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Renewables not to blame for South Australia blackout

AUSTRALIA: A cyclonic storm that left the whole of the state of South Australia without electricity for several hours has prompted a new political row over the role of wind power in the country.

Radar image shows the storm approaching South Australia's coast on Wednesday evening (pic: Bureau of Meteorology, South Australia)
Radar image shows the storm approaching South Australia's coast on Wednesday evening (pic: Bureau of Meteorology, South Australia)

The storm, described as a one-in-50-year event, on the afternoon of 28 September, knocked down 22 high-voltage power pylons, triggering a cascade of automatic safety switch-offs to protect the rest of the state’s network.

Deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce immediately turned attention to South Australia’s renewables capacity.

"Obviously we know that South Australia has had a strong desire to become basically all renewable energy, and the question has to be asked does this make them more vulnerable to an issue such as what happened last night," he said.

The answer to that question is an emphatic no. The state’s wind power was generating electricity right up to the moment of black-out, which was caused by damage to the transmission network, not the source of power itself.

— Tom Koutsantonis (@TKoutsantonisMP) September 29, 2016

 "This kind of event would have caused the system to go black no matter what generation was being used," said Tom Butler, policy manager for the Clean Energy Council.

Joyce’s comments were described as "ignorant" by South Australia premier Jay Weatherill. "When there’s a crisis people pull out their agendas," he said. "Barnaby Joyce hates wind power so he pulls that out."

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stepped into the row, calling it a "wake-up call" for state leaders who were setting "completely unrealistic" targets for renewables.

Australia’s federal government has set a target for 23.5% of electricity generation to be sourced from renewables by 2025, but several states are aiming much higher.

South Australia already generates 41% of its electricity from renewables, and has a target of 50% by 2025.

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