Speech

Legislative Council

Amendment to the terms of reference: Select Committee on Statewide Electricity Blackout and Subsequent Power Outages

February 15th, 2017

Select Committee on Statewide Electricity Blackout and Subsequent Power Outages The Hon. M.C. PARNELL ( 17:15 :55 ): I move:

That it be an instruction to the Select Committee on State-wide Electricity Blackout and Subsequent Power Outages that its terms of reference be amended by leaving out—

'and

(f) Any other relevant matters.'

And inserting—

'(f) Power outages subsequent to 28 September 2016 including on 27 and 28 December 2016 and 8 February 2017;

(g) The role of power companies, state and national regulators and the state and commonwealth governments in the National Electricity Markets;

(h) Reforms that would improve electricity reliability and affordability in South Australia whilst reducing carbon emissions; and

(i) Any other relevant matters.'

Last year, this chamber established a select committee to look into the statewide electricity blackout and subsequent power outages. The terms of reference were settled in this council to give that inquiry work to do and to get it underway. Whilst the existing terms of reference use the words 'and subsequent power outages', the substance of the terms of reference only refers to the statewide blackout that happened on 28 September. I think it is important if this committee is to properly investigate the subsequent outages to name them, and to also name the scope of investigation that is needed to properly give effect to that inquiry.

I have taken the opportunity to suggest a few extra paragraphs to those terms of reference. They name the power outages that took place between Christmas and New Year, on 27 and 28 December, as well as the outage on 8 February. That is the recent one which members will recall resulted in 90,000 homes having their power turned off for, in some cases, close to an hour.

I have also suggested adding to the terms of reference the role of power companies, state and national regulators and the state and commonwealth governments in the National Electricity Markets. Why that is important is that, as all members would be aware, there is a debate raging over whether the outage on 8 February, in particular, was avoidable. In other words, was it possible for the Australian Energy Market Operator to order Pelican Point to turn on their second generation unit?

There is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing. The AEMO says that it was too late in getting onto it; there was not time to turn it on. There is conflicting evidence that suggests that in fact there was plenty of time, even on that day. There are also questions to be asked about why when New South Wales was facing potential outages of power they had something like 36 hours' notice that that was likely. I think there are questions for the regulators to answer, and I think it makes sense for this existing parliamentary committee to seek those answers.

I have also suggested adding a term of reference that the committee look at reforms that would improve electricity reliability and affordability in South Australia whilst reducing carbon emissions. To a certain extent that might be stating the obvious, but I think we need to state it nevertheless.

Members would be familiar with the brief that the Chief Scientist of Australia, Dr Alan Finkel, has been given to look into the electricity network at a national level. When he was in Adelaide the other day, he described the task before him as a 'trilemma'. Not a dilemma, but a trilemma, and that is, how do you get an electricity system that is firstly, secure and reliable; secondly, affordable; and thirdly that does not add extra pressure on climate change? So, I think it makes sense for this committee to be looking at those matters as well. Finally, I have incorporated 'any other relevant matters' which was in the existing terms of reference but it has been renumbered.

I have had a brief informal discussion with the Leader of the Opposition, and whilst he has not endorsed these particular words, he has expressed some interest in exploring these subsequent power outages. I think that these terms of reference do honour to that desire. We need to fix them up. They were written before these incidences occurred, and I think we need to make sure that the committee looks at all aspects of the electricity system, not just that one event on 28 September. I commend the motion to the house.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. T.J. Stephens .

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