Aussie Leader Slams Renewables ‘Obsession’ as Energy Chiefs Meet

  • Blackout brings energy security into question: prime minister
  • South Australia premier refutes outage link to wind power

Malcolm Turnbull.

Photographer: Andrew Taylor/AP Images

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull accused some state governments of putting too much emphasis on generating electricity from wind farms, putting Australia’s energy security at risk and “distorting the national energy market.”

Turnbull is claiming that Labor party-run states are too reliant on wind and solar power as they seek to cut greenhouse gas emissions. His Liberal-National federal government called state energy ministers to a meeting in Melbourne on Friday after fierce storms last week knocked down transmission towers in South Australia, causing blackouts in a state that gets 41 percent of its power from renewables.

“This has been very much a Labor obsession, to set these heroic renewable energy targets,” Turnbull told an Adelaide radio station. “They assume that they can change the composition of the energy mix and that energy security will always be there and the lights will stay on, and that has been brought into question.”

State ministers agreed to hold an independent review to provide a blueprint for energy security across Australia, national Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg told reporters in Melbourne.

Dismantling Levies

Renewable energy -- championed globally as a tool to combat global warming -- is a contentious issue in Australia, the world’s biggest coal exporter. Since winning power in 2013 under then-leader Tony Abbott, the coalition government has dismantled a levy on carbon emissions and cut targets for how much energy it aims to draw from wind and solar generation by 2020.

Turnbull, whose support for an emissions trading scheme cost him his job as opposition leader in 2009, hasn’t diverged from Abbott’s climate-change policies since taking power more than a year ago. His government is pledging to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 26 percent by 2030.

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has denied the blackout was connected to the state’s reliance on renewable energy, which is the highest of any mainland state. The power failure was caused by a “catastrophic storm” that took down 22 transmission towers and cut three major transmission lines, he said in a statement Wednesday.

“I have consistently said this was a weather event, not a renewable energy event,” Weatherill said.

Former Labor resources minister Martin Ferguson said squabbling over energy policies would ultimately hurt consumers.

"We need to stop political grandstanding that ‘my renewable target is bigger than yours and I don’t give a damn about consumers’," Ferguson, who is head of natural resources at Seven Group Holdings, said in an interview this week. "It’s a debate about Australia’s energy security -- something that we as a nation have never had to have before. It’s about how we manage the transition to a low emissions economy whilst maintaining reliability."

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