Lunatics, like those that people Australia’s Labor Party and the so-called ‘Greens’, continue to delude themselves that, not only is wind power a ‘meaningful’ power generation source, but also that, if we would all simply have faith and ‘believe’, our modern, first world economies could be run entirely upon the whims of the Wind Gods.
South Australia, an economic basket case that took up the ‘faith’ back in 2002, now enjoys the ignominy of having an unstable grid – prone to mass blackouts whenever its wind power output plummets – businesses grappling with another 90% hike in power prices (with worse to come); and a forward spot price of over $90 per MWh, more than double what their neighbours in Victoria will be paying.
Tasmania, half of which is a National Park, with most of the balance devoted to organic berry farms and dairies, is now suffering from a self-inflicted power crisis; forced to rely upon hurriedly imported diesel generators to keep its lights on (and, maybe, to keep some of its few, industrial businesses from collapsing?). Here’s some background from The Australian.
Fighting to keep Tasmania’s lights on in energy crisis
15 March 2016
An extraordinary industrial event occurred in Tasmania at the weekend. Diesel generators, hastily rushed across Bass Strait at a cost of $44 million, rumbled into action to keep the lights on.
This week, the generators operating since Friday at Catagunya Power Station will ramp up production from 9MW to 24MW, leaving the public wondering: just how does a state in 21st century Australia run out of power?
Tasmania is firmly in the grip of an energy crisis, and even with this injection of up to 200 megawatts of dirty diesel energy — costing up to $22m a month — the state’s three major manufacturers have “voluntarily” agreed to cut production to conserve power.
It is a crisis blamed on extraordinary weather events, power company mismanagement, the desire for profits before energy security, catastrophic technical failure — even the carbon tax. And the impact is multiplying — already thousands of Tasmanians are left with slow internet speeds.
Beleaguered state Energy Minister Matthew Groom says he can’t rule out further voluntary power rationing and major industrial energy users are concerned they may yet be forced into more serious shutdowns.
The crisis is the first major setback for the Liberal government, elected two years ago. The latest EMRS poll this month shows support for the Liberals is down 2 percentage points, while Premier Will Hodgman’s preferred premier rating fell 4 percentage points.
The state’s once mighty hydro-electric dams, source of the cheap power that drove industrialisation, are approaching impotence, with storage levels falling yesterday to a record low of 14.8 per cent.
Diesel generation is an ignominious predicament for a state that until recently prided itself on generating its power by virtually 100 per cent renewable energy, and which trades heavily on its “clean, green” image.
So how did things get this bad and — once the immediate crisis is over — can Tasmania guarantee long-term energy security? The emergency has two main causes: an unusually extended dry period and a protracted failure in the 290km Basslink undersea cable that allows the trading of power — in both directions — between Tasmania and the mainland.
On December 20, a fault abruptly severed Tasmanian imports of power from Victoria, but until last week, Basslink could not even identify its location. Basslink now believes it has pinned down the “probable” fault location to 98km off the Tasmanian coast, but warns the process of cutting, capping and replacing the faulty section could take until late May.
There is little public confidence in this date: Basslink originally promised to fix the problem by February and then by March. In the meantime, cutting the cable (which includes some telecommunications lines) has caused another problem — snail-like internet speeds for thousands of non-Telstra internet customers. All transferred to separate Telstra cables in preparation for the Basslink cutting, but iiNet and Internode appear to have failed to secure sufficient capacity from Telstra to avoid service disruption.
Both underlying energy problems — the big dry and the Basslink fault — are larger in scale than foreseen in contingency planning by Hydro Tasmania, the state-owned power generator.
But dam levels might have been higher had Hydro not maximised its profits by exporting large volumes of renewable power while the carbon tax was in place.
Hydro and Groom, the son of a former Liberal premier, are keen to emphasise the unforeseen causes. “What we are dealing with here is a combination of extraordinary circumstances,” Groom says. “The record low rainfall from September through to December (2015) was not just the lowest spring rainfall on record, it was less than half the previous record low.
“And then Basslink, which had operated successfully for 10 years, (goes and) has its first substantive outage in the middle of the dry.”
Even so, the impact of these extraordinary events was exacerbated by decisions made in the lead-up. One was a directive from Groom — in response to lobbying from Hydro — to decommission and sell an underused gas turbine.
The combined cycle gas turbine, or CCGT, located in the Tamar Valley in the state’s north, was expensive to run. Keeping it operation-ready was bleeding millions with no tangible benefit. Last August, Groom authorised Hydro to decommission and sell the gas turbine as a “redundant liability”.
At the time, Opposition Leader Bryan Green, a former energy minister, in remarks that now seem prophetic, cautioned against the move, saying that without the turbine, a severe drought would “jeopardise our energy security” and have “dire consequences for Tasmania’s energy users”.
In Groom’s defence, he only agreed to allow Hydro to decommission and dispose of the turbine — capable of producing 208MW of baseload energy — after seeking assurances. These included that Hydro provide “written confirmation …. that the business can meet its energy security responsibility without” the turbine. In a news release of August 12, Hydro reassured the public that it had “undertaken extensive modelling and confirmed that the CCGT is not required for energy security”.
It’s now evident that this modelling was too optimistic. Last November, in the grip of the worse than expected dry spring, Hydro had to take steps to reactivate the turbine it had declared a “redundant liability” only months earlier (but had fortunately failed to sell).
By January 20, the gas turbine judged “not required for energy security” was running around-the-clock to keep the lights on.
Green argues the turbine should have run from mid-2015 to allow dam storages to rebuild, reducing the impact of the drought and the Basslink outage. Data released under freedom of information laws shows Hydro was exporting more power than it imported throughout May to August last year; only giving its dams a rest from September.
Hydro chief executive Steve Davy — another man in the hot seat — argues no one saw the crisis coming because water inflows to its dams were above average from May to August last year. “Inflows only fell below the average — for planning assumptions — in September 2015,” Davy says.
Hydro is under fire for running down dam levels during the period of the carbon tax, when it maximised profits by exporting renewable energy via Basslink to Victoria. In particular, there are questions about Hydro’s actions in the last six months of the carbon tax (before its abolition in July 2014). Dam storage almost halved from 50.8 per cent in November 2013 to 27.9 per cent in July 2014.
In its defence, Hydro points out it only pursued this strategy after building up dam storages. Once the carbon tax was repealed, it immediately allowed the storage levels to rise, to 34 per cent in November 2014. Unfortunately, levels have been falling ever since.
As well, Hydro continued to take advantage of high spot prices by exporting power to Victoria for short periods into December and right up to the day Basslink crashed. This was despite dam storages being only a fraction above the 25 per cent level set by Hydro as a safe minimum.
Green accuses the government of putting “greed before energy security” and is demanding an independent inquiry.
Groom has instead announced an expert taskforce to look into the decisions that led to the crisis, and to map the way forward. He’s not scapegoating Hydro but suggests it will have questions to answer once the immediate crisis is over. “I have confidence in Hydro Tasmania; I think it is important though that we have a look at all of the decisions that were made,” Groom says.
Hydro defends its actions. “If there had been no carbon price, storages would have been held to a very similar level to where they were at the end of the carbon price period,” a spokesman says. “The net effect of the carbon price on storages was close to zero.” The export of power to Victoria as late as December was justified by the high prices on offer, he argues. “This would clearly not have occurred had we known Basslink was to fail a few days later,” he says.
Significantly, Groom says Hydro’s “minimum” dam storage level (measured at July 1 each year) was down from 30 per cent to 25 per cent in September 2012, following the introduction of the carbon tax. This suggests the last Labor-Greens state government — including Bryan Green, who was then energy minister — also prioritised profits before energy security, although Green argues it was in the context of the gas turbine remaining operational.
After the winter rain arrives, the cable is fixed and the recriminations played out, Tasmania must work out how to ensure it never again runs out of juice.
Its main long-term strategy appears to be the building of a second $1 billion Basslink cable.
As revealed by The Australian, the idea of Basslink II — and a request for federal funds — has been raised in talks between Premier Hodgman and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Tasmania’s case for federal funding — and for other states to share the costs of transmission via a second cable — is that it would not only guarantee its energy security but allow for future exports of clean power to the mainland. “It’s not just Tasmania — it’s also Victoria and South Australia that would benefit from a better energy security perspective,” Groom argues.
However, Green believes a second cable is not viable without a price on carbon and agreement from other states to share the costs of transmission. “That is a big ask on other jurisdictions in Australia — for them to take on the costs of that transmission,” Green says. “Victoria is not going to say, ‘We’ll put an extra charge on our people so that Tasmania can sell more renewable energy.’ So unless there is some kind of framework in place, like a price on carbon, which makes renewable energy more profitable, it’s hard to see.”
Another major complication is that 60 per cent of Tasmania’s 1200MW average energy consumption stems from just a few big industrial users: Bell Bay Aluminium, Temco’s magnesium alloy factory and the Norske Skog paper mill. All have agreed to cut production during the crisis to save 150MW in energy, costing Bell Bay alone $21m in lost output. However, if one or more of these big users left the state, Tasmania could overnight switch from a power shortage to a power glut.
This is why any major expansion of power generation in Tasmania, particularly wind generation, to which it is ideally suited, is problematic without a second Basslink cable on hand to export any surplus. In the medium term, in case the Basslink outage continues into next summer, the government is investigating acquiring 25WM dual generators, which use either gas or diesel, or stand-alone gas power units.
Groom insists the higher costs of running diesel and gas will not be passed on to consumers, with Hydro directed to absorb the hit. But whether via a subsidised second cable, building and maintaining “insurance” generation, or selling less power to the mainland — the long-term solutions all appear to involve significant costs to taxpayers.
Matt says the discovered data “shows Hydro was exporting more power than it imported throughout May to August last year”. Those exports have nothing to do with the tax imposed on CO2 gas by the Green/Labor Alliance in 2010, which was binned by the Abbott government in July 2014.
No, the reason that Tasmania was draining its dams faster than nature could replenish them during 2015, was to cash in on the spot price for power, which rockets from an average around $40-$70 per MWh (depending on which State you’re in); zooms north to more than $2,000 per MWh; and often hits the market regulated cap of $13,800 per MWh, on a routine, but totally unpredictable basis, when wind power output plummets across whole States and/or the entire Eastern Grid: South Australia’s Unbridled Wind Power Insanity: Wind Power Collapses see Spot Prices Rocket from $70 to $13,800 per MWh
As Tas Hydro says, “the export of power to Victoria as late as December [up to the point Basslink failed] was justified by the high prices on offer”. Indeed they were!
In the graph above, it is evident that Tas Hydro was draining its dams at an unsustainable rate from September to December 2015; and that, after Basslink failed, and it could no longer import cheap coal-fired power from Victoria, it had to rely even more heavily upon its dwindling water reserves.
As the power output from its dams can be controlled in an instant, such that power can be dispatched within about 90 seconds, on demand, Tas Hydro was able to pump power into the Eastern Grid, via the Basslink undersea cable, in order to extract ludicrous prices from the grid operator which, but for chaotic wind power output collapses, would never occur.
Like any electricity transmission system, Basslink has a natural limit as to what it can withstand. Transmission lines (and the interconnectors and undersea cables that direct the power that flows from one part of the grid to another) have limited physical capacity to convey electricity (think “resistance”, “impedance” etc), which is referred to as “thermal capacity limitation”.
Think about the high school science experiment you did where you had some fuse wire connected to 2 terminals; and increased the voltage to the point where the wire glowed and then melted.
Transmission lines carrying abnormal loads suffer failures for much the same reason. The line is only as strong as its weakest link; pinch points like sub-stations, switching gear and the like – upon which interconnectors depend – are all prone to failure, when called upon to convey massive increases in load; particularly when that occurs in very short time spans. The same result occurred in South Australia back in November last year when a massive collapse in wind power output overloaded interconnectors from Victoria and plunged almost the entire State into Stone Age darkness.
Sure, Tas Hydro was able to make out like a bandit (until Basslink failed on 20 December last year), cashing in on the greatest rort since Enron took control of the Californian power market in the late 1990s.
However, sooner or later we all sit down to a banquet of consequences; and, having thrashed Basslink’s capacity exporting power to the mainland, when its dams began running on empty, Tas Hydro was forced to drag massive volumes of power from Victoria’s coal-fired power plants, situated in the Latrobe Valley to keep Tasmanian lights on. Basslink clearly wasn’t designed to be so robust as to withstand that kind of abuse. Now, Tasmanians are going to reap what the distortions of the LRET – and the chaos that wind power output – have sown.
Matt, in an otherwise well-drawn effort, drifts off with the fairies, as he starts waxing about a “major expansion of power generation in Tasmania, particularly wind generation, to which it is ideally suited”. Well, it already has 2 major wind farms, with a combined notional capacity of 308MW: Musselroe (with a notional capacity of 168MW) and Woolnorth Studland Bay/Bluffpoint (with a notional capacity of 140MW).
Strangely, however, Matt didn’t give much space to the ‘contribution’ being made by either of them to it’s energy ‘mix’ in the piece above; and none at all, in his piece, reproduced below. Could it be that, in reality, Tasmania’s 308MW of wind power capacity is as useful as a chocolate teapot?
So, let’s have a look at their ‘contribution’ to Tasmania’s power needs over the last month, courtesy of the boys over at Aneroid Energy – with some of the daily output ‘efforts’ for each of them – Musselroe’s followed by Woolnorth’s – over March:
As a mathematical and meteorological certainty, if you take 308 MW of installed wind power capacity and apply wind speeds of less than 6m/s (or no wind at all) the output amounts, and always amounts, to a big fat ZERO. The almost daily, total drop-outs, set out above, tell the story.
Now, the wind worshipper will probably point out that – on a few of the occasions we’ve selected – Musselroe was producing a few MWs, when none were being produced at Woolnorth (or vice versa), therefore overcoming his critics and their pesky line about intermittency. However, in the context of keeping a power grid up and running, it’s a stance that has all the logic of throwing virgins into volcanoes. And, in what is designed to operate as an integrated ‘system’, all the practical sense of trying to synchronise the movement of yo-yos in the hands of the physically disabled: with the same predictably chaotic outcomes.
Even on the occasions when one is producing and the other isn’t, the total output is barely 20% of total capacity, and there are plenty of moments when the total generated by both is absolutely ZERO (eg, 2, 4, 6, 11 and 13 March – 21 March gets close, with Musselroe at 2MW and Woolnorth at ZERO at 11.30am).
Oh, and in answer to those that believe that – when the Basslink is restored and/or taxpayers stump up >$1 billion more for another just like it (ie with natural limits/prone to failure/encouraging more market rorting etc) – Tasmania could import wind power from the mainland (the long debunked pitch about the ‘wind is always blowing somewhere‘), there are literally hundreds of occasions each year when the combined wind power output from the entire 3,669MW of capacity hooked up to the Eastern Grid (including Tasmania), plummets to a tiny fraction of that: The Wind Power Fraud (in pictures): Part 2 – The Whole Eastern Grid Debacle
As depicted here:
No business, household, hospital, school, traffic control system, mains water and sewage system etc, etc can survive without power for very long. While wind-cultists are either simply deluded or, if not, intellectually dishonest, the truth never escapes those who actually understand where their power comes from: particularly the businesses and workers that use lots of it.
Tasmanian electricity crisis ‘a risk to major manufacturing’
16 March 2016
Tasmania risks the loss of its major manufacturing sector, employing thousands of people, if its energy crisis is not resolved within the next few months, industry and unions have warned.
The Tasmanian Minerals and Energy Council yesterday said factories could be in “jeopardy” if the crisis dragged into the second half of the year.
“One of their major inputs is energy and if there’s anything that looks like for them a less than totally reliable service long into the future, it places their businesses in some jeopardy,” council chief executive Wayne Bould said.
“They’ve been to their boards and said, ‘We’ve made a decision to wind back our consumption of power, and this is what it’ll mean to our output’. The boards have accepted that on the information supplied.
“And now if it looks like going on much longer than that, these guys are going to be under some pressure from those boards, going ‘Well, hang on a sec, you told us this was all going to be over by May, what’s going on’?”
A handful of manufacturers — chiefly Bell Bay Aluminium, Nyrstar zinc refinery, Temco manganese alloy plant and Norkse Skog paper mill — consume 60 per cent of Tasmania’s power, supplied on favourable terms by state-owned Hydro Tasmania.
The four factories employ about 1800 workers between them, with many more indirectly employed, and all rely to varying degrees on a supply of comparatively cheap and reliable hydro power.
However, the state is the grip of an energy crisis, with record low hydro dam levels of 14.8 per cent, caused by an extended drought and Hydro’s decision to maximise production while the carbon tax was being applied.
Tasmania was importing up to 40 per cent of its power from Victoria until December 20, when the Basslink power connector cable stopped working. While Basslink believes it has found the “probable” fault, it has warned it could take until May 31 to fix.
The state government has brought in up to 200 diesel generators to ensure energy security but business and unions harbour serious doubts they can replace baseload power for major factories.
Bell Bay Aluminium, Temco and Norkse Skog have cut production in recent weeks to conserve Hydro’s remaining power generation, but Bell Bay, in particular, has warned it cannot cut further without shedding jobs or risking its future.
Mr Bould warned that rationing shut-downs led to reputational damage that could see the manufacturers lose contracts that would be difficult to win back.
Without reliable, plentiful hydro power, Tasmania would lose the edge that attracted major manufacturing. “That’s why they came here in the first place,” he said.
John Short, Tasmanian secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, said there was a “great deal of concern” that jobs might soon be shed without a quick resolution to the energy crisis. He was concerned about the viability of burning diesel to sustain big manufacturers, given that he had been advised an 8MW generator required 30,000 litres of diesel a day.
Tasmania is generating at least 9MW via diesel and plans to increase that to 24MW within days, rising to up to 200MW if required.
“You are going to have to have tanker loads of diesel — literally, ships full of diesel coming in supplying it,” Mr Short said. “This is a major crisis for the state. Tasmania has been built on hydro power — it was a competitive advantage — and for that not to be available is a real concern.”
State Energy Minister Matthew Groom was confident contingency plans would prevent the need for forced power rationing, but he did not rule out further voluntary agreements with major users.
Mr Groom foreshadowed a parliamentary inquiry and released data showing exports of power to Victoria by Hydro Tasmania tripled during the carbon tax, from 986GWh in 2011-12 to 3113GWh in 2013-14. Dam storages fell from 53.6 per cent in 2011-12 to 28.1 per cent in 2013-14.
As we pointed out above, pinning the blame for Tas Hydro’s dam draining activities on the so-called ‘carbon tax’, might have had relevance back in 2014, before it was scrapped in July that year, but how does Matt explain the massive exports of hydro power from Tasmania (and the rapid drop in its dam reserves) during the last few months of 2015?
The truth is that, as pointed out above, Tas Hydro were happily in on the price gouging that occurs when wind power output collapses, and spot prices rocket: at a commercial level, a clearly sensible decision. Moreover, the rates at which they were cashing in during wind power output collapses (often in excess of $2,000 per MWh) make the rates at which they were importing power from the Latrobe Valley (coal-fired plant there profitably dispatch power at rates less than $40 per MWh) look like peanuts; and therefore, at least in the short term, a canny business proposition.
However, the distortions created by the LRET (set up as a $45 billion tax on all power consumers), and opportunities for market rorting around wind power output collapses, has clearly left Tasmania’s Minerals and Energy Council, and industry and union leaders less than amused. And rightly so. The fuel cost alone of generating electricity using diesel generators is in excess of $300 per MWh, which for energy hungry businesses like aluminium smelters means that they’re out of business, and their hundreds of well-paid workers are on the dole queue, full stop.
While the lunatics, of the kind referred to above, huffed and puffed about the tragedy of Australia’s “greenest” State being reduced to running on diesel, and ranted that the solution to its problems was ‘out there blowing in the wind’, those blessed with common sense and a grip on reality have seen Tasmania’s debacle for what it is.
Once upon a time, the wind industry, its parasites and spruikers could parade their delusions without fear of being questioned, let alone challenged, about the self-interested nonsense that they peddle. Not any more. As this pointed series of missives to The Australian’s editor makes plain enough.
Tasmania’s power crisis should galvanise change
16 March 2016
Was Hydro Tasmania milking its water supplies and using the carbon tax as a cash cow to sell energy interstate (“Fighting to keep the lights on”, 15/3)? If that’s the case, it’s hats off to enterprising Tassie. I can’t think of anyone better than the “clean green” state to emphasise, with such delicious irony, that environmentally friendly economic policy is just another way of making a fast buck.
John Skaro, Malvern, Vic
Yesterday’s Inquirer piece overlooked the fact that the current Tasmanian energy crisis is the inevitable outcome of 30 years of green policies. It is also the height of hypocrisy for people who have opposed investment in new coal, gas, hydro or nuclear power to now criticise electricity shortages. For too long now, policymakers throughout the western world have used electricity networks to pursue political and environmental goals rather than simply supply affordable, reliable and safe power.
In Australia, Europe and North America, investment in fossil fuel or nuclear generation has been discouraged, with preference given to wind, solar, or more interconnectors. The result has been the destruction of market price signals, higher costs, and decreased reliability. South Australia and Tasmania are now paying the price. Instead of lobbying for another interconnector, the Tasmanian government should back self-reliance, bite the bullet, build a new power station, and send the bill to the Greens.
Brett Hogan, Institute of Public Affairs, Melbourne, Vic
Tasmania requires an extra 100 MW of “dirty” electric power from diesel generators to cover for the unavailability of interstate power via Basslink. Surprisingly, among the “wealth” of hindsight on offer no mention has been made of the 100 MW of environmentally friendly power that would have been continuously fed to the state grid had the pulp mill been built.
Peter Troy, Kingston, Tas
The Tasmanian energy crisis is a good example of the complete failure of electricity policy in Australia where successive “privatisations” and market distortions due to “renewable energy” and the subsidies paid for little gain have transformed the electricity landscape from secure, reliable and publicly owned generation and transmission assets to the current dogs breakfast of private providers gouging the market at will. Electricity is an undifferentiated product and it makes no sense to have a plethora of organisations “selling” it to customers at prices that are artificially set in response to demand.
The price of generating does not vary — coal stays the same price (relatively) in winter and summer, and wind is “free” (although the cost to consumers is eye watering) — but prices swing wildly depending on the avarice of generating companies.
Transmission costs have gone through the roof because of the infrastructure necessary to connect wind farms that produce 4 per cent of the annual electricity consumed in Australia. Transmission grid security is compromised on an hourly basis where operators have to respond in an instant to the vagaries of the wind and “emissions reductions” are minimal, if any, because “fossil fuel” plants need to be on constant standby and burning fuel for nothing.
While there might have been issues with the recharge of Tasmania’s dams and the failure of Basslink, the foolishness of selling their power interstate instead of looking after their own has now manifested in economic loss to the state and the need to rely on the dreaded “fossil fuels” to keep the lights on.
David Bidstrup, Plympton Park SA
Tasmanian power problems are obviously complex but one factor is crystal clear — like all renewable energy in Australia, even hydro needs fossil fuel back-up. In Tassie’s case, with the back-up cable to Victoria busted, diesel generators are being used instead of Victorian coal.
Here in Canberra we are being told of a 100 per cent renewables future at a time when the wind has hardly blown for a month and all but the deluded know most of our power is generated interstate with fossil fuels. Tasmania is a wake-up call. No form of renewable power can operate without back-up. In Australia that means fossil fuels, duplication, extra costs and no provable environmental benefits.
Doug Hurst, Chapman, ACT
The wind industry has clearly lost whatever grip it once had on the PR game.
The fact that, in the middle of an electricity drought, Tasmania’s 308 MW of wind power capacity counts for nothing (and its political betters know it) – with the only real solution the urgent establishment of more than 400MW of dispatchable power (200MW from diesel generators and 208MW from its mothballed CCGT plant), says it all really.
Wind power is meaningless as a power generation source: it always was; and thus it will ever be. And the masses have finally worked it out. What a surprise.