Renewables v coal: Blame game over SA blackouts continues

Police direct traffic after a blackout following storms in Adelaide (AAP) Source: AAP

The prime minister says Labor's ideological approach to renewable energy is turning off the lights in SA.

The federal and South Australian governments are blaming each other after the state was forced to cut power to close to 100,000 people on Wednesday evening.

While the power is back on, the Coalition says South Australia's reliance on green energy has left it open to more blackouts and a return to coal fired power might be the answer.

"Affordable energy is what Australian businesses need to remain competitive," Treasurer Scott Morrison told Question Time on Thursday. 

"They can't fizzle out in the dark as those opposite would have them do, as businesses in South Australia are now confronting."

To illustrate his point Mr Morrison brought a lump of coal onto the floor of Parliament.

"This is coal - don't be afraid, don't be scared. It's coal, it was dug up by men and women who work and live in the electorates of those who sit opposite," he said.

Many South Australians sweltered without electricity and with temperatures reaching nearly 40 degrees.

Market power prices surged to over 100 times the normal price, and because supply did not meet demand the Australian Energy Market Operator ordered the state to cut power to around 90,000 customers for nearly 40 minutes.

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill was furious and on Thursday said it was "totally and utterly unacceptable", pointing out that it didn't need to happen.

"South Australia is now on its own in the national electricity market. It's on its own because the national energy market operator is unable to run a system which guarantees us security of supply," Premier Weatherill said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the state has left itself vulnerable because of its heavy reliance on renewable energies, like solar and wind power.

South Australia has a renewable energy target of 50 per cent by 2025 and one of the highest uses of wind power in the world.

"When they have their biggest heatwave, there is no wind. When there is no wind, all their windmills are not generating electricity and they haven't planned for that," Mr Turnbull said.

The federal government said competence is lacking in the South Australian Labor government, which prompted federal Labor leader Bill Shorten to defend his state counterparts. 

"We need to find out what happened, make sure the national energy grid is working properly and we need to make sure it doesn't happen again," Mr Shorten said. 

Australia Treasurer Scott Morrison
Australia's Treasurer Scott Morrison looks at a piece of coal during House of Representatives QT at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017.

"That is what people want from us. Not everyone pointing the finger at everybody else."

The Coalition has listed energy security and affordability as one of its priorities for 2017.

The Prime Minister said South Australia moved to renewables too quickly and needs a new baseload power station, fired by so-called 'clean coal'.

The South Australian government has promised to take dramatic action but hasn't given any further detail on what that means.

"One option is to completely nationalise the system. That's an extraordinary option, it would involve breaking contracts and exposing us to sovereign risk and the SA taxpayers to extraordinary sums of money," Premier Jay Weatherill said. 

It's not the first time South Australia has gone dark, with the entire state impacted by a blackout after severe storms last year.

The head of the Australian Industry Group, Innes Willox said the energy security debate is hurting business confidence.

"We're rapidly getting into the too hard basket when it comes to international boardrooms," Mr Willox said. 

"International boardrooms are going to look at Australia, say we have no energy certainty, no energy security, let's look somewhere else for our investment, it's all too hard."

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