South Australia's 'do nothing' renewables target

Jay Weatherill has announced a renewables target to make the climate-concerned weep with joy - 50% renewables by 2025. Wow! But electricity market data indicates the target will be achieved in 2016-17. What's going on here?

Yesterday the South Australian Government announced a target to achieve 50 per cent renewable energy in its electricity mix by 2025.

Wow, sounds impressive – and it is. But if it is achieved (and it is almost certain it will be) it has precious little to do with anything the SA Government has done.

You see the SA's Labor government has been pulling these clever little PR stunts for many years now, pioneered by the climate change PR gesture master Mike Rann.

The way it works is SA public servants assess the likely amount of renewable energy that will be installed in the state within the next few years as a result of the federal government’s Renewable Energy Target. Then, the South Australian government take this projection of what will be achieved under business as usual a few years from now, and duly claim it as an ambitious target that they are setting for themselves, but push out the year a bit so they claim they've reached it ahead of schedule.

And what exactly will the SA Government be doing, itself, to achieve this ambitious target?

Precisely nothing.

Perhaps the best that can be said is that at least the SA Government listens to the scientific evidence surrounding wind farm noise and sets planning approval guidelines on that basis. But shouldn’t they, and every other government, do that anyway?

The background to the trick is that, back a few years ago, Mike Rann noticed all these wind farms popping up in SA supported by the federal government’s then 9500 gigawatt-hour Renewable Energy Target. The reason they were going up in SA was simple – better wind speeds and higher power prices than other states, nothing to do with Mike Rann.

But being a clever politician keen to promote his green credentials he then clued on to an opportunity. He loudly proclaimed that he was setting a target for SA to achieve 20 per cent renewable energy by 2014. Of course, as everyone in the industry already knew the "ambitious" target was duly achieved several years early.  

With the federal government Renewable Energy Target having been significantly expanded to 41,000GWh, Rann no doubt realised he could pull the trick again, announcing a target in 2011 for 33 per cent renewable energy by 2020. Wow that sounds impressive, but it was business as usual thanks, of course, to the federal government.

Again, it was achieved several years early. The table below from the Australian Energy Market Operator showed that last financial year wind contributed 31 per cent of SA power generation and solar PV another 6 per cent. This misses the sizable contribution from power imported from Victoria. However a spokesperson for the SA Environment Minister, and another from the SA Energy Minister, informed Climate Spectator the target applies only to generation internal to SA.

Graph for South Australia's 'do nothing' renewables target

Source: Australian Energy Market Operator (2014) South Australian Electricity Report

Now surely targeting 50 per cent of SA electricity generation from renewables is ambitious and goes beyond business-as-usual?

Actually, AEMO projections (see figure 14)  produced last month – from the same publication that the table above was drawn – show SA will exceed the 50 per cent target in two years from now.

How is this possible?

Firstly, the figures in the table above leave out the generation from the already constructed Snowtown II wind farm currently undergoing commissioning. This wind farm is expected to produce about 985GWh per annum. That project alone puts South Australia just under 45 per cent of power generation from renewables. In addition, solar generation continues to grow as more panels are installed. Lastly, overall SA power generation will decline as more power will be imported from Victoria due to an upgrade of the grid interconnector, and an increase in the cost of SA gas generation due to gas price hikes. 

AEMO projects that wind is likely to generate around 4600GWh in 2016-17 without another additional wind farm being built. In addition, solar will produce 1205GWh, while total overall SA generation is expected to be 10,500GWh. 'Voila', 55 per cent of SA’s power generation will come from renewables – all without the SA Government lifting a finger.

Jay Weatherill, you are a sly genius.