Xenophon and key candidate out of sync on power

The Xenophon candidate in the key seat of Waite is a sustainable energy expert who accepts that he isn’t at one with his party leader on every aspect of electricity policy.

Oct 09, 2017, updated Oct 09, 2017
Senator Nick Xenophon has selected a candidate for Waite with strong green credentials. Photo: AAP/David Mariuz

Senator Nick Xenophon has selected a candidate for Waite with strong green credentials. Photo: AAP/David Mariuz

Graham Davies, a consultant engineer who specialises in the electricity system, believes that renewable energy is “the most cost-effective way to generate secure, reliable, quality electricity in Australia and indeed the world”.

In apparent contrast to SA Best party boss Nick Xenophon, Davies believes that South Australia’s power outages have not been “excessive” and “prices are not outrageous”.

Xenophon sent a shockwave through state politics on Friday when he announced he would quit the Senate to run in the Liberal-held seat of Hartley in the March 2018 state election.

In his statement announcing the move, Xenophon specifically mentioned the reliability of South Australia’s electricity system as a spur.

“South Australian politics has been reduced to a triumph of low expectations – where just keeping the lights on over the next summer will be presented by the government as a major achievement to be lauded and applauded. It’s embarrassing,” he said.

Xenophon has been a staunch critic of the management of South Australia’s transition to increased renewable energy, saying earlier this year that the Government had moved too quickly to embrace wind power and that its “reckless” approach had destabilised the grid.

Davies has argued that wind power reduces prices.

Writing in February, Davies said: “There have been many ‘alternative facts’ thrown around about SA’s blackout and high prices. Wind in particular has been lambasted, yet it is shown that increasing wind has roughly correlated with a decrease in prices. It was also shown wind turbines can withstand extreme gusts and can ride through, as evidenced in the Waterloo wind farms referenced in AEMO’s report (into the blackout).”

Davies, however, like Xenophon, has been critical of aspects of the State Government’s power policies, including warning in 2014 of the impact of the closure of Alinta’s Northern Power Station in Port Augusta on the state’s grid.

Xenophon said today that the Government had made “fundamentally bad decisions a number of years ago by ignoring making sure that we had a grid that was robust enough to withstand the sort of pressures that we saw last year during those storms (that led to last year’s statewide blackout)”.

Davies argues that in relation to the blackout “rampant rhetoric got in the way of fair and reasonable analysis”.

Davies was one of a first tranche of candidates announced through an exclusive given to The Advertiser on Saturday. But within hours Xenophon found himself on the back foot, sacking one of his candidates, Rhys Adams, after the ABC discovered Facebook photos of the man interacting crudely with wax figures at Madam Tussaud’s in Sydney.

Another candidate has also been under scrutiny over a post on her Facebook page, reportedly made by her husband, which made disparaging reference to former footballer Adam Goodes suggesting he looked like an “ape”.

Xenophon said today he wouldn’t sack the candidate for Hammond, Kelly Gladigau, over the post.

“That was a discussion, an online chat between her husband who is not the candidate and another person and I would urge people to make up their own mind,” Xenophon told ABC Radio Adelaide.

“I think her husband will issue a statement saying that he regrets the statement because he was quite clumsy. I think he was trying to make a point about the broader issue of racism in sport and both Kelly and her husband abhor racism in any form…”

Davies told InDaily today that scrutiny from the media – including for SA Best candidates – was a crucial part of increasing transparency and accountability in government.

He said he accepted he had some “different thinking” to Xenophon on aspects of power policy.

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“This is up for discussion – to get it right,” he said.

He said his February article, in which he downplayed the price of electricity in South Australia, was about the cost of generation and that prices in this state for consumers were “very high”.

He said power policy in Australia had been a “fiasco” that needed to be fixed.

Xenophon’s deal-making in the Senate, which led to federal support for a solar thermal power plant in Port Augusta, was one of the factors that led to Davies joining SA Best.

Another key factor was Davies’ involvement as a consultant to the Coober Pedy council on a new electricity system for the “off grid” outback town.

Davies and other SA Best candidates, pictured on the party’s website.

Davies, who runs a company called Resonant Solution, advised the council in 2015/16 that a project by energy company EDL to build a new hybrid renewable power system for the town would cost double the price it should.

His report warned that the project should not be awarded without going to tender and the process “has had minimal or no transparency, probity and competitive tension”.

The council, which signed off on the project – it says, under pressure from the State Government – has been in conflict with EDL over the project, which has since been installed and is up and running.

The taxpayer carries the risk for any increased costs, because the State Government subsidises power prices in Coober Pedy.

Davies said today that his experience with the State Government over the project had made him determined to ensure there is greater transparency and accountability – a key platform for SA Best.

“I was concerned about the State Government’s role in pushing for that to go ahead,” he said.

Davies, 55, is married with two daughters. He is the chair of the Sustainable Engineering society and a board member of the Conservation Council SA.

He lives in the seat of Waite, which was won by Martin Hamilton-Smith for the Liberals in 2014 before the former leader abandoned the party to join the Weatherill Government’s cabinet.

Liberal Sam Duluk is standing for the seat, leaving his current electorate of Davenport after a redistribution shifted the boundaries.

Poll data obtained by The Advertiser last week showed SA Best has a strong chance in the seat.

InDaily has sought a response from Xenophon over the apparent differences with Davies on power policy.

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