Interconnector to provide energy security

Mr TRELOAR (Flinders) (11:30): By leave, on behalf of the member for Morphett I move:

That this house—

(a) recognises that 28 September 2020 marks four years since the statewide blackout in which almost all of South Australia lost power;

(b) acknowledges the failure of the former Labor government to secure the state’s electricity network, resulting in the loss of power to over 850,000 customers, including to hospitals; and

(c) highlights the commitment by the state Liberal government to build a new high-capacity interconnector, connecting South Australia and the National Electricity Market.

The previous government’s rush to renewables without sufficient planning not only saw wholesale electricity prices soar in South Australia but also left our grid vulnerable. The huge, unmanaged growth in household and large-scale solar and wind power under Labor, combined with its disorderly closure of the Northern Power Station, meant our grid was left without sufficient base load power, making it extremely susceptible to shocks.

The irony did not escape those on the West Coast: the very day that the stack was brought down at Port Augusta, the power went out in Streaky Bay. The two incidents were not related, but the irony did not escape people. At that point, Streaky Bay was suffering regular power outages. I will come back to that because we all know that the Far West Coast is on the end of the grid and there are other things to take into account there.

At the time, the government had failed to make sure that South Australia had sufficient base load generation to keep prices down and the lights on. South Australians experienced the worst possible consequence of this mismanagement when the state was plunged into a blackout on 28 September 2016. It was a significant storm that caused a number of towers to come down in the Mid and Upper North of South Australia, which had a knock-on effect and effectively took out the state’s power supply for a period of time. The blackout lasted for a number of hours in some areas and for several days in other regions, including on Eyre Peninsula.

For those of us who were sitting in parliament at the time, we all remember when the power went out and we had to adjourn our proceedings in this very chamber, for no other reason than Hansard were unable to make effective recordings of the day’s proceedings. The lights were out. We had emergency generators, of course, but without Hansard there was no parliament. I do remember stepping out onto North Terrace at about 6pm in September and sensing a rather eerie feeling on that particular day when the entire city was blacked-out and people were attempting to make their way home in the evening without streetlights or traffic lights. Fortunately, we managed to do that but it was really quite eerie and a change from the normal situation.

As far as the West Coast and Port Lincoln go, Port Lincoln finished up being out of power for three days; that is my recollection. Areas inland on Eyre Peninsula were out for four days and I believe some areas went up to five days without power. The saga in Port Lincoln was exacerbated because we had in place three emergency generators, and I note the member for West Torrens is nodding. He is fully aware of this and we discussed it at the time.

Unfortunately, those generators failed to start. They failed to do what they were employed to do, and that is kick in to provide emergency power generation for the City of Port Lincoln. Had they functioned as they were supposed to, as they were contracted to, Port Lincoln would have hardly noticed that the power was out. I am honestly not sure what the result of that situation was. I assume that today those generators would be in a workable state. We do not know that. I am assuming that. We assumed it last time. As I said, had those generators worked, Port Lincoln would have hardly noticed.

Three days in I sensed the beginnings of panic amongst some of the population of Port Lincoln. There were line-ups, many hundreds of metres long at fuel outlets, with people wanting to fill up their car. Of course, that was difficult to do without electricity. There was no cash available; ATMs were out. It even got to the point where the water supply to the city was under some pressure because the electric pumps were not able to work and people were stockpiling water.

Most significantly, what happens in these extended power outages is that communications disappear. The mobile phone towers go out and the battery backup for the mobile phone towers goes out. Phone communications become unavailable and internet communication becomes unavailable and, of course, we all know how important internet and phone are these days.

Another thing that strikes home is how critical electricity is to our modern life. At the risk of giving my age away, I am old enough to remember as a boy in the far west of the state that we were connected to the state grid. For the first time in my parents’ life and my grandparents’ life, we had a mains power supply in the late 1960s. Life has changed significantly since then but we have come to a point where we absolutely cannot function as a modern society without electricity.

Business SA at that time claimed that the statewide blackout cost businesses $367 million over the period of one, two or three days. This government’s intention is to make our energy supply more reliable, more affordable and cleaner. We are delivering an interconnector with New South Wales to access cheaper base load power to allow us to export our abundant renewable energy and develop renewable energy zones along the route—a significant piece of investment in infrastructure.

We will also be rolling out the largest per capita Home Battery Scheme in the world with $100 million worth of subsidies for households to purchase home storage systems. In its own quiet way that helps to protect the grid itself. We will deliver our $50 million Grid Scale Storage Fund which will accelerate the rollout of grid-scale energy storage infrastructure and address the intermittency of South Australia’s electricity supplies. We will also deliver $30 million for demand management trials that can show how new and distributed technologies can make the grid more efficient and reward customers for managing their own demand. This is a significant shift in the way our electricity grid is managed.

The interconnector to New South Wales, known as Project EnergyConnect, has been deemed critical and a No Regrets project by the Australian Energy Market Operator to address the legacy of blackouts. Project EnergyConnect will stabilise the grid, helping to support the continued take-up of household solar by South Australians, particularly rooftop solar. Home rooftop solar, but also on sheds and small businesses, has seen a significant take-up in South Australia, and it has been a good thing, but it needs to be managed so that it does not cause problems with the larger grid. It will also create jobs and unlock further investment in renewable energy projects along the route of the interconnector.

The recent announcement from the ACT government to invest in the first stage of Neoen’s $3 billion Goyder project near Burra is an example of the type of investment this interconnector will secure for South Australia. There are many projects waiting in the wings for the interconnector to go ahead. The interconnector with New South Wales will supplement the two existing interconnectors running from South Australia into Victoria, the major interconnector being the Heywood interconnector running from the South-East of South Australia into Victoria and vice versa, and the other one being in the Murraylands, also into Victoria.

Significantly, the interconnector with New South Wales will become a crucial project, and it will deliver cheaper energy for South Australians, possibly an average saving of $66 per household and much more for small businesses. I have pleasure in moving this motion. It is significant, it is important, and the interconnector itself is a big part of securing our energy security into the future.

 

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