SA outage and the politics of renewables - and survival

30 September 2016 1:47 pm

It pretty much sums up the state of politics in Australia.

Thousands are still without power and there are now flood warnings across Australia. Instead of coming up with practical solutions like battery storage and micro-girids to store electricity in the next blackout, Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals have turned a natural disaster which has turned so many lives upside down and hurt business into an attack on renewables.

Turnbull, who in a former life was the Coalition's strongest advocate for redressing climate change, used Wednesday evening's statewide blackout to condemn "extremely aggressive, extremely unrealistic" renewable energy targets set by Labor state governments.

Now he is telling the states governments to cut their ambitious renewable energy targets in half and adopt a national target. If they don’t, he says, they risk further serious power network failures.

He said state Labor governments in SA, Victoria and Queensland had set "extremely aggressive, extremely unrealistic" renewable targets which were more ideological statements rather than realistic policies.

This is despite the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), which runs the national electricity market, saying the reason for the “cascading failure” of the network is still to be identified. But it declares the mix between renewables and non-renewables was not a factor. Writing on The Conversation website, Roger Dargaville, Deputy Director, Energy Research Institute at the University of Melbourne says it may become apparent that there are weaknesses in the grid that need addressing. “However it is hard to imagine how the high penetration of renewable energy in the state could be implicated in this incident,’’ Dargaville says.

So what’s going on here? As Michelle Grattan says, Turnbull’s tone on renewables was out of sync with what we understand to be his general position on climate and related issues. It is the latest example of Turnbull not sounding like Turnbull.

The bottom line is this: renewables and climate change are among the ideological trigger points in Australian politics.

Let’s not forget that Turnbull originally lost his leadership in 2009 because of his position on climate change. Inside the Coalition, there is a gang of climate sceptics who have Turnbull by the short and curlies. They include Denis Jensen, Chris Back, Andrew Laming, Cory Bernardi, Barnaby Joyce, George Christensen

Turnbull is not one for turning on his party’s policy, and potentially risking a repeat of 2009. Not with the latest Newspoll showing the Coalition government has dipped to its lowest primary vote under Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministership.

Malcolm Turnbull has turned South Australia’s disaster into a debate about renewables to protect his own position.

Spare a thought for those hit by the storm.