* Low wind, high demand spurs load shedding
* State accuses market operator of focussing on cost
* Federal govt blames over-reliance on wind, solar
(Adds Prime Minister, state treasurer, AGL comments)
By Melanie Burton and Sonali Paul
MELBOURNE, Feb 9 A power outage during a searing
heat wave in South Australia state has worsened a row with the
federal government over energy security and the state's heavy
reliance on wind and solar power.
Australia's energy market operator cut power to about 40,000
homes and small businesses in the state for about half an hour
on Wednesday when it was 41 Celsius (106 Fahrenheit) as
electricity use spiked up as people returned home from work, but
the wind died down.
The incident came just months after a major blackout hit the
state, which is heavily dependent on wind and solar power, and
followed a string of smaller outages and power price spikes
which have sparked reviews of the national electricity market
and Australian energy policy.
The federal government blames South Australia for failing to
secure reliable power supplies while it has rushed into
promoting renewable energy, putting major businesses at risk.
BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam copper mine, the state's biggest
power user, was forced to stop production for two weeks last
September after the state-wide blackout, while Alcoa's Portland
aluminium smelter was recently crippled by a power outage.
"We can't afford to go the way South Australia has, which
has the most expensive and the least reliable electricity in
Australia. Bad for jobs. Bad for business. Bad for families,"
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told his cabinet's energy
committee on Thursday.
Wind drives more than a third of South Australia's
electricity supply, which has led to the closure of coal-fired
plants and some gas-fired capacity and raised the risk of
outages when there is low wind or limited power from neighboring
South Australia, however, blamed the rules around how power
is dispatched by the national market operator for disrupting
supply. A gas-fired plant owned by French firm Engie,
had surplus capacity on Wednesday which the market operator
chose not to call on.
"They made a decision that it was easier and cheaper to load
shed than it was to turn on generation. Now that is
unacceptable," South Australian Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis told
To help ease the crisis, the state is considering building a
new interconnector with neighbouring states and looking to
encourage construction of new back-up power capacity.
The chief executive of AGL Energy, which owns a
gas-fired power station in the state, said on Thursday that
solving the problem would require a whole new architecture for
the electricity market, but said it was achievable.
(Reporting by Melanie Burton and Sonali Paul; Editing by Sandra
Maler and Richard Pullin)