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Electricity connector test to help SA

AAP logoAAP 18/08/2016

State and territory energy ministers have agreed to fast-track testing for a plan to connect South Australia to NSW's energy network to help the state deal with a power crisis.

The COAG energy council on Friday unanimously agreed expedite a regulatory test for an SA to NSW interconnector at its first meeting since the election and with new federal minister Josh Frydenberg.

Gas contracts will be made more transparent with a bulletin board which will publish prices of contracts.

A new group would also look at implementing advice on gas market reform from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Australian Energy Market Commission.

The changes agreed to would improve competition, encourage more supply and put downward pressure on prices, Mr Frydenberg said.

"These are the most significant reforms to the domestic gas market in two decades."

Power prices in SA have soared as the state relies more heavily on intermittent renewable energy and an interconnector with Victoria is disrupted due to an upgrade.

"It's been less than perfect to say the least," Mr Frydenberg said.

South Australia is leading the states and territories in renewable energy, with a target of 50 per cent by 2025 and $10 billion earmarked for low carbon investment by 2025.

But with renewable energy unable to be stored and therefore intermittent, the state relies on an interconnector between Victoria and SA to connect it to the electricity market.

That interconnector has been periodically out of action due to an upgrade.

"When the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining, the energy isn't being produced," Mr Frydenberg said, talking up the importance of battery storage.

Friday's meeting follows a report, commissioned by activist group GetUp, which accuses the big three energy companies AGL, Origin Energy and EnergyAustralia, of price-gouging consumers.

The research shows South Australians are being ripped off more than other states, with power bills $425 higher in SA than in the regulated market of the ACT.

Green groups want to see the ministers commit to a zero-emission energy sector by 2050 and transition away from coal.

The Australian Greens have promised to introduce a bill to parliament to make cutting pollution an "overriding goal" of the electricity system if the ministers don't find a solution to do so on Friday.

States and territories set energy laws in cooperation with the Commonwealth, however, the Greens say they have advice that federal laws could be scribed using the "external affairs power" in the constitution without the states' support.

That's because Australia has signed onto international treaties such as Kyoto to cut carbon pollution.

"Our national electricity market is out of date and incapable of managing and driving the shift to clean energy," Greens MP Adam Bandt said.

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