(Fixes typo 1st paragraph)
SYDNEY, Sept 29 Power was restored to the state
of South Australia on Wednesday after storms a day earlier
caused an unprecedented statewide blackout which disrupted
operations at mining majors like BHP Billiton, closed
ports and halted public transport.
The blackout of the country's fifth most populous state,
with 1.7 million people, prompted calls on Thursday for an
inquiry into the power sector and questions over whether the
state's reliance on renewable energy exacerbated the situation.
Authorities said power had been restored to 90 percent of
the state by Thursday morning, but further disruption was
possible with gale force winds and heavy rain forecast.
"Let's focus now and take this incident as a real wake-up
call...lower emissions is very important but it must be
consistent with energy security," said Australian Prime Minister
Coal-fired power plants dominate the country's power sector
resulting in Australia being one of the world's biggest carbon
emitters on a per capita basis. Renewable energy has struggled
to increase its footprint in recent years due to scepticism over
climate change amongst some the country's leading politicians.
South Australia, a major wine producer and traditional
manufacturng hub, is one of the few state's with a heavy
reliance on renewable energy. Wind power provides roughly 40
percent of the state's electricity supply.
"Questions have to be asked: Is their over-reliance on
renewable energy exacerbating their problems and the capacity to
have a secure power supply," Australia's Deputy Prime Minister
Barnaby Joyce, a climate change sceptic, told Australian
Broadcasting Corp radio on Thursday.
The blackout happened after strong winds destroyed major
powerlines north of the state capital Adelaide and lightning
struck a power plant, causing a surge across the grid. The
network and link to neighbouring Victoria state shut down to
prevent damage to infrastructure, causing a state-wide outage.
Power supply was disrupted to BHP Billiton's huge
Olympic Dam copper-uranium mine, halting production until back
power could be diverted to maintain "essential infrastructure".
. Oz Minerals Ltd suspended copper and gold
production at its Prominent Hill mine north of Adelaide, which
was not damaged.
South Australian independent Senator Nick Xenophon said an
inquiry should examine whether the power failure could have been
avoided if more gas-burning power plants had been on standby.
Australia wants to double its large-scale renewable energy
generation to 33,000 gigawatt hours by 2020, which means solar,
wind and hydro-electricity would have to make up nearly a
quarter of power generation by then.
(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Michael Perry)