Dramatic Intervention in Energy – Greens’ plan for SA

The State Government’s long-awaited “dramatic intervention” in South Australia’s electricity market must be environmentally-responsible as well as advancing reliability and affordability, according to Greens SA Parliamentary Leader, Mark Parnell MLC.

“The Government is wedded to gas, but if the answer to our energy problems involves burning more fossil fuels, then we’re asking the wrong question,” said Mr Parnell.

“Most people now agree that the future for the planet lies with renewable energy, not with burning coal or gas.  The key to providing secure and affordable clean energy is to provide sufficient storage so that intermittent energy from wind and solar can be dispatched at all hours regardless of whether the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.

“Here are Five Things that the Greens would do for starters:

1.       Commit to a Concentrated Solar Thermal Plant for Port Augusta

2.       Commit to 200Mw pumped hydro power storage

3.       Commit to a 100MW grid-scale battery farm

4.       Fix the National Electricity Market Rules

5.       Ensure a Fair Price for Solar

“The real test for the State Government will be whether they are able to resist mis-guided calls for more fossil fuel generation.  The age of coal is over and the age of gas is ending.  There is no reason why SA can’t be a renewable clean energy power house, provided the rules are fixed and the Government uses its leverage to get exciting new generation and storage projects off the ground.

“As part of any of these measures, the Government will need to take control to stop gaming and profiteering from big energy companies.  Whilst full nationalisation of generation is unrealistic, credible economists and other academics have pointed to the interconnectors and the transmission network as likely candidates for return to public ownership and control.  That’s taking back the power in the State’s interest and should be seriously evaluated.” concluded Mark Parnell 

Detailed notes follow:

#1 Commit to a Concentrated Solar Thermal Plant for Port Augusta

This project gives the double benefit of clean solar power plus storage of energy for night-time use.  A number of companies are interested, including “Solastor” and “Solar Reserve”.  All they need to secure finance and start building is a commitment from the State Government to buy the electricity.  The Government is a huge user of electricity (just think of SA Water pumps and the Desal Plant) and has promised to lead by example and secure low carbon electricity.  That means that any new or existing fossil fuel generators should be ruled out of supplying electricity for Government departments, agencies and businesses.

#2 Commit to 200MW pumped hydro power storage

An oldie but a goodie.  Water is pumped to a hill-top dam when energy is plentiful and cheap; then released back to a lower dam via a turbine when the grid needs extra power.  The Australian National University has identified multiple potential sites in SA including near Whyalla and in the Mid-North.  According to ANU, even a relatively small 3ha dam in the Mid-North of SA would hold enough energy to provide 3 hours at 200MW or six times as much electricity as was ordered to be shed during the February 8 load-shedding incident.

#3 Commit to a 100MW grid-scale battery farm

Elon Musk has got people talking, but regardless of who builds it, grid-scale battery storage is proven technology and would provide additional power when it is most needed.  The Australian Energy Storage Council has revealed that there are multiple other companies (including Australian-owned companies) who could beat Tesla on price and match Mr Musk’s 100 day build time for the same amount of storage.  These include Lyon, Zen and Carnegie.  If the Government makes a commitment to batteries, watch the offers come rolling in. 

#4 Fix the NEM rules

To compete fairly, most new renewable energy and storage solutions require a change to the National Electricity Market Rules.  Storage is particularly disadvantaged.  The market operates at 30 minute settlement intervals which might be good for gas peaking plants, but a 5 minute market would give batteries and solar thermal and pumped hydro a better chance to compete.  South Australia should call an urgent meeting of Australian Energy Ministers to fix the National Electricity Market Rules, which have been unnecessarily delayed.  As “lead legislator”, South Australia has a key role to play in driving reform.

#5 Ensure a Fair Price for Solar

A quarter of SA households now have solar panels, but they are being ripped off by big power companies.  In SA, the owners of solar panels don’t have to be paid anything for the electricity they export to the grid.  This is thanks to an ESCOSA decision last year to drop the minimum retailer feed-in tariff from 6.8 cents kwh to zero.  Contrast this with the Victoria Essential Services Commission which has just bumped the minimum payment from 5 cents up to 11.3 cents kwh.

The Solution for SA is for the Government to force ESCOSA to take into account avoided distribution and transmission losses as well as avoided social costs of carbon and the avoided human health costs from air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels when setting the price.  It’s a simple fix that would encourage more solar panels on houses, shops, factories and community facilities.