The SA Blackout Had Nothing To Do With Renewable Energy, So Politicians Should Stop Blaming It

It didn't take long for politicians to blame renewable energy, but it turns out they were very wrong.

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Two things happened in South Australia yesterday. Firstly, there was a big storm. An absolutely massive storm. A yuuuuge storm, as Donald Trump would say. The biggest storm in 52 years. Then that storm knocked down a bunch of massive electricity transmission towers. Twenty-two of them, to be precise.

Here are some photos:

As a result of the storm and the downed power lines, the whole state lost electricity for a little while. The explanation seems pretty cut and dried right? The biggest storm in half a century, lots of transmission lines knocked down resulting in no electricity. Seems like the problem is pretty obvious? Bzzt, wrong.

This being Australia, a country with a known propensity to completely cock-up every single debate around natural disasters, politicians and the media had to find something more insidious to blame.

Renewable Energy As A Scapegoat

The simple and easy to understand narrative just wasn’t good enough for some of our conservative politicians. They needed to turn this blackout into an ideological attack on renewable energy. First we had One Nation senator and climate denialist, Malcolm Roberts, chip in with his two cents:

Then Nick Xenophon jumped on board, blaming the blackout on SA’s reliance on renewable energy.

It didn’t take long for the federal environment minister to join in by blaming the SA government’s renewable energy target. And this morning the Prime Minister completed the pile on, by declaring the blackout was a “wake-up call” that proved state governments had to abandon their renewable energy targets.

But it wasn’t just politicians laying into renewable energy. Sections of media joined in, with one outlet even blaming the Greens.

What Are The Facts?

The really frustrating thing about this saga is that the underlying causes of the blackout are actually pretty simple. As SA Premier Jay Weatherill explained, “Essentially what happened is a massive set of power was removed and when that happens it trips the system.”

SA gets about 40 percent of its energy from wind power, but that’s actually irrelevant to what happened here. The issue wasn’t a failure of wind turbines to generate electricity, it was transmission towers going down. The SA electricity network is connected to the rest of the national grid, which means that even if there’s no wind blowing the state is still able to access electricity. Except when the power lines delivering that electricity go down, which is exactly what happened yesterday.

Powershop is a Melbourne-based electricity retailer with 80,000 customers. Their parent company, Meridian Energy, owns and operates a wind farm in SA. The CEO of Powershop, Ed McManus, told Junkee that, “We know that yesterday, during the storm, SA’s wind generation resource was operating and generating power. This included Meridian’s Mt Millar wind farm. In fact, until the outage in the afternoon, wind was producing the majority of SA’s power requirements.”

“What we had was a catastrophic weather event and for people to enter into a blame game is quite frankly ridiculous,” he said. “We need to look to future technologies to continue to provide safe and reliable electricity supplies. Unfortunately however, from time to time, nature reminds us of her power, and we will always be somewhat vulnerable to extreme weather events, regardless of the technology we use.”

The South Australian secretary of the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union, John Adley, has also hit back at claims that renewable energy is to blame. “The people making these claims don’t know what they’re talking about,” Adley said. “The outage is simply being used by friends of the coal industry to bash renewables. It doesn’t matter how you generate your electricity, when 22 transmission towers blow over in an extreme weather event, the power goes off.”

It’s an argument that’s been echoed by Greens MP Adam Bandt. At a press conference today Bandt said,  “For Malcolm Turnbull to use this as an opportunity to urge governments around the country to slow down the uptake of renewable energy is reprehensible and craven.”

“The best way to prevent these kinds of storms and this kind of damage from occurring, is to move more quickly to renewable energy, and to take further action to tackle global warming,” said Bandt.

Adley agrees that investment in more renewable energy would actually increase the security and reliability of our energy system. “When you have widespread use of distributed generation technologies like PV solar in homes, the network is actually less vulnerable to events like this,” he said.

So there you go. Not only is renewable energy not to blame, it could actually help limit the impact of storms like the one we saw in SA yesterday.

Imagine if our politicians actually responded to the facts before kicking off ideological crusades against renewable energy.