Mr RAMSEY (Grey–Government Whip) (18:37): I trust that the member for Herbert will get a map and find out where the Snowy Mountains are. South Australia, Minister, is the epicentre of the energy crisis facing Australia, and it is a cheap and adequate example to the rest of Australia on what not to do with your electricity network.
In 2011, I first met with Alinta and was alerted to the impact that the proliferation of wind energy was having on their business plan. Throughout 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 I continued to meet with them. In 2012, I met with AEMO and tried to encourage some of our large customers to write longer term contracts with the Northern Power Station at Port Augusta, which was owned by Alinta-all to no avail, it seems, Minister. I am sad to report that Alinta announced the closure of the Northern Power Station in 2015. It had 15 years life left in it, and South Australia would not be facing the issues that it is now if that power station had not closed.
Alinta tried to get the Weatherill government to contribute $25 million for it to stay open for a further three years, which they chose not to do. Their next offer to the Weatherill government was to sell them the Northern Power Station for $1-one dollar. The consequent solution from the Weatherill government was to spend $350 million of taxpayers’ money to try and address the problem. We could have solved the problem for $1. However, throughout this period the Port Augusta community, anticipating the eventual closure of the Northern Power Station, have been campaigning loudly and vigorously for a solar thermal power station with storage to be situated at Port Augusta.
There has been a plethora of renewable projects in South Australia. Last year, 47 per cent of our electricity came from renewable sources. That sounds impressive, but unfortunately it is an unmitigated disaster. Not only do we have the most unreliable electricity in Australia; we have the most expensive. Sadly, this is an issue that I warned of. Because there has been no corresponding investment in storage of energy, that has led us to this very fragile state in South Australia. Consequently, the subsidised surplus of wind energy when it is windy-and I must say that, in South Australia, that is a fair bit of the time-has destroyed the business model of the base-load generators like Northern. Every day a new intermittent facility is commissioned, every day that a new facility comes online-and the Weatherill government shows no intention of slowing up on giving planning permission to these new facilities-it further destroys the business case for Torrens Island and Pelican Point gas-fired power stations.
In 2015 I had the opportunity to lead a parliamentary delegation to the US, and I had the opportunity to convince them that it would be good idea to visit SolarReserve’s Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Facility in Nevada, a 110-megawatt solar thermal concentrator with 1.1 gigawatt hours of storage-and I think that is a very important point, Minister: 1.1 gigawatt hours of storage. It is a very impressive facility, and we were all impressed. SolarReserve is very interested in building such a facility in Port Augusta. Subsequently, I met with an Australian company, Solarstor. They have developed Australian world-first technology-heat storage in graphite blocks, multiple towers, and revolutionary toroidal mirrors-and they too are very interested in building a facility in Port Augusta. I have worked with both companies. In the lead-up to last year’s election, I elicited support from the government, with then industry minister Greg Hunt, to announce that the federal government would support a solar thermal facility with storage in Port Augusta up to a value of $110 million. In this year’s budget, I was delighted when the Treasurer confirmed this commitment with an allocation of $110 million for solar thermal at Port Augusta by way of a tender process.
Minister, the question to you is: how is this process going, and where are we up to at the moment? Because we all wait with bated breath to see this become a reality in Port Augusta. The great emphasis that both of those proposals have on storage is of the essence to South Australia. We have more than enough renewable energy; we need to be able to store it and manage it.