South Australian Labor looks to renewables for election win

Jay Weatherill
Jay Weatherill

The South Australian Labor party is pushing hard on renewables in an effort to shore up support ahead of a challenging state election come 17 March.

Following the news of 50,000 free solar and battery systems to households and the Tesla big battery, premier Jay Weatherill on Wednesday announced the state’s renewable energy target would be pushed from 50 per cent to 75 per cent by 2025.

In an Australian first, the party also announced it would implement a “renewable storage target” of 25 per cent, which the premier said would drive the installation of 750 megawatts of battery storage. The government will invest $20 million over the next four years to help attract private sector investment in the space.

The current renewable energy target, set in 2014, has almost already been met seven years early, with 48.9 per cent of energy production now from renewable energy.

The government also pointed to a recent Australian Energy Market Commission forecast as justification for the new policy. It found that electricity bills would fall on average $300 over the next two years due to increased competition from renewable projects coming online.

“Renewable energy means cheaper power for all South Australians,” Mr Weatherill said.

“South Australia is leading the world in renewable energy technologies, with the world’s biggest battery at Jamestown, the world’s biggest solar thermal plant at Port Augusta and the world’s biggest Virtual Power Plant.”

He said the state was generating global headlines in the renewables space, and the world was looking to South Australia as a leader.

“By contrast, opposition leader Steven Marshall wants to scrap the Renewable Energy Target and Nick Xenophon believes wind turbines give people brain damage.”

The strategy could be a vote winner. Recent polling by ReachTel on behalf of the Climate Council found that most South Australians were supportive of the state’s leadership on clean energy.

The incumbent Labor government faces a tough battle to stay in power, however, with the polling tight, and the emergence of Nick Xenophon’s SA Best Party throwing a spanner into the works. The most recent Essential poll from December estimated Labor at 51 per cent on a two-party-preferred basis. Newspoll did not publish a 2PP figure, claiming that the emergence of Xenophon’s SA Best Party had made it too difficult to determine. Roy Morgan has also ceased publishing 2PP figures.

Targets welcomed by industry

The news was welcomed by the Clean Energy Council and the Climate Council.

Clean Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton said the energy storage target would help deliver higher penetration of renewables, while maintaining reliability.

“South Australia has shown that it is possible to deliver electricity that is both reliable and clean, and as more low-cost renewable energy enters the power system it will push power prices down for homes and businesses,” Mr Thornton said.

“The government is driving a shift toward clean energy which will reduce its exposure to volatile fossil fuel prices and make the state much more competitive in the future – while creating business opportunities in the here and now.”

He said the industry had shown it could meet and exceed targets set.

“South Australia has essentially met its existing renewable energy target seven years early, and there are now enough projects which will go ahead to meet the national 2020 renewable energy project.”

Climate Councillor professor Andrew Stock said while South Australia raised the stakes, the federal government languished.

“South Australia is among states and territories leading the charge in the nation’s clean energy race, but unfortunately the federal government remains stuck in the stalls with an inadequate National Energy Guarantee,” he said.

“The federal government must move to implement strong and credible climate and energy policy to encourage Australia’s transition to renewable energy and storage technology, in a bid to cut our rising pollution levels and tackle climate change.”

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