The war of words between federal environment and energy minister Josh Frydenberg and South Australia premier Jay Weatherill has resumed, as Frydenberg stumbled into the middle of the state’s election campaign and found his modest announcement trumped by Weatherill’s big vision.
Frydenberg arrived in Adelaide on Wednesday to, among other things, promote two small ($500,000) grants to help progress two pumped hydro projects in the Spencer Gulf, a week after the state government had backed those same projects and three other pumped hydro plans to boot.
But Frydenberg’s announcement was overwhelmed by Weatherill’s proposal to lift the share of renewable in the state to 75 per cent by 2025 (it is already at 50 per cent), and add 750MW of energy storage through pumped hydro, batteries and hydrogen.
He backed this up with announced plans to turn the old Holden site into a renewables-based micro-grid, and a separate proposal for a hydrogen-based micro-grid in the middle of Adelaide.
Frydenberg, who has been a critic of South Australia’s “reckless” pursuit of renewables, and continued in that form on ABC TVs Q&A program on Sunday, accused Weatherill of having a “gambler-like” addition to renewables.
South Australia already has the highest prices & least stable system in Oz. Now @JayWeatherill wants to make it worse with a new 75% renewable energy target. He’s like a problem gambler who doubles down to chase his losses!
— Josh Frydenberg (@JoshFrydenberg) February 20, 2018
Others had a different view, as this tweet from Kobad Bhavnagri, the head of Bloomberg New Energy Finance in Australia, indicated.
— Kobad Bhavnagri (@kobadb) February 21, 2018
“I must say that in an age of weak-willed, visionless and amoral political leadership, @JayWeatherill stands apart. This man has balls,” Bhavnagri tweeted.
As we wrote last year, they seem to be in short supply: Turnbull doesn’t need new baseload, he just needs some balls.
Frydenberg’s tweet was followed by comments from Weatherill who said Frydenberg was “once again late to the party”.
Of course, these two have form – having infamously crossed paths at the unveiling of AGL Energy’s “virtual power plant” last year, when Weatherill gave the federal minister a tongue lashing over his “trash talk” of the state’s pursuit of renewables.
The two may get a chance to renew acquaintances later on Wednesday when both are due to attend the opening of the Adelaide office of SolarReserve, the US company that plans to build a 150MW solar tower with 8 hours of molten salt storage.
That project has already signed a delivery contract to supply the state government with its electricity needs, but is also hoping for a long-promised $100 million grant from ARENA, which of course is run by Frydenberg’s office.
The South Australia government, which goes to the polls in three and a half weeks, has been the most outspoken critic of Frydenberg’s National Energy Guarantee, which it says will favour coal and limit renewables.
Frydenberg has railed against the individual renewable targets of the various Labor states, even though the Energy Security Board has said it will be able to accomodate individual actions – if it can ever settle on the details and complexity of its proposed NEG.
Weatherill says his preference remained for an national energy intensity scheme, which along with Allan Finkel’s Clean Energy Target was dumped by the federal Coalition in the face of opposition from its right wing rump.
“(We will continue to) wait till we see if we can get some sort of sensible national scheme,” Weatherill said.
“Right now we’ve got this National Energy Guarantee which is just a sellout proposition, just interested in propping up coal. What we want is an EIS, but what we will have sitting alongside that is this energy storage target … which will incentivise people to continue to invest.
Frydenberg continued to blame renewables for wholesale price volatility, even though it has been a symptom of the South Australian grid for more than a decade, and before renewables arrived on the scene.
“Jay Weatherall has mismanaged this transition, and prices have gone up as a result. The federal government’s national energy guarantee (will fix that).”
Frydenberg praised SA opposition leader Stephen Marshall, who opposes a state-based target, and wants to build a new interconnector to the eastern states. (This project had been canned by the last Liberal government so they could extract maximum dollars from the privatisation of the state-owned utility).
The clean energy industry, unsurprisingly, backed in Weatherill.
The Smart Energy Council said the Weatherill Government has made the right strategic decision to become the “Smart Energy State”, delivering real economic benefits over the next decade.
“This will see South Australia become a global centre for smart energy infrastructure projects, creating new opportunities for manufacturing, investment, tourism, exports and world-leading research and development.
“Global companies are already establishing offices in Adelaide and regional South Australia will see new investment and employment opportunities.”
The Clean Energy Council described Weatherill’s plans as “genuinely world-class ambitions”, and had shown it was a national and international leader in the uptake of renewable energy and the transition of its energy sector.
“The energy storage target in particular is exactly what is needed to help deliver higher levels of wind and solar while ensuring the ongoing reliability of the power system,” CEO Kane Thornton said.
“South Australia has shown that it is possible to deliver electricity that is both reliable and clean, and as more low-cost renewable energy enters the power system it will push power prices down for homes and businesses.
“One thing our industry has shown is that if you give us a target or a goal, we will beat it. South Australia has essentially met its existing renewable energy target seven years early, and there are now enough projects which will go ahead to meet the national 2020 renewable energy project.”
Giles Parkinson is a journalist of 30 years experience, a former Business Editor and Deputy Editor of the Financial Review, a columnist for The Bulletin magazine and The Australian, and the former editor of Climate Spectator.