The South Australian election matters for climate change


When this is published SA voters will be lining up to select a new government. That is the hope. I understand the betting market favours a hung parliament. No pundit I’ve heard is willing to pick a winner. Kevin Bonham talks about the difficulty of modelling the outcome, with the entry of SA Best and the redistribution. The ABC has guidance on how we can follow the election and an Online Election Page.

On climate change the election matters. There is coverage at:

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The headline policy of the Labor Weatherill government is 75% renewables and 25% storage by 2025, world class and by far the most ambitious among the larger Australian states. The Liberals say they will dump the state targets in favour of the National Energy Guarantee targets.

In the AFR Federal minister Josh Frydenberg labelled the policy as a “thought bubble” and:

    “He is a problem gambler doubling down to chase his losses,” Mr Frydenberg said. “Unfortunately South Australia has the least reliable grid”.

Giles Parkinson has taken a look at Five myths about South Australia’s renewable energy. One is The high penetration of renewables means South Australia has the most unreliable grid.

South Australia has had no major outages this year. A FactCheck at The Conversation found the 97% of outages were caused by things like trees falling on power lines and are unrelated to the source of electricity, renewable or otherwise, flowing through the power lines.

Parkinson also looked at the myth that Labor’s 75 per cent renewable energy target is “reckless”.

Australian Energy Market Operator produced an analysis in December that suggested South Australia could reach 73 per cent renewable energy by 202/21 and up to 80 per cent five years later. Frydenberg either doesn’t read reports that are inconvenient to his ideological line, or, more likely, is being knowingly misleading.

    And AEMO is confident that continued innovation – like the big battery and other storage – will ensure reliability and stability of the grid.

There’s been an argument about SA’s high prices. Labor says that more renewables and less gas will reduce household electricity bills by $300 a year. The Liberals got a wrap over the knuckles for being misleading about a promise that their policies would provide $300 relief. The SA Electoral Commission found that most of that was already built in to the status quo.

I must applaud SA for having an Electoral Commission with powers to hold politicians to account on their promises. What a civilised idea!

Brakels says that in the past year:

  • had the world’s largest battery storage facility built,
  • acquired a state owned power plant,
  • has approved the construction of the world’s largest single tower solar thermal power station [Aurora] 30 km north of Port Augusta,
  • has announced plans to build the world’s largest virtual power station using rooftop solar and home battery storage.

Here’s an artist impression of Aurora:

And more. For example, plans have been announced for German firm Sonnen to establish a battery factory in SA.

The Liberals policy is all over the shop, lacking internal consistency. From Brackels:

  • They blame Labor for not having enough back up power but are against the state-owned power plant that provides back up power.
  • They say they support free market policies but blame Labor for not interfering in the market to prevent a private company from closing a coal power station.
  • The document claims the SA grid is unreliable but also says the state-owned power plant is a waste of money because the grid is so reliable it will only get used an average of once every 10 years.
  • They have nothing good to say about Labor, but many policies they say they will follow are similar to what Labor is doing.

The SA Liberals main differences from Labor are:

  • The establishment of a $200 million dollar fund for an interconnector with NSW. Although they don’t say this, the real cost of the interconnector would be $500 million to $1 billion with NSW presumably paying half that.
  • A massive $100 million subsidy for home batteries of around $2,500 per household. So apparently they are in favor of free market solutions but not when it comes to home batteries.
  • A $50 million grid storage fund. Will someone please tell them that subsidizing energy storage like this is not free market?

Unsurprisingly, business would like to see Weatherill re-elected, because they know what they’ll get and appear to like it.

There are some queries about Labor’s plans to boost exploration for gas, which would probably end up being exported. I don’t think we can be building new gas at this stage without expecting it to become a stranded asset, if perchance the world properly addresses the climate change threat.

Of interest, both SA Best and The Greens want to establish a public retailer, which, on figures around the country, could peel off around 20% or more of electricity bills.

SA Best may be in a position to force implementation of this policy. I suspect Greens policies are of academic interest, as they are not expected to win seats in the lower house.

Labor has had four terms in office, keeping the inept Liberals in opposition for 16 years. A fifth term would be something of a miracle, but Weatherill is probably the best politician we have at national or state level in terms of climate change action.

42 thoughts on “The South Australian election matters for climate change”

  1. I agree completely, Brian. I am a huge fan of Weatherill. But I like the energy of Gladys Berejiklian too. I don’t know where she stands on Climate Action, but I would be surprised if she was a denier.

    Yes, it will be a tragedy if the Libs win in SA, I am running out of capacity for hearing about political leadership stupidity.

  2. John, Jay Weatherill has conceded defeat, and the Libs will govern in their own right with 25 seats in a 47-seat chamber.

    Seems there will be 18 Labor and three indies. No SA Best.

    Seems SA Best only pulled 13.7% of primary votes, but this meant that the primary votes for all other parties were down.

    I think people may have gotten tired of Xenophon’s stunts.

    It’s a bit hard from this distance to know what a Liberal government will mean, but if the electricity industry was looking for certainty they have got the opposite. I suspect there will be great uncertainty everywhere, not least in the public service.

  3. Firstly: what time next Friday will the rest of the world start dumping its nuclear waste all over South Australia?
    Leaky 55USGallon/200Litre drums are fine so long as the senders pay a AUD20 surcharge for each such leaky drum (their own currency is fine if they can’t put their hands on any Aussie Dollars).

    Secondly: SA Best was up against the slander that their party was Liberals Lite; a slander that worked well because many of the voters were too damned stupid, lazy and gullible to break away from the Two Party Preferred swindle. They were up against the gambling industry and its very rational fear that if Xenophon’s party formed government the gambling industry’s rackets would have been severely hindered. If SA Best had won, it would have been a miracle.

    I really do hope that SA Best will persevere; it is the best alternative to our diseased political parties since Don Chipp founded the Australian Democrats.

  4. I think Xenophon did himself enormous damage when he watered down his pokie stance. Meant he appeared to be just another politician whose desire for power took precedence over his principles.

  5. Ambi: Yes disunity is death and it didn’t help the Greens.
    I was also most unimpressed when DiNatale attacked Labor’s promise to wind back the outrageous Howard giveaways.
    To do the things the Greens want to do there have got to cutbacks on the tax rorts enjoyed by the rich. Shorten got it right when he pointed out the franking rort was costing more than the feds were spending on public education.

  6. Let’s look on the positive side.

    Nature abhors a vacuum – so whilst present-day political and business bigwigs are off on their Adani and their Great Keppel Island fantasies, they have created a vacuum; a vacuum that can – and must – be filled by vigorous entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs with vision and with the ability to create real wealth.

  7. Ooops. Sorry. Don’t know what happened there; just then I was set up to comment on the Adani farce, not the S.A. election..

  8. I’ve just been talking to my main SA contact. He thinks Xenophon was finally undone by his stunts. People saw him as personality politics, like Clive Palmer and Jacqui Lambie, so he’ll go back to his law practice and fade away.

    Weatherill apparently saw it coming and was actively working on plan B which included a trip to England with his teenage daughters. That doesn’t mean he gave up.

    John, there is an article in the SMH where Di Natali is cranky about internal sabotage, and is looking to kick the miscreants out of the party. There are also questions about policy emphasis, and whether if Labor tilts left it gets back some of the Green vote.

  9. On Batman, seems the Catholic Church weighed in heavily, urging people to vote Labor because of Gonski funding, sending out 30,000 robocalls.

    Under Gonski 2.0 supported by LNP and Greens, catholic schools will lose money.

    Party strategists will be pondering this when the next Federal election comes around.

  10. Pyrrhic victory.

    This S A state election and this Victorian by-election, coming as they have hot on the heels of the ridiculous duelling citizenship hoo-haa, as well as the over-the-top reactions to the bedroom or broom-cupboard or nocturnal tree-top activities of a certain cabinet minister, has weakened the faith of many in democracy.

    There are wags around the place already making rude and unflattering comparisons between the Russian elections and what happened last weekend in Victoria and South Australia.

    As for one “side” getting mixed up with Oxford Textacolour and the other “side” sending Catholic Education on a kamikaze power-dive, all that will do make disgusted voters angrier.

  11. Its kind of poetic and tragic that the anti gambling Xenophon lost completely on a political gamble which may have tragicly pulled the votes to take out Labour at this critical time. People lose, rich guys win again

    Did someone already say this?

  12. Great word GB, “pyrrhic”. Now that I understand it I can see its relevence all around. Syria and Trump for starters.

  13. BilB, I have a contact in SA with pretty acute political feelers.

    He thinks JW went down mainly because of “it’s time for a change”. Said you can’t play your favourite song forever.

    And with Xenophon, people got sick of the stunts, which are out of synch with a serious politician.

    X says he had no campaign budget and the hotel industry threw the kitchen sink at him over pokies. Probably true.

    X is basically conservative, but the evidence is he took primary votes off everyone. I haven’t seen any analysis as to how his preferences played out, but they must have favoured the Libs.

  14. Yesterday, on Ray Hadley’s Morning Show on Radio 2GB, former PM, Tony Abbott, was a guest, hear audio sourced here. Hadley and Abbott were offering their analyses of the results to the recent Tasmanian and South Australian state elections, and the Batman federal byelection, and spruiking new coal-fired power for Australia. Here’s some of this exchange:

    01:59 Ray Hadley: Ok, back we go to what happened over the weekend. Um… I’ve summarised it by saying: well, the Prime Minister’s seizing upon South Australia and saying: You beauty; they love me! The Opposition Leader’s seizing on Batman, saying: You beauty; they love me! But the big news, of course is the, the turning away from the minor parties. We’ve got the Greens in strife, firstly in Tasmania, then in South Australia, then in Batman. You’ve got Cory Bernardi, failing to register any interest in South Australia, including upper house seats, where, Xenophon might get two, but no lower house seats. So… So, where’s this leave us in relation to the minor parties, do you think?

    02:31 Tony Abbott: Well, there is no doubt that ah… people are waking up to minor parties. Minor parties are much better at articulating a grievance than they are at offering a solution. And as Chris Kenny said in The Australian today, as soon as you say to a minor party person: “Well, what would you do?”, then there’s a whole lot of embarrassed shuffling, and umming and ahring, because, ah… they only thrive by criticising others; they don’t thrive by coming forward with their own solutions. Now… yes, ah… it’s great that the Greens lost, ah… yes, in Batman. Yes, it’s, it’s good that ah… a stale and tired Labor government, ah… with ‘it’s time’ factor running against it has lost in South Australia. I think Steven Marshall will be the solid, steady Premier. But in the end, what we still need is, is strong and stable government in this country, and at the federal level, as I keep saying, ah… that means scaling back immigration until infrastructure…

    03:31 Ray Hadley: Mmm.

    03:31 Tony Abbott: …ah… housing starts, and integration, have caught up. It means, no more subsidised renewables, and the difficulty at the moment, is ah… is that ah… there is not a sharp enough distinction between the Federal Government, and the Federal Opposition…

    03:48 Ray Hadley: Mmm.

    03:48 Tony Abbott: …when it comes to exactly what we would do about power supplies, particularly ah… the need for building new, highly efficient coal-fired power stations in this country, ah… because if it’s good enough to export our coal, surely, it’s good enough to use it here.

    04:04 Ray Hadley: Well, leading energy representatives across the globe are telling us we are going to rely upon, you know, baseload power from coal-fired power stations for decades to come. Someone needs to tell both the Opposition, the Government, and more importantly the Greens, and other people, that’s the case!

    04:19 Tony Abbott: Well, this is exactly right. Now, I’m all in favour of doing the right thing by the planet – we’ve only got one. We’ve got to give it to our kids in, in good shape…

    04:27 Ray Hadley: Mmm.

    04:27 Tony Abbott: But, ah… We’ve got to face the fact, that ah… nothing Australia does, in terms of our emissions reduction, is going to make a substantial global difference. Ah… America has pulled out of the Paris Accords. Ah…. Paris imposed ah… ah… very little, if any restriction on the emissions growth of countries like China and India. So, my point all along has been, ah… yes, ah… let’s try to get emissions down, but let’s not do it in ways which cost jobs and damage industries. And, if we don’t have affordable, reliable power, and our power in this country is much less affordable, and much less reliable than it’s been for decades; if we don’t have affordable and reliable power in this country, it’s very hard um… for manufacturing industry to survive, let alone, to flourish.

    I wonder who the “leading energy representatives across the globe” are? I would not be at all surprised if they included representatives aligned with the Minerals Council of Australia, the World Coal Association, and the International Energy Agency. Would it be any surprise that they “are telling us we are going to rely upon … baseload power from coal-fired power stations for decades to come”? The accumulating evidence suggests otherwise…

  15. …Continuing from my comments above:

    It’s seems Ray Hadley and Tony Abbott are displaying gross ignorance of the facts/evidence on new coal-fired power. Per March 16 RenewEconomy.com.au article:

    1. Coal power is expensive – so Abbott’s implied claim of affordability is already debunked (see below also);
    2. Coal power is not flexible enough – so Abbott’s implied reliability and efficiency claims are also highly questionable;
    3. Coal power is emissions intensive – but Abbott has been reported to have said previously that “climate change is crap”, so I wonder whether he’s has any interest in lowering emissions and handing over planet Earth “to our kids, in good shape”.

    In Dr Finkel’s Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market, published 9 Jun 2017, in Appendix A – Levelised Cost of Electricity, it shows the estimated LCOE for key technologies based on input assumptions used by Jacobs in its modelling of the electricity sector. New ultra-supercritical coal average LCOE for 2020 & 2030 is shown at AU$81/MWh. Clearly, new coal-fired electricity generation is not cheap power. New wind and solar-PV prices are shown to continue to decline over the coming decades, out-competing coal.

    Since Dr Finkel’s Independent Review was published, the then South Australian (SA) Labor Government announced it had contracted US company SolarReserve to build a $650 million, 150 MW capacity concentrated solar thermal “power tower” with 8 hours molten salt storage electricity generator facility near Port Augusta, known as project Aurora, to be operational by 2020, and deliver electricity at no more than $78/MWh over the 20-year energy supply contract period – cheaper than SA gas-fired power. Then SA state treasurer and energy minister, Tom Koutsantonis tweeted:

    “A shiver has just gone up the coal generation’s industry spine. Solar thermal just won a competitive tender for base-load generation in South Australia.”

    Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis – Version 11.0 (Nov 2017) shows on page 2, a table titled Unsubsidized Levelized Cost of Energy Comparison, where coal ranges from US$60-143/MWh, Solar PV-Crystalline Utility Scale from US$46-53/MWh (US$82/MWh with battery storage), Solar PV-Thin Film Utility Scale from US$43-48, and on-shore wind from US$30-60/MWh (off-shore at US$113/MWh). Solar thermal tower with storage ranges from US$98-181/MWh, with the low end represented by the SA Aurora project.

    Renewables will continue to get cheaper as economies of scale and technology advancements improve; coal-fired power will only get more expensive (and likely become “stranded assets”) as the requirements of the Paris Climate Agreement are taken more seriously.

    To build new HELE coal-fired power generators will take at least seven years. The nuclear fission option would take more than a decade. The SA Aurora solar thermal project, providing flexible, ‘dispatchable’ energy, will begin construction this year and is scheduled to become operational in 2020. Renewables are much quicker to build.

    In less than a decade, approximately half Australia’s coal-fired generation fleet will be more than four decades old, and increasingly unreliable with rising operating costs. New nuclear and coal-fired generators will take too long to build to replace soon-to-be retiring generators, like NSW’s Liddell (4 years to announced retirement), Victoria’s Yallourn W (possibly retired in 7 years), and Queensland’s Gladstone (possibly retired in 8 years). Renewables are the only long-term sustainable, affordable, reliable option available now to replace Australia’s ageing coal-fired generation fleet. The longer we fail to implement an effective energy plan, the greater the risk of unreliable, higher priced power in the 2020s.

    It appears NSW has insufficient thermal coal reserves (NSW Government estimates at 15 Gt), at current rates of extraction (246.8 Mt/y raw coal extracted in FY2015-16), to sustain supplies for more than a few decades, unless “prime agricultural lands” and critical water resources are compromised in the Hunter, Western and Gunnedah regions. Will there be a long-term “social license” to continue mining thermal coal in NSW for several decades to come? Are the NSW people willing to compromise the state’s “prime agricultural lands” and critical water resources for a few extra decades of coal supplies? Who will buy Australia’s thermal coal in future? India has stated it intends to reduce thermal coal imports to zero by 2020 and is well on the way to achieving it. China is working to substantially reduce its thermal coal imports. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are also reconsidering their thermal coal usage (per IEEFA).

    Will Ray Hadley and Tony Abbott see and acknowledge the facts and evidence, and correct their positions on coal-fired power, or allow their apparently flawed ideologies to continue to override/ignore the truth, and thus continue to wilfully misinform the Australian people? Will the media and the Labor/Greens challenge Abbott’s spruiking of new coal-fired power for Australia?

  16. No worries, Ambigulous (7:43am yesterday). A trick as old as the hills, one used by the powerless when speaking about the overly powerful (and unpredictably nasty), is to call them by a name that they do not recognize themselves but which is obvious to those powerless who are talking about them. Brian doesn’t deserve to be hit with litigation because some corporate cowboy or another had a dummy-spit over a comment picked up by an internet scouring app.

    Just have a thjnk about which corporate entities and individuals have been exposed for (or boasted about) election manipulation lately or in recent years . Capisci? 🙂

  17. Mille grazie Graham B.

    Got it.
    Slow on uptake.
    (Age has wearied and the years condemned….)

    I applaud your punning. 🙂

  18. I think professional permanent heads have to work to implement decisions made by the government of the day. Some of the long standing permanent heads in the Gough era seemed to be actively undermining the government.
    The ABC report said:

    Those being dismissed by the new Liberal administration are Department of Premier and Cabinet chief executive Don Russell, Michael Deegan from the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure, Sandy Pitcher from Environment and Natural Resources and Ingrid Haythorpe from the Attorney-General’s Department.

    It will cost taxpayers $2 million for the departures of the four senior executives.

    Mr Marshall said he had asked the commissioner for public sector employment to look at the sum required to terminate the contracts.

    “I think this is an extraordinary sum but the reality is that was the detail that was contained within the contracts that the chief executives had entered into with the previous Labor government,” he said.

    Mr Marshall said he considered the changes essential to the new Government being able to implement its reform agenda.

    Don’t know anything about the dept heads sacked or whether they really wanted to be dept heads under the new government. The payments made are well under private enterprise figures.

  19. John Davidson (Re: MARCH 21, 2018 AT 12:31 PM):

    I think professional permanent heads have to work to implement decisions made by the government of the day.

    The ideal of a professional public service providing advice to Ministers of the Crown, without fear or favour, is long gone. It seems more and more it’s about the public service telling the government what they want to hear and do as the Executive bids – that’s why we get bad decisions.

    It seems SA Premier Marshall is already copping the heat from some comments just prior to him being sworn in. See today’s RenewEconomy.com.au article here. It includes:

    Marshall’s comments on Monday – just minutes before his swearing in – that the Tesla virtual power plant, the biggest planned aggregated installation of solar and battery storage in the world, was not part of his agenda has touched a raw nerve.

    It was the focus of his first press conference after his swearing in, sparked questions on ABC’s Q&A, and provoked such interest and outrage on RenewEconomy’s platform, and social media, that Marshall’s team had no choice but to take note.

  20. “Yes Prime Minister” was wonderful.

    Do you remember the anecdote, I think from M. Fraser. He and some Cabinet ministers and a few Dept heads were visiting Phillip Lynch (IIRC) at his hospital bed.

    “Yes Prime Minister” started on the small TV in the room, so conversation ceased while they all watched.

    “We were all engrossed. But I did notice that we politicians laughed at different moments, compared with the public servants’, observed Mr Fraser.
    😉

  21. $2 million is ash tray change compared to what some of these leaches cost the taxpayers.

    A cost with which they have proven to show no concern.

    I’m confident sacking 50% of em would see a positive ROE in a CBA.

  22. I think it is perfectly reasonable for a new premier to appoint his own Department of Premier and Cabinet chief executive.

    That leaves three other changes, which is on the low side.

    I think the notion of political parties changing public service heads came in pretty much with Gough Whitlam, who would not have been able to govern with the lot who had been in situ for decades.

  23. John D. and Geoff M.:

    Sorry. I cannot help but feel that it is now impossible to have permanent, independent, responsible Public Services, ones loyal solely to the people of Australia and ones willing to give frank, fearless and truthful advice to the decision-making elements of government.

    The culture in which such Public Services could flourish has not existed for decades. Despite the thin veneer of diversity and fairness, the recruitment, promotion and retention of Public Servants ensures that nobody in the Public Services can disturb the current situation, be innovative or give surprises.

    Sorry, too, that I have no brilliant suggestions on how to remedy this mess . So it looks like we will be stuck, for a while yet, with more revolving door employment of crooks pretending to be Public Servants, more covering-up, more plundering of the nation’s treasures, more generosity towards tax-dodgers, more downright stupid procurement and set-to-fail projects, more anti-Australian measures..

    Good luck everyone.

  24. Brian (Re: MARCH 21, 2018 AT 10:52 PM):

    I think it is perfectly reasonable for a new premier to appoint his own Department of Premier and Cabinet chief executive.

    It’s important that people in a team can work together in a professional environment, and be trusted to perform the assigned work competently and efficiently, in good faith.

    Continuity together with “corporate memory” is vitally important also for large organisations. By removing key senior people from an organisation that have had experiences of what’s been tried and tested in the past, and failed, increases the risks that similar mistakes are repeated in future, with the attending wasted resources expended. Adding “new blood” and ideas to an organisation can be very beneficial, but not at the expense of “lobotomization”.

    Ministers of the Crown develop policies of Government. The public service should ideally advise the Ministers, without fear or favour, of the risks and benefits of these policies, and assist in refining these policies, using an evidence-based approach, to provide a beneficial outcome for the majority of the people, that Governments are purportedly there to serve.

    The Trump administration, with its apparent revolving doors of senior executives coming and going is an example of how poor continuity in an organisation lowers confidence and morale in that organisation. Why would you expend resources developing relationships with an organisation that can’t maintain a reasonable degree of continuity?

  25. “…what’s been tried and tested in the past, and failed…”

    Yes, very important to advise a new Govt on that, GeoffM.

    And just as important: “here are some suggested policies/reforms/amendments considered in the past… On the list, you’ll see the pros and cons of each, as the Dept saw them at the time; costings if relevant, and the ultimate decision.”

    Departmental memory + Departmental expertise + publicly available data, etc.

    It can be a very difficult thing, this wise governing, I reckon.

  26. It is important to understand why things failed. This needs something more than “we tried that and it didn’t work.” You need corporate memory at many levels to tease this out sometimes.

  27. Another SMH article headlined NSW government’s power plan reveals huge renewable energy resources, link here, includes this:

    The Berejiklian government has identified three priority renewable energy zones in NSW that potentially have seven times the capacity of the state’s coal-fired power plants.

    In a submission to the Australian Energy Markets Operation, the government said the zones, in New England, the central-west and the south-west of NSW “could unlock 77,000 megawatts of new generation capacity”.

    The NSW Government Submission on AEMO’s Integrated System Plan can be found here. In the Executive Summary it includes:

    Independent geospatial analysis overlaying 25 NSW data layers has identified the potential for ten Energy Zones in NSW, including three potential priority Energy Zones in the state’s New England, Central-West and South-West regions, as shown in Figure 1. These locations benefit from outstanding energy resources, have reduced environmental and planning constraints, are close to existing transmission and distribution infrastructure and load centres, and align with the Government’s regional growth priorities, developed in consultation with regional communities. Combined, the three priority Energy Zones could unlock 77,000 megawatts (MW) of new generation capacity. Complemented by emerging energy technologies, energy efficiency and demand response, this would be more than enough generation to meet future energy needs.

    Interesting info. Figure 3: Potential Energy Zones in NSW is worth a look.

    It looks like NSW is preparing the ground for more renewable investments.

  28. Geoff M

    I like this bit: close to existing transmission and distribution infrastructure and load centres,

    Perhaps someone is considering ‘transmission losses’ on long transmission lines? It’s a small effect, but every energy saving is worth achieving if it’s cheap.

    Also, it seems they recognise this principle: why build new infrastructure if you can use existing gear?

    Folk on this blog have been cheering on the thousands of individuals, households and industrial/commercial firms switching to renewables. If this NSW scheme comes to fruition, it deserves cheering too. Will Minister Frydenberg applaud?

  29. AMBI: My recollection is that AC network losses are around 5%. They can be avoided by switching to DC for the longer lines.
    Not sure how expensive it is to do retrospectively.
    Long AC networks are also vulnerable to big solar flare events. Problem is that transformers have negligible resistance to DC voltage.

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