Motion: State electricity network

The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart—Minister for Energy and Mining) (12:00): I thank the member for King for her well-researched and well-presented contribution. I also rise to support the motion—initially from the member for Morphett, now the Minister for Trade and Investment—moved very well today by the member for Flinders.

I am in strong support of this motion and reject almost all that the former Labor government minister, now shadow energy spokesperson, said. Those opposite would have us believe that when ETSA was sold—I think it was about 22 years ago now—it meant that the statewide blackout was inevitable and unavoidable. That is not the case.

Another thing that was said in the contribution of the member opposite was that statewide blackouts happen on average once every 50 years. I do not know how many commentators we all heard talk about that statewide blackout four years ago as the first one ever in South Australia. We do know that South Australia has been around a lot longer than 50 years, a lot longer than 100 years, longer than 150 years, so that average is not right either.

Those opposite would have us believe that this statewide blackout was inevitable and that it was just their terribly bad luck to be in government at the time it came along. What a ridiculous argument. The statewide blackout was a tragedy for our state.

I work my guts out every day, as do people in my office and as do people in the department, as do people in industry, to do everything we possibly can to make sure it never happens again. Can we guarantee that? No, there are no guarantees. Have we achieved it so far? Yes, we have. In 2½ years of government we have seen no forced load shedding to electricity customers in South Australia—in stark contrast to the very regular occurrence of forced load shedding under the previous government.

In our 2½ years of government we have seen electricity prices come down, as has just been explained by the member for King. Independently assessed by ESCOSA, in just the last two years there has been a $158 decrease in the cost of electricity available to South Australian households—in stark contrast to the $477 increase those same households suffered while also suffering through blackouts in the last two years of the previous government.

We are doing everything we possibly can to make things better. Our whole government is focused on reducing the cost of living and that burden to South Australia, and my work—not exclusively, but largely—is in the energy space. We are making things better.

The member opposite, the Labor opposition's energy spokesperson, talked about the Northern power station closing. The Northern power station was always going to close at some time in these years, and that had been known for 10 or 15 years ahead. The coal was starting to run out; it had not run out, but the quality was reducing up at the mine at Leigh Creek. The power station had an enormous amount of maintenance done to it, but not everything that would be needed to see it operate for another 10 or 20 years.

We also know that we are moving into a transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy. Gas is going to be with us for a long time to come; less and less gas in electricity generation over time, but it will be with us for a long time and we will be glad to have it. However, we are certainly moving away from coal, and I think that most people are pleased that we have moved away from coal. But what a lot of people do not know is that Alinta, the operator of the Northern power station, offered that if the former Labor government could contribute $24 million towards the cost of operating that plant over three years they would keep it running and it would support South Australia.

Those opposite turned that offer down so the power station closed sooner than it needed to. It did need to close but it did not need to close when it did. If it had operated for one or two or three years longer we would have been in a much better place in South Australia to have a well-planned, well-managed transition away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy.

As it was, South Australians were pushed over the cliff by the previous Labor government just for the former Premier's populist, and no doubt he believed deeply himself, personal desire to get as much renewable energy in South Australia as possible. Renewable energy is fantastic, everybody wants it, myself included, but renewable energy is only valuable when it is available.

The current Premier, then Leader of the Opposition, and I said to the former government for years, 'Sure, get more wind farms and get more solar farms, but there's a point beyond which you cannot go until you do two things: you start to get the energy mix right and you have a significant amount of grid-scale storage to help you through the vagaries of weather.'

Do not worry about what I or the then Leader of the Opposition and now Premier said; the former Labor government paid for, with taxpayers' money, independent external advice asking about whether they should increase their renewable energy target back at the time. I am now going back I think to 2009, when the government paid for two independent consultancies to get advice on whether they should increase their then renewable energy target from 25 per cent to 33 per cent.

Guess what, Mr Speaker? Both those consultancies said, 'Don't do it. You will lose system strength. You will put the grid at risk. You will put prices up. Do not do it.' Guess what they did? They did it anyway. After being at 33 per cent renewable energy penetration target, they went to a 50 per cent target and then, at the last election, they had moved on to a 75 per cent renewable energy target for South Australia without a word until their last stage in office. After they were woken up by the statewide blackout, then they started to talk about storage, then they started to talk about having backup supplies.

This was not something that was just coming in: it was terribly bad luck that the Labor Party was in government at the time, as those opposite would have us believe, based on the shadow minister's contribution—it was just going to come 20 years after ETSA regardless; it was just going to come every 50 years regardless. What rubbish, what absolute rubbish.

We have to get the mix right. We need to have a smart combination of wind and of sun, both large-scale solar and small-scale solar and large-scale storage and small-scale storage. We have about 270,000 homes in South Australia with solar on them now. We are heading towards tens of thousands of homes with small-scale batteries, household batteries. We have four grid-scale batteries operating in South Australia now. These are the things that allow us to have more renewable energy generated.

We are working hand in hand with industries, with academic institutions and with key stakeholders, and they all agree that interconnection is another key component of what South Australia needs—every one, except the South Australian Labor Party. Even Labor governments interstate support this but not here in South Australia, unfortunately, and it is time—they should just get out of the way.

If they cannot bring themselves to believe the expert advice coming from all corners, from gas-fired generators all the way through to Greenpeace at the other end of the spectrum, if they just cannot find it in their hearts to agree with what people are saying and what experts are saying, at least they should just drop their opposition. It was their opposition and what they did when they were in government that meant that South Australian households and businesses, from the smallest one-person household all the way through to the largest employers, which are some of the largest electricity consumers, were all punished by the previous Labor government's energy policies. They were punished with ever-increasing prices and more and more frequent blackouts, including the unprecedented statewide blackout.

The actions of those opposite have put South Australia in a precarious position. We remain in a very precarious position. We remain in a terribly challenging situation with great risks to our grid, but we are working through it sensibly, and we are bringing consumers and suppliers with us in a sensible way.