Ore inspiring debate offers coal comfort

Paul Osborne, AAP Senior Political Writer

Malcolm Turnbull says South Australia's blackouts are evidence of Labor's flawed economic and climate policy while the opposition blamed the federal minister and electricity regulator.

About 40,000 Adelaide properties lost power for half an hour at the end of a 42-degree day on Wednesday after the Australian Energy Market Operator ordered "load shedding" when demand spiked and generation dropped.

The blackout formed the backdrop for a rowdy question time in federal parliament on Thursday, with Treasurer Scott Morrison bringing into the chamber a lump of coal to show the government's commitment to cheap and reliable power.

The prime minister said Labor's "ideological approach" to renewable energy was turning off the lights in SA.

"They have failed to deliver the security of energy that Australians need," Mr Turnbull said.

Labor environment spokesman Mark Butler said the AEMO, which reports to federal minister Josh Frydenberg, had decided not to take action to ensure all of the gas generation in SA was switched on.

"Instead what happened was that federal regulator forced a blackout onto 40,000 households and businesses in South Australia that quite easily could have been avoided," Mr Butler said.

"It's about time that this minister and this government stopped playing politics with the energy challenges that are facing not just SA but this nation and instead made sure that the federal regulator AEMO is doing its job."

SA Premier Jay Weatherill said Australia's energy market rules were broken and national talks were needed to fix them.

Mr Frydenberg has asked AEMO for an urgent report into what happened, after the regulator offered a different account of why the gas-fired power station at Pelican Point wasn't turned on to help meet demand.

The report is expected within a fortnight.

Mr Frydenberg said the SA government should look at every option to stabilise the system, including reopening a 32-year-old coal-fired power station.

"If that means going back to the owners of the Northern Power station and saying 'this is something that we must investigate to re-start this, even though the closure's been announced', then you must do it," he said.

Alinta Energy closed Northern Power in Port Augusta last May and it is already partially demolished.

The Australian Industry Group called for consideration of a "demand response" policy, where energy users of all sizes have an incentive to slightly cut back usage at critical times so no one needs to be blacked out altogether.

"We need both long-term reform for a market that delivers affordable, reliable and clean energy, and urgent shorter term measures to ease the current crunch," AIG chief Innes Willox said.

AEMO has forecast more potential problems in coming weeks, in SA and NSW, but says it is "working with the market to mitigate the need for further load shedding events".