Fri, Jul 27, 2018 - Page 9 News List

South Australia on track to meet 75 percent renewables target

The Liberal energy minister, who inherited a policy criticized as a mix of ‘ideology and idiocy,’ says he will ensure it does not come at too high a price

By Adam Morton  /  The Guardian

South Australia Minister for Energy and Mining Dan van Holst Pellekaan said the state is on track to have 75 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025 — the target set by the state’s former Labor premier, Jay Weatherill, and once rejected by the Liberal government.

Van Holst Pellekaan pledged to ensure it does not come at too high a price.

The Liberal Party was highly critical of Weatherill’s target when it was announced during this year’s South Australian election campaign, with then-state opposition leader Steven Marshall pledging to scrap it and Australian Minister for the Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg likening Weatherill to a clean energy addicted gambler “doubling down to chase his losses.”

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had earlier described Weatherill’s renewable energy policy as “ideology and idiocy in equal measure.”

However, several expert analyses have found the state is likely to meet or nearly meet the aspirational target, which was not tied to a policy mechanism.

The Australian Energy Market Operator has projected South Australia would have 73 percent renewable power by 2020-2021, while consultants Green Energy Markets found it could reach 74 percent by 2025 without any additional policies being introduced.

Van Holst Pellekaan said that was also his understanding.

“That’s what the reports I’ve read are saying,” he said. “We need to harness it properly so consumers aren’t paying too high a price along the way.”

Van Holst Pellekaan has responsibility for shaping the future of energy in a state that already gets about half its electricity from variable sources, such as wind and solar, a situation that Weatherill described in 2015 as “a big international experiment.”

The new minister has inherited some of Labor’s proposed solutions, including a giant lithium-ion battery, a 20-year power purchase contract to underwrite a solar thermal plant with built-in storage and a “virtual power plant” of solar and batteries across public housing sites.

He assumed the energy portfolio in March amid intense debate over the future of the national electricity market, which connects the four eastern states and South Australia.

Frydenberg is attempting to design the government’s national energy guarantee policy so that it can win backing from the states, the Coalition party room and federal parliament.

Labor wants it to allow a future government to ramp up the proposed 2030 emissions target for the electricity grid of a 26 percent cut below 2005 levels. Some federal Coalition members want taxpayers to support or underwrite new or existing coal-fired power plants.

Speaking in his electorate office in Port Augusta, home to the state’s coal power until the last plant closed in 2016, and now with up to 13 clean energy at varying stages of development, including the solar thermal project, Van Holst Pellekaan said the shift from coal to more clean energy had been messier than it needed to be, but was inevitable.

“We must transition away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it, and we need to do it sensibly.”

He said he believed the former Labor government had made a mistake in not paying Alinta Energy the US$24 million it had requested to keep the Northern coal plant at Port Augusta open for another three years while more renewable energy was built, as it would have avoided “an enormous amount of pain” in local job losses and a spike in the wholesale electricity price.

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