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South Australia Election 2018 - Anyone's Game

The Federal Government and Opposition will be watching closely as energy policy becomes the number one battleground for the March 17 poll.

Unlike most state polls, the South Australian election is about more than issues solely relevant to the Crow-eater state. South Australia has been at the epicentre of the energy policy debate for the last three years and this election will see voters pass judgement as they clutch their skyrocketing power bills in one hand, and their ballot paper in the other.

The Weatherill Government has mandated that around 30 percent of its energy be sourced from renewables. Successive reports by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has found this has had a direct impact on the State's energy grid, echoed by the spate of large area blackouts in recent months and years along with the skyrocketing cost of electricity.

The vote at this election will be seen by many as a referendum on the role of renewables in our nation's future energy mix. Casual observers may think the energy supply crisis and ridiculously high cost of power in South Australia will result in a whitewash for the Liberal Party.

This is not the case. Many in the Federal Coalition are frustrated that the South Australian Liberal Opposition has not done more to capitalise on the energy crisis.

Throw into this mix the highly popular former Federal Senator and Leader of SA Best, Nick Xenophon, and you have a contest that will go down to the wire.

A December 2017 poll by the Australian newspaper, found that 32 per cent of voters intend to direct their first preferences to SA Best, compared to the Liberal Party on 29 per cent and Labor on 27 per cent.

With no election benchmark for Xenophon's SA Best, it's impossible to calculate what a two-party preferred vote would look like. However, most pundits agree that Xenophon could well become the king-maker if the vote is tight on 17 March.

Premier Jay Weatherill launched Labor's campaign last weekend, promising $2 billion in infrastructure spending, including part-funding for a new export-focused deep water port.

Weatherill again tied Labor's hopes to his push for renewable energy and battery storage, with Tesla's $240 million giant battery being constructed in the state's mid-north. That's despite comments by recent visiting Nobel laureate and Obama administration energy secretary Professor Steven Chu.

In late January Professor Chu said South Australia's huge lithium-ion battery had cost about 40 times as much as an equivalent power plant using an existing hydro-electric dam.

Opposition Leader Steven Marshall and the South Australian Liberals have appealed to the Party's traditional base, promising a $45 million strategy to cut payroll tax for small business. The Liberals have also jumped on the renewable bandwagon, promising a $100 million home battery subsidy scheme.

The criticism levelled at both major parties is that there is nothing in either campaign platform designed to lock in reliable and affordable base load power for South Australian households.

With SA voters paying the highest electricity bills in the country, alternatives like Nick Xenophon and SA Best become more attractive by the day.

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