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Energy debate heats up after another South Australia blackout

Wind farm

Another major power outage in South Australia has again raised questions over the reliability of the state’s energy infrastructure, and has fuelled talks over a second interconnector linking the South Australian network with the East Coast energy market.

200,000 homes and businesses were left without power for several hours on December 1, with South Australian treasurer Tom Koutsantonis saying a fault on the Victorian side of the Heywood Interconnector had triggered the outage.

“At 1.03am the South Australian electricity grid disconnected from the National Energy Market,” Koutsantonis said last week. “It has been confirmed that the fault that triggered the interconnector to disconnect occurred on the Victoria side.”

To protect the system, Koutsantonis said, load shedding occurred, impacting 200,000 customers.

The Heywood Interconnector was back online at 5.11am.

The incident has further fuelled debate over South Australia’s energy infrastructure. Earlier this year, BHP’s Olympic Dam operations were among those put at risk of severe damage during an extended blackout that was the result of a major weather event.

Renewable energy critics have seized the situation to flame South Australia’s heavy reliance on wind turbines for electricity production.

Indeed, a review of the extended blackout in September found a significant portion of generation from wind farms was pulled off the grid during the weather event, combining with other infrastructure outages to put too much demand on the Heywood Interconnector, triggering a total shutdown.

Some have said the blackout was evidence South Australia was too reliant on wind energy, which is not as reliable as traditional thermal energy production.

Others have said the incident was simply evidence the state needs to be better connected with the National Energy Market – the market which connects the eastern states to one another. South Australia and Tasmania are the only two states in the NEM who have just one interconnector linking them to the rest of the market.

Last week’s incident has further extended both sides of that argument.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was criticised for comments last week suggesting the outage was the fault of the state government for its heavy reliance on renewables.

“Well you’ve had a state Government that has pursued renewables from an ideological point of view,” the PM said on Adelaide radio the morning after the outage.

“Again I want to be very clear about this, I am totally non-ideological about renewables versus fossil fuels versus any other source, solar, wind, etc. All of them can contribute to our energy mix and all of them do.

“But you have to take the ideology out of this. Take that Left ideology that somehow or another we can pursue these enormous energy targets.”

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill blasted the PM for the comments.

“The Prime Minister’s comments blaming renewable energy are dishonest,” Weatherill said. “Right now, we need leadership from the Prime Minister on an issue we all know he is passionate about.”

Weatherill called on Turnbull to “stand up to the right wing of his party and reject its pro-coal agenda, not take the low road of trashing renewables”.

“South Australians are sick of being attacked by the Federal Government. Just because we are at the end of the River Murray and at the end of the electricity network doesn’t mean South Australians should be shafted.”

Koutsantonis said the incident should be further evidence the state needs an interconnector to be built to New South Wales.

“If we had a second interconnector to the Eastern States load could have been drawn that jurisdiction to prevent power outages,” the state treasurer said.

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