Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg has taken aim at Labor state governments for pursuing unrealistically high renewable energy targets which he warns are compromising Australia’s energy security and pushing up prices for consumers.
Following the statewide South Australian blackout, Mr Frydenberg today called for a national discussion on how a growing reliance on renewable energy sources, including wind and solar, was affecting price and supply.
“When you have a high use of renewables – some 41 per cent in South Australia – it leads to a lack of consistency in the quantity of generation namely that, when the wind is not blowing or when the sun is not shining, electricity is not being generated,” Mr Frydenberg told Sky News.
Mr Frydenberg flagged the issue would be discussed at the upcoming Council of Australian Governments meeting, warning that the states had an “illusion at the moment about the impact that renewables are having on the system”.
“We’ve got the states pursuing these ridiculously high and unrealistic state based renewable energy targets,” he said. “In Victoria, they have a 40 per cent renewable energy target by 2025 when currently they only have 12 per cent generation.”
“In Queensland, they have a 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030 when they only have about 4.5 per cent of renewable generation currently … We really need to get the states and the commonwealth on the same page when it comes to their state based targets and the federal target which, for us, is 23.5 per cent by 2020.”
Mr Frydenberg said he wanted the Labor states to understand there was a cost associated with their renewable energy targets. He argued state governments were pursuing higher targets for ideological reasons without understanding the knock-on consequences.
“The Australian Energy Market Operator has pointed out as recently as August this year that, if the interconnectors between South Australian and Victoria went down, because of the high reliance on intermittent supply, namely wind and solar, there would be in their words, a high likelihood of a full regional blackout,” he said.
Mr Frydenberg argued the emissions reduction effort should not come at the expense of energy security, saying that keeping the lights on across Australia still remained a key priority for the Turnbull government.
He also slammed Bill Shorten’s more ambitious 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030 as “crazy” and demanded Labor provide further detail on how it would achieve the objective.
“Labor’s going to need to build 2,000 megawatts of renewable generation each and every year for the next decade,” he said. “That’s equivalent to ten thousand wind turbines. Now Bloomberg Energy Finance has told us that’s going to cost at least $48 billion dollars. I don’t see that in Labor’s budget numbers.”
Mr Frydenberg said that renewables had a role to play in the energy mix, but described the South Australian power outage as a “seismic event” that demanded a policy rethink despite conceding the state’s high use of renewable energy was not the catalyst for the blackout.
Opposition energy spokesman Mark Butler said the storms leading to the outage in South Australia constituted a “very serious and dangerous event” and argued the breakdown had nothing to do with renewable energy.
“Expert after expert … has said that generation type, whether we were nuclear power, whether we were coal fired power or whether South Australia had the mix that we do have of renewable energy and gas fired power, had nothing to do with what happened to our electricity system last week,” he said.
Mr Butler said that more pressing questions remained over why 20 transmission towers failed and why the entire state system shut down.
“Let’s have a debate about the future of our energy system,” he said. “I’m glad, finally, that the government has come onto the playing field about this because currently they have no energy policy beyond 2020.”