A rush by Australia’s state governments to switch to clean electricity sources could undermine the country’s energy security, the federal government warned Thursday after an entire state lost power. South Australia state lost power on Wednesday as it was lashed by two tornadoes, thunder storms and fierce winds that caused traffic chaos, stranded people in elevators and prompted police to warn residents to stay inside. Lightning struck a power plant and at least 22 transmission towers were toppled by high winds, officials said.
The state is 40 percent bigger than Texas, covering more than 980,000 square kilometers (380,000 square miles) and is home to 1.7 million people. More than 90 percent of the state’s households had power restored by Thursday, including the state capital Adelaide. But state Premier Jay Weatherill said some households in the state’s rural north could be without power for days.
The federal government said the blackout was caused by extreme weather, but questioned whether South Australia’s heavy reliance on solar and wind-generated power made its network less resilient. South Australia gets 41 percent of its power from renewable energy sources, more than any other state after Tasmania which is mostly powered by hydro-electricity.
“There is no doubt that a heavy reliance on intermittent, renewables … does place very different strains and pressures on a grid than reliance on traditional base-load power,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters. “Energy security should always be the key priority,” he said. “I regret to say that a number of the state … governments have over the years set priorities and renewable targets that are extremely aggressive, extremely unrealistic and have paid little or no attention to energy security.”
Most of Australia’s electricity comes from coal-fired power stations, making Australia one of the world’s worst greenhouse gas emitters on a per capita basis. Weatherill said power surges triggered by the weather caused the state’s coal-fired generators and links to the national grid to shut down to protect themselves, resulting in the statewide blackout.
“This was a weather event, this was not a renewable energy event,” he told reporters. Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said he would call state leaders together to discuss how to avoid a repeat of such an outage, saying the states had set “unrealistic targets” on boosting renewable energy. He wants the states to adapt a federal target of increasing Australia’s reliance on renewable energy from 15 percent now to 23.5 percent by 2020.
Victoria, Australia’s most populous state after New South Wales, plans to increase its reliance on renewable energy from 12 percent now to 40 percent by 2025. Queensland, the third most populous state, plans to go from 4.5 percent renewable energy now to 50 percent by 2030.