batteries into their homes.

He has also proposed a $200 million fund to beef up the state's inter-connectors to the eastern states grid. He said the 75 per cent renewables target was a recipe for higher prices and was "lazy" policy.

Mr Frydenberg also announced on Wednesday that the federal government, via its Australian Renewable Energy Agency entity known as ARENA, was injecting $1 million into two separate feasibility studies for pumped hydro energy storage in the state.

Energy Australia will be given $500,000 for its Cultana sea-water project, while Zen Energy and SIMEC Mining will get $500,000 for phase one of a feasibility study into a pumped hydro project near Whyalla.

It is part of British billionaire Sanjeev Gupta's overall plans to reinvigorate the Whyalla steelworks and build a large energy business in Australia as well.

75pc 'easy', says Garnaut

SIMEC Zen Energy president Ross Garnaut said on Wednesday he thought the 75 per cent target would be reached without jeopardising the security of the electricity grid.

"Given the momentum in renewables and the mechanisms for firming renewables in South Australia, 75 per cent by 2025 is easily achievable without risk to security and reliability," Mr Garnaut said.

Mr Gupta bought a 51 per cent stake in Zen Energy to advance his broader plans in building an Australian energy business together with an overhaul of the former Arrium steel and mining operations.

SA Best leader Nick Xenophon is yet to formally unveil his energy policy for the state election, but his candidates have slogans such as "We'll Lower Power Bills" plastered on their election posters on power poles around Adelaide.


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FEB 22 2018
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