SA goes dark – who’s to blame?

Photo: Debbie Prosser

Wednesday’s severe weather system obliterated South Australia’s power grid, with 1.7 million people in the state losing power.

Outages began just before 4pm, with 22 transmission lines and 22 towers across the state taken out by hailstorms and more than 80,000 lightning strikes. Traffic lights went out, public transport was crippled, mobile phone coverage died and businesses closed their doors. Adelaide, the state’s capital, was worst affected.

SA Power Networks began restoring power to the darkened city around 8.30pm on Wednesday night, with the state’s backup base load generators slowly repowering the system to the remainder of the state throughout the night.

Now, fingers are being pointed, and renewable energy appears to be the prime target of the opposition government.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon told the ABC the failure of the state’s power system was a “disgrace”.

“How did this happen? How is an entire state blacked out?” he said.

“We have relied too much on wind rather than baseload renewables, rather than baseload power, including gas which is a fossil fuel but it is 50 per cent cleaner than coal and a good transitional fuel.”

According to South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill, the state’s power system behaved exactly as it was designed to in order to protect the national energy market, but Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg told ABC serious questions would be raised about the statewide blackout in coming weeks.

“[It] does raise questions for the stability of the system—not just for supply, because when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining, electricity is not being generated—but also for the stability of the system because of the frequency that is generated as opposed to base-load power which has historically been more coal and more gas,” he said.

“So questions are raised by the virtue of the increasing amount of renewables, but it has to be underlined that this was a weather event which led to this occurrence.”