POLITICS

Malcolm Turnbull Takes On Labor States Over Blackout

While 70,000 people are sitting in darkness, the political debate trudges on.

29/09/2016 10:12 AM AEST | Updated 29/09/2016 11:56 AM AEST
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Bureau of Meteorology
A "once in generation" weather event.

CANBERRA – Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has turned on state Labor governments over their renewable energy targets as federal politicians blame South Australia's wind farms as well as extraordinary "cyclonic" weather for the state's catastrophic power blackout.

Power is still being restored after the state was plunged into darkness after "almost cyclonic force," "once in 50 year" storms and 80,000 lightning strikes hit Wednesday afternoon.

Twenty-three power transmission towers were ripped out of the ground and have been destroyed, causing a cascade effect and tripping national safeguards which shut down the power supply to the state.

Mr Turnbull said an "extreme weather event" was the immediate cause of the blackout, but has joined Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and South Australia Senator Nick Xenophon in being concerned about the state's heavy reliance on "intermittent" renewable energy such as wind and solar power.

More than 40 percent of the state's power comes from wind generation and wind turbines cannot run in severe weather when the winds are too strong.

"These intermittent renewables do post real challenges," the Prime Minister told reporters in Hobart.

"Now, I regret to say that a number of the state Labor Governments have over the years set priorities and renewable targets that are extremely aggressive, extremely unrealistic, and have paid little or no attention to energy security."

"This is not just focused on South Australia, but the same observation can be made about Queensland or indeed Victoria."

The South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has accused federal politicians of playing politics with the blackout, including Mr Joyce who he said was conducting a "jihad" against wind farms.

"When there is a crisis people pull out their agendas," he said.

"You have got these essentially ignorant remarks being made by Barnaby Joyce because he hates wind farms and he decided to play politics with a crisis."

The Flinders News
Premier Jay Weatherill at the Snowtown Stage 2 wind farm opening. November 2014

The Premier insists the state's heavy reliance on renewable energy had nothing to do with the state wide blackout.

"It is a misunderstanding that there is no base load power. The base load power was operating in South Australia at the time this occurred," Weatherill told RN Breakfast.

"If this had happened 20 years ago when there was no renewable energy the same thing would have happened."

"This was a weather event, not a renewable energy event."

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg and the Chair of the Australian Energy Market Operator Dr Tony Marxsen have been stressing Thursday that the blackout was a "weather event."

Mr Frydenberg will chair an emergency meeting of state and territory energy ministers in the next few days, saying there may be "changes that we can make to strengthen the resilience of the system."

Andrew Meares, Fairfax
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce says SA is too reliant on wind power

The Deputy Prime Minister is demanding answers.

"Even if there is a major storm, it should not be the case that you have a major blackout across a whole state," Joyce told Newsradio.

"There is a lot of effort that has gone in South Australia about their renewable energy target. Maybe if the same competent effort went into actually making sure that an event such as this, a storm such as this -- and another storm like this will at some stage in the future happen again -- is there the capacity to handle it."

Senator Xenophon said the state wide outage was a disgrace.

"We've relied too much on wind. This is a problem of the failure of the interconnector (with Victoria), clearly failures of transmission," Xenophon said.

But Premier Weatherill said it was a national electricity market and the system operated as it was meant to operate.

"So it operated to essentially trip the system much like an electricity switch you might have at home which trips your power if there is a faulty part of the system," he said.

"The idea of that is to protect infrastructure and the generation assets so that you can then begin to re-power the system once you have identified that fault and isolated it so that you can get power back on.

"Otherwise it could be weeks before you could get back up."

Power has been restored to 90 percent of the state and the Premier says 75,000 households are still without power.

About 30,000 homes are expected to have power restored by the end of the day, but Mr Weatherill says properties on the remote Eyre Peninsula may have to contend with the blackout for a few more days.

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