Australia markets closed

PM blasts 'unrealistic' renewable targets

Malcolm Turnbull has blasted state Labor governments for setting aggressive and unrealistic renewable energy targets.

A statewide blackout in South Australia, triggered by ferocious storms on Wednesday that damaged one of its power stations and 20 transmission towers, has set off a debate about renewable energy.

Premier Jay Weatherill insists the lengthy outage was caused by an unprecedented weather event and not SA's heavy dependence on renewable energy.

"What happened yesterday was a storm event," he told reporters in Adelaide on Thursday.

"What it did was destroy infrastructure. What the system did was to protect itself so that we could get it up and running quickly and that's exactly what happened."

The prime minister said energy security must be a key priority for governments.

"If you are stuck in an elevator, if the lights won't go on, if your fridge is thawing out, everything in the kitchen is thawing out because the power is gone, you are not going to be concerned about the particular source of that power," Mr Turnbull told reporters in Launceston.

"You want to know that the energy is secure."

Reliance on "intermittent renewables" placed different strains and pressures on the electricity grid than traditional baseload power from fossil fuels or hydro.

Mr Turnbull regretted that several state Labor governments - not just in SA - had set "extremely aggressive, extremely unrealistic" targets for renewable energy use.

"Targeting lower emissions is very important but it must be consistent with energy security," Mr Turnbull said.

Federal Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg is hauling his state counterparts in for a meeting in the next few days to discuss what lessons should be taken from the SA disaster.

"Right now in this country we have a hodgepodge of renewable energy targets that are spread differently across the state and territory and federal governments," he told reporters in Melbourne.

The federal government's target is to have 23.5 per cent renewable energy by 2020 but Queensland and South Australia are aiming for 50 per cent and Victoria for 40 per cent, although over longer timeframes.

Those high targets had knock-on impacts, including stability of the system and skewing where investments were made, Mr Frydenberg said.

He wants the states to look at agreeing on a single renewable energy target across all jurisdictions.

South Australian senator Nick Xenophon has called for an inquiry into the power supply, saying the Australian Energy Market Commission should examine whether the state's energy mix made it more vulnerable to an outage.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce echoed the call and queried whether there was an over-reliance on renewable energy.

Mr Weatherill said it was disappointing some people were prematurely jumping to conclusions about contributing factors.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said coalition MPs were cynically trying to use a natural disaster for their own political purposes.

"The experts have made it clear what has taken the power out in South Australia is the weather, not a government policy," he told reporters in Canberra.

"This is a super storm, 80,000 lightning strikes - that didn't happen because of the renewable energy target.

"The fact that 20 transmission towers were blown down by almost cyclonic winds is not due to a renewable energy target, it's due to the weather."