SYDNEY (Reuters) - South Australia’s power outage last week has highlighted a political row between the country’s federal and state governments over renewable energy that will likely limit action following an emergency meeting of ministers on Friday.
The meeting of state and federal energy ministers, which still has no published agenda, was called after last week’s black out that left South Australia, a major wine producer and traditional manufacturing hub, without power for nearly 24 hours after severe storms and thousands of lightning strikes.
Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull - leader of the country’s ruling conservative government that historically has supported traditional coal and gas-fired power generation - blamed South Australia’s high dependence on renewable power generation for the outage.
However, the Australian Energy Market Operator on Wednesday reached an early conclusion that severe weather caused the outage, but made no comment on whether the blackout could have been avoided. State officials accused Turnbull of letting ideology drive his comments.
The row between federal and state officials exposes a growing rift over Australia’s energy policy that should lead to a hostile meeting that is unlikely to formulate any concrete recommendations.
The federal government wants 23.5 percent of Australia’s energy mix to come from renewables by 2020, but nearly all states have set much more ambitious renewables goals to cut carbon dioxide emissions from their electricity sectors.
“There will no agreement around consolidation or harmonizing renewable energy targets across different states,” said David Blowers, an energy fellow at the Grattan Institute, an Australian think-thank. “If there is any agreement it might be to look at infrastructure but I don’t think it will go beyond that.”
Despite the federal government’s misgivings on renewables, Australia’s states are plowing ahead with more clean power projects.
“The world is moving to renewables. We are doing that in Queensland in the absence of national leadership and the fact that we are having the debate about this at all is a sad indictment and shows just how far behind the times the federal government is,” Mark Bailey, energy minister for Queensland, told Reuters.
Queensland, the country’s largest carbon emitter, will on Friday say it will press ahead with plans to transition power generation to 50 percent renewables by 2030.
South Australia uses wind farms and rooftop solar panels for 40 percent of its power, more than any part of the country.
Industry experts say Canberra must raise its renewable energy target to meet its goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 under the Paris climate accord.
Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Christian Schmollinger