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Energy minister Chris Bowen loses it at a journalist over energy crisis

Chris Bowen has furiously rejected suggestions that extending coal-fired power is the solution to Australia’s energy crisis.

The energy minister shot up at a press conference when he was challenged by a journalist about the unreliability of renewable energy.

One of the reasons for the suspension of the National Electricity Market on Wednesday was a lack of wind and solar energy.

The journalist asked: ‘Isn’t part of the supply problem the fact that you can’t direct the wind at the market?

‘All you can do is keep the coal-fired generators at the end of their life and repair the ones you have now and take them into the capacity market, isn’t that the short term solution?’

Minister Bowen said the solution is to invest quickly in renewable energy and storage – no more unreliable coal power.

‘The problem is that too little is being invested in sustainable energy. Not enough has been invested in storage,” he said.

‘Yes, you can say that the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. The rain doesn’t always fall either, but we can store the water and we can store renewable energy if we have the investment.

‘That investment has been lacking in the past decade. That’s the problem.’

Bowen said the current crisis has been “largely” caused by unexpected outages of coal plants nearing the end of their life.

The National Electricity Market has been suspended and hospitals have been ordered to reduce electricity consumption.  Pictured is the Tomago aluminum smelter in NSW, which was forced to cut production to reduce the likelihood of a blackout

The National Electricity Market has been suspended and hospitals have been ordered to reduce electricity consumption. Pictured is the Tomago aluminum smelter in NSW, which was forced to cut production to reduce the likelihood of a blackout

Last night, hospitals were ordered to cut electricity consumption and millions of people urged not to use basic equipment.

The potential for massive power outages has increased with approximately 1800 MW of coal-fired power not working in Queensland and 1200 MW of capacity offline in the states of NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.

Tomago’s aluminum smelter in NSW, the country’s largest consumer of electricity, was also forced to shut down production to reduce the chance of a power outage.

NSW Treasurer Matt Kean pleaded with residents Wednesday evening not to use the dishwashers until late at night, and Sydney hospital staff were instructed to conserve power in all non-clinical settings.

“This is the culmination of two and a half decades of policy failures by all sides of politics,” Liberal Victorian MP Tim Smith said Wednesday night.

“As a third world country, we are rationing the first two weeks of winter.”

Former Victorian Liberal Party president Michael Kroger said the crisis had made Australia “an international laughingstock”.

“We have more uranium, oil, gas, gold, diamonds, whatever. We are the most energy-rich country in the world,” he told Sky News on Wednesday evening.

“We are exploding with natural resources, but we have an energy crisis. What a farce.’

Millions of homes in NSW have been urged not to use appliances such as dishwashers (pictured) to save electricity and avoid power outages

Millions of homes in NSW have been urged not to use appliances such as dishwashers (pictured) to save electricity and avoid power outages

Mr Bowen said that while power outages had been avoided so far, the grid is still vulnerable to unexpected challenges.

“The system is under pressure,” he said.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) first suspended spot markets in NSW, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria at 2:05pm on Wednesday.

Why did AEMO suspend the electricity market?

  • A large number of generating units are out of service for scheduled maintenance
  • Scheduled Transmission Outages
  • Periods with little wind and solar energy
  • About 3000 MW of coal-fired generation out of action due to unplanned events
  • An early winter – increasing demand for both electricity and gas

It attributes the crisis to planned and unexpected coal-fired power outages, planned transmission outages, the early onset of winter and periods of low wind and solar power.

AEMO will apply a predetermined pricing schedule for each state, reportedly between $300MWh and $500MWh.

The figure is based on the average wholesale price on the spot market over the past four weeks.

Meanwhile, Mr Albanian has written to the United Nations to raise Australia’s emissions reduction targets in the midst of an energy crisis.

The Prime Minister signed the letter to the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Patricia Espinosa, in Canberra on Thursday, as millions of Australians were urged to conserve power to avoid power outages.

He was joined by Mr Bowen and industry stakeholders including business groups, unions and energy advocates.

Mr Albanian pledged to cut Australia’s emissions by 43 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The coalition’s target was 26-28 percent.

Announcing that he had sent the letter on Thursday, Mr Albanian said world leaders had welcomed Australia’s more ambitious goals.

“When I have spoken with international leaders in recent weeks, they have all welcomed Australia’s changed position,” he said.

“Our position changed from 43 percent, up 17 to 15 percent, from the 26 percent target to 28 percent that had remained there since Tony Abbott set it in 2015.”

Mr Albanian said his policy was sound and achievable.

‘Last December we announced what our policy framework would be. At the time, we released the most comprehensive modeling of any policy by any opposition since the federation. What we didn’t do was set a goal and then figure out how to get there,” he said.

“What we did was figure out what good policies looked like, and it came down to a target of 43 percent by 2030.

“What companies have been clamoring for is investment security. The certainty they need to invest over a longer period of time than the three-year political cycle, let alone the 24-hour media cycle that dominated the thinking of the former government.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanian signing the Nationally Determined Contribution

Prime Minister Anthony Albanian signing the Nationally Determined Contribution

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