SOUTH East residents fear the state government will use the energy crisis to give the go-ahead for unconventional gas projects in the region.
A two-year long Parliamentary Inquiry found late last year there was “no social licence” for fracking to occur, with widespread community concerns about the risk to the area’s underground aquifers.
Last week, the Vic parliament banned all onshore unconventional gas projects, but in SA, the state government’s $550-million energy plan unveiled this week remains strongly focused on gas – including a 250-megawatt gas-fired power plant.
The plan is offering a 10 per cent stake in royalties for landowners willing to open their property to gas exploration.
Agricultural advocate Anne Daw says the incentives are “bribes” and fears it will divide communities.
“They don’t need to give out royalties to people in the Cooper Basin where it has been happening for years, so the only place where they are likely to be offered is the SE,” she said. “What we have got to remember is the economy of the SE is worth $3.44 billion to the state, so if there are any greedy farmers, they will be putting at risk a huge amount for the community.”
Last week, a war of words erupted with Energy and Resources Minister Tom Koutsantonis calling for the opposition to abandon its 10-year moratorium on unconventional gas projects in the region.
This was in response to an Australian Energy Market Operator report, which predicted more blackouts next summer.
But Opposition energy spokesperson Dan van Holst Pellekaan said the report was “false and misleading”, with no companies having any intention of proceeding with unconventional gas projects in the region.
He accepted the AEMO findings, but says the solution is a mix of energy sources.
“We don’t shy away from the fact that we need gas as part of electricity production of the future,” he said.
“My electorate of Stuart is a strong supplier of gas and has proven if done properly, with regard to people and the environment, it should be supported.
But Mr van Holst Pellekaan says SE residents have made it abundantly clear they are not ready for it to “happen in their part of the world”.
This should be respected and time given for constructive discussion, he said.
“The people of the SE would not feel they had a gun to their head and fear if they talk about it with the gas companies it will happen,” he said.
Repower Port Augusta spokesperson Dan Spencer says a “much smarter” alternative for SA’s energy woes is solar thermal power.
The community advocacy group has spent five years investigating solar thermal projects of up to 200mW output and Mr Spencer says the city could be a “renewables hub”.
Mr Spencer said to proceed they needed a buyer for the power and funding from existing clean energy funds.
“The state government is running a tender for their power use – they can either decide to prop up gas or back this solar thermal plant and have a transition,” he said.