Australia to launch independent review into state-wide blackout

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia will conduct an independent review into a blackout last week across South Australia state, although a meeting between state and federal energy ministers failed to resolve their differences over renewable energy targets.

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South Australia state, a major wine producer and traditional manufacturing hub, had no power last week for nearly 24 hours after a series of severe storms and lighting strikes.

But while energy officials agreed on Friday at an emergency meeting on the need for an independent review, political divisions over renewables targets still persisted.

“The Australian government would like to see greater harmonization of renewable targets, and I made that clear to the state energy ministers,” said Josh Frydenberg, Australia’s federal energy minister.

Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull - leader of the country’s ruling conservative government, which supports traditional coal and natural gas power generation - has blamed South Australia’s high dependence on renewables for the outage.

Turnbull’s assessment has drawn criticism from state leaders, who accused the prime minister of letting ideology drive his comments.

The federal government wants 23.5 percent of Australia’s energy mix to come from renewables by 2020. Nearly all states, though, have set more ambitious renewables goals to cut carbon dioxide emissions from their power sectors.

Australia’s government has sought to clarify Turnbull’s comments about renewables, saying that because South Australia relies on intermittent renewables for 40 percent of its power, when those sources fall short there is not an alternative such as gas or coal to pick-up the slack.

Gas-fired power generation has struggled to complete with cheaper-to-operate renewables, and that has led to up to 15 percent of Australia’s natural gas power capacity being mothballed.

Besides looking at the role played by renewables in the power outage, the independent review will also examine measures supported by Australian power generators for increase the competitiveness of natural gas, Frydenberg said.

Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Tom Hogue