Power and progression in SA

SA Premier Jay Weatherill is widely admired for realising his clean energy vision

Saturday March 17 marks the day South Australians head to the polls in what Premier Jay Weatherill describes as a state referendum on renewable energy. He’s a man with an unflinching vision and the tenacity to steer the state’s premier position in clean energy, building a renewables portfolio like no other. Only stepping out to bat off criticism from Canberra over the “bold experiment”.

The “experiment” shunned by the feds has drawn dividends for the state and attracted multinational players.

Developed in a relatively short period the powerful portfolio takes in the world’s biggest storage battery with Tesla’s 100 MW/129 MWh delivered in record time; unfolding development of SolarReserve’s 150 MW Aurora plant that on completion will be one of the world’s biggest solar thermal plants as well as a first for Australia; government grants for four hydro electric plants with storage; and the world’s largest virtual power plant involving 50,000 households. The list goes on.

The state capital has now attracted interest as an ideal location for the nation’s first EV plant, on the site of the old Holden factory, and Carnegie Clean Energy is eyeing up space within the same industrial/business precinct for a storage battery project with rooftop solar panels that will form a microgrid. The list continues.

Most recently the state attracted German battery giant Sonnen which has just announced plans to build a battery manufacturing plant in Adelaide that will create 430 jobs. It’s no coincidence about the choice of location, says Sonnen Australian managing director Chris Parratt.

“South Australia is at the forefront of energy policy and renewable energy. Sonnen is a company that is also in this space. What we’re doing is bringing cheap, affordable, clean energy to South Australia.”

The inventory is not yet exhausted: provided the citizens of South Australia re-elect Jay Weatherill interest free loans up to $10,000 for solar and battery storage systems for South Australian households will be on offer.

And in another election promise Australia’s first energy storage target will see the light of day with 25 per cent of the state’s peak demand met by stored renewable energy, accounting for 750 MW of storage. This is I addition to the renewable energy target that will be raised from 50 per cent to 75 per cent by 2025 (noting the state actually achieved 50 per cent in 2017) and net zero emissions by 2050.

The targets have hit a raw nerve in the nation’s capital with federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg accusing Weatherill of being a problem gambler who is “doubling down to chase his losses” on renewables targets.

Weatherill smartly quipped that instead he has hit the jobs jackpot.

And there you have it – his ability to outwit detractors and stay on track.

An industry insider said “A lesser man would have curled up in a foetal position or even backed off from clean energy following the September 2016 blackout which marked the start of the vitriol from Canberra. He could have taken a different approach and developed an anti-renewables stance like Frydenberg.

“But Jay Weatherill was not prepared to back down and appease the anti-renewables federal administration. He dug in his heels and went on to back the renewables revolution.

“Over the past 18 months his state has soared ahead by delivering tomorrow’s energy … setting the foundation for far-reaching changes that will benefit residents for decades to come. The reality is the state has now has a number of significant projects in the pipeline that collectively generate thousands of job vacancies.”

For his part Weatherill describes the upcoming March 17 South Australian state election as a referendum on renewable energy, posting on Facebook: “More renewable energy means cheaper power for all South Australians.

“We’re not interested in putting our leadership in renewable energy in the hands of people that don’t believe in a renewable energy future.”

If Weatherill is re-elected it will be Labor’s fifth consecutive term in the state.

“The Weatherill Government has made the right strategic decision to become the Smart Energy State, delivering real economic and employment benefits for South Australians, while driving down power bills,” said John Grimes of the Smart Energy Council.

“We call on all Governments and all political parties to support smart energy policies.”

Leader of the state opposition Liberal party is Steven Marshall who has signalled he would remove renewable energy targets, but at the same time flaunted a $100 million means tested subsidy scheme to help households install battery storage, and a $200 million fund to shore up state power connectors to the grid of the eastern states.