(Image: Tom Red/Private Media)

On September 28, 2016, South Australia went dark. It felt apocalyptic.

When I lived in the country (OK, the “peri-urban fringe”) blackouts were a regular occurrence. But by that spring I was living in the CBD. You can poke fun at Adelaide, but the CBD is usually a relative hive of light and sound. On that day it was spooky.

My office at The Advertiser had a sort of half-power from generators (enough to flush the toilets and see my colleagues) but as I headed home I was thinking of Mad Max, and zombies, and how to live without a charged phone. I could hear cars and ambulances but no ambience.

A cascading catastrophe had caused a statewide blackout, an event that was manna from heaven for the anti-renewables crowd. It’s the first time I remember hearing that facile humbuggery: “When the wind doesn’t blow, and the sun doesn’t shine…”

Cursory research shows that phrase being used in various forms as far back as 2005. It’s now regularly deployed as a sort of untrue truism, to sketch a scenario whereby solar and wind are quite nice but not really up to the job of keeping the lights on.

A sweet plan, but a bit woke. Let’s have some muscular fossil fuels to back up this airy fairy renewables stuff — so the tone goes. It’s such a handy go-to caricature that, predictably, Prime Minister Scott Morrison wheeled it out when he announced his government’s plan to build a $600 million gas-fired power station.

“When the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine you need a gas-fired power plant to make up that difference to keep the lights on and prices down,” Morrison said.

Fickle wind and sun! Prices down! Lights on! Entrance stage left, memorise the script, break a leg.

There are many sedimentary levels of sophistry and scat to dig through in the plans to prop up fossil fuels — just as the International Energy Agency says there should be no new investment in them if the world is to reach net zero emissions by 2050. And as Australia barrels towards COP26 without clear targets.

Why are the free-marketeers intervening in the market? Is there a risk we’ll run out of power? Did the Hunter byelection have anything to do with it?

And then there’s this infuriatingly obtuse fallback to the wind not blowing and the sun not shining, as though there’s not a blindingly obvious answer. Storage.

South Australia keeps being held up as a there-but-for-the-grace-of-fossil-fuel-gods example of the capricious nature of renewable energy. And that’s a dirty lump of coal-fired crock. SA went dark because of a clusterfuck of wild weather, bad communication, and operator error. Not because the sun failed to shine, or the wind to blow.

But that phrase will keep getting wheeled out, a tried-and-(not)true way to denigrate renewables and justify pulling moves to keep the right-wing reprobates happy.

Business — oh, and the international community — is moving swiftly ahead of the government on this.

We’re chained to the coal fondlers — for now.

The big question is when the actual looming apocalypse will assume enough importance to jettison the faux-apocalypse of South Australia’s one-day blackout.