South Australia’s Wind Power Debacle: Blackout Spells the End for Wind Power

jay weatherill

SA’s vapid Premier, Jay Weatherill trapped in his own delusions.

***

Time for tilting at windmills is at an end (SA blackout shows need for energy security instead of windmills)
The Australian
Chris Kenny
8 October 2016

By plunging itself into darkness and flailing itself with prohibitive, self-imposed electricity costs, South Australia provides the nation with a critical warning about energy policy. It also demonstrates how our political and media debate has been complicit in this damaging delusion.

The chaos of last week’s statewide blackout took most of the nation by surprise but anyone who has been paying attention has known about the state’s rapidly diminishing energy security.

Experts have been on to this for more than a decade but the closure of two coal-fired generators at Port Augusta escalated the situation in May.

A price spike and supply crisis when the interconnector to Victoria was closed for maintenance in July was the sharpest recent warning. So, more than two months ago, in Adelaide’s Sunday Mail, my column warned about the absurd pretence that South Australia’s renewables push was “saving the planet with ridiculously expensive and unreliable energy” and that “when the wind doesn’t blow or the interconnector is broken, we’re stuck”.

The growing risk was obvious; subsidised wind energy had forced the coal-fired baseload generators out of business (as such policies intend), leaving the state increasingly reliant on the interconnector.

In a policy area with a complex technical aspect, it is important to bring the debate back to this simple reality. This is why it was easy to apportion some blame to the state government immediately after the blackout — South Australia’s deliberate effort to lift its renewable energy share to 40 per cent has made it ever more susceptible to the vagaries of a transmission line from Victoria.

A state that deliberately red­uces its energy self-reliance had better ensure security of supply. Instead, the Rann and Weatherill Labor governments put the state at the mercy of the interconnector.

Weather, bushfires, accidents, capacity issues, maintenance problems and competing demands between the states are constant risks. This was recognised by Labor as far back as 2002 when its campaign promise from opposition was to build another interconnector into NSW (known as Riverlink) to “fix” the electricity system and put downward pressure on prices.

But over all of the 14 years it has been in power since then, it has done the opposite: not delivering that Riverlink proposal and undermining existing baseload generators. Even this year, standing alongside Bill Shorten during the federal election campaign, Jay Weatherill referred to South Australia’s vulnerability but blamed the previous Liberal government rather than his own renewable strategy.

“We need to be successful in building stronger connections with the eastern states,” he said.

“When the previous Liberal government privatised our electricity assets, they deliberately scotched the interconnector with NSW to drive up the price (of those assets) and that’s had a damaging effect on SA consumers because we don’t have those connections to the other states, so we’re pursuing those.”

On this fact alone — increasing reliance on the interconnector when it has known for 14 years that more connection was needed — much of the blame for the calamitous blackout has to be sheeted home to Labor. In decades past, even the worst bushfire disasters did not black out all of South Australia. Yet Labor, state and federal, can only talk about the weather.

“This is a superstorm, 80,000 lightning strikes,” said Shorten. “That didn’t happen because of a renewable energy target, that’s the weather.” Weatherill even suggested everything worked as it should. “The system has behaved as it’s meant to behave to protect the national energy market,” he said.

Weatherill and Shorten’s excuses seemed desperate to anyone familiar with the situation. The transmission towers that were taken down by the storm were 250km north of Adelaide and no longer carried baseload power from coal generators to the populated areas — yet the blackouts took out the entire state. Still, as they do, most journalists and political commentators immediately echoed these Labor lines, jumping to defend renewables. Yet the more we learn the worse it gets.

The Australian Energy Market Operator’s initial report found it was the sudden and thus far unexplained collapse of wind energy that triggered the shutdown of the interconnector and then the statewide blackout. (In fact, most of the felled transmission towers came down after the power was cut.)

Even worse, wind energy was next to useless when it came to restarting the system; it needs synchronous baseload power to re-energise and stabilise. There was only one gas-fired station, Torrens Island, available to do that. One of the clearest warnings about all this came 13 years ago from the state’s then Essential Services Commission chairman, Lew Owens. He shared “concerns” with a parliamentary inquiry into wind farms about the “acceptable amount of wind energy that we can tolerate within the electricity system without causing major operational problems” for the power network.

“As you start to increase the quantity of wind power coming into that system up to 100 megawatts, 200MW, or whatever, you start to cause this instability in the rest of the system where, for example, if we had 1000MW of wind energy coming in, most of the baseload stations in SA would be required to shut down, and to then start them up again is a 10-hour operation,” Owens said.

“There becomes a physical limit to just how much of this wind energy, which can be full capacity one hour and down to zero the next hour, you can actually fit into the system.”

The state has far surpassed those levels with at least 1473MW of wind capacity and rising — another 225MW in confirmed projects.

We now know there are three clear vulnerabilities from South Australia’s renewable stance: additional reliance on the interconnector; fluctuations of supply from wind turbines can trip transmission; and because wind energy can’t restart the system the reactivation is slowed. This comes on top of the starting issue for renewables — that because of intermittence, they require back-up generation, thereby increasing costs.

That there has been so little discussion of these issues during the past decade is a sad indictment on political debate. Journalists, politicians, activists and business interests indulge in emotive barracking for renewables.

On Radio National last week Paul Bongiorno agreed with Weatherill’s claim that we were seeing agendas being pushed — not by those chasing renewable virtue but those pointing out the cost and supply implications. “Oh we certainly are and it’s close to disgraceful,” Bongiorno said. “But, look, I think the big issue that we should look at here is preparedness for extreme weather or extreme weather management.”

Even a week later, confronted with the facts, he couldn’t see the windmills for the storms.

“Look, a lot of politics is being played here and I think we need a touchstone to reality, one of the touchstones is how prepared not only is South Australia but the rest of the Australian states to withstand storms of this magnitude that scientists tell us will occur more frequently thanks to climate change.”

This alarmist fantasy, where the answer is more wind, faster, has been put in its place for now. Suddenly the facts have inconveniently forced their way into the debate.

Proselystisers such as the Greens, Bongiorno and Weatherill will continue to tilt at those who question windmills but the meeting of the nation’s energy ministers agreed to re-examine security issues. To that extent, South Australia’s storm may be a godsend to the nation. It should create pause for thought in Victoria and Queensland before they emulate South Australia’s folly. And it will attract a spotlight to federal Labor’s policy for a national 50 per cent renewable target.

We are left to consider the folly of all this. Because of the globally infinitesimal carbon emission reductions involved, none of this nonsense can help the planet’s atmosphere where CO2 levels continue to rise.

And in South Australia they remain more reliant than ever on an interconnector that brings in cheap, reliable baseload power from the brown coal generators of Gippsland. Oh, the cant.
The Australian

SA Jul 16

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.

Comments

  1. Hi,

    I started a petition “SA PREMIER JAY WEATHERILL : Demand the RESIGNATION of the Energy Minister for HIGH POWER PRICES CAUSING SA’s JOBS CRISIS and 15,000 household POWER DISCONNECTIONS, frequent POWER BLACKOUTS and the JULY 2016 POWER CRISIS” and wanted to see if you could help by adding your name.

    Our goal is to reach 100 signatures and we need more support.

    You can read more and sign the petition here:

    https://www.change.org/p/sa-premier-jay-weatherill-demand-the-resignation-of-the-energy-minister-for-high-power-prices-causing-sa-s-jobs-crisis-and-also-15-000-household-power-disconnections-frequent-power-blackouts-and-the-july-2016-power-crisis?recruiter=135406845&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=share_email_responsive

    Please share this petition with anyone you think may be interested in signing it.

    Thankyou for your time.

  2. You would have have rocks in ya head to even think the these corrupt wind scum bags can supply stable power.

  3. Engineers have to provide what customers want, but they also have an obligation (almost an unspoken Hippocratic Oath) to point out the problems with what the customer wants. Initially the AEMO and professional bodies were sceptical and pointed out the problems with wind, but recently they all appear to have joined the Green Blob, probably for reasons not unrelated to money.

    It is not just science that has been corrupted, engineering is not far behind, and bad engineering costs lives.

    • Sadly, I have to agree. After the blackout, Jay Weatherill immediately claimed of being advised by the head of the AEMO that the blackout was wholly a weather event and that renewables were not to blame. This claim was not refuted showing that the AEMO is bowing to political pressure just as they did with the 2011 “100 per cent renewable study – modelling outcomes” report which pussyfooted around the obvious limitations of renewable generation technologies.

      The engineering bodies need to be forthright about the facts else they will lose the trust of the public and engineering will no longer be viewed as an honourable profession. They will then rightfully be viewed with scepticism just as science has lost its way with the tepid response of mainstream scientists to scammers promoting climate change.

      • Analitik, you ticked us off about using the word ‘deliberate’ in yesterday’s post. If you read the AFR today you would have caught a piece by Ben Potter in which the French owner of the Hornsdale WF admitted their operation was shut down prior to the grid collapse. There was fluff about why, but our info is that it was an automatic excess wind speed shut down. We also hear the operators are very nervous about claims for damages by insurers looking at recovering policy payouts from those responsible. The recovery actions would be in the hundreds of $millions and keep litigators busy for years. No wonder wind power outfits are keeping tight lipped!

      • STT, the shutdown was for self preservation – the only question is why? Was it that the turbines were in danger of over speeding due to the wind strength or were the destabilised by the frequency drop with the tower collapse 2 seconds prior?

        You believe the former, I lean towards the latter.

        Whatever, the term “deliberate” implies an intent towards the outcome (blackout) – conspiracy theory. This is not the case. Otherwise, you could say that the federal government “deliberately” legislated to bring down the South Australian grid by the LRET, REC and market priority access for renewables.

        The wind turbines were unable to maintain supply to the grid due to inherent technical limitations. That is more than enough reason for them to be held liable for the damage and limit their operation to the normal practice of day ahead bids for guaranteed supply (which will send their operators broke).

      • We will continue to back the proposition that the shutdown was deliberate and done in order to protect the mechanical integrity of the turbines under threat from strong and very gusty winds (the shutdown at Snowtown 1 at 10.30am had nothing to do with tower collapses and everything to do with 100kmh winds). As to a ‘reason’ for shutting down turbines to preserve them, why would an operator risk a $3m machine for the sake of another 2 or 3 MWh delivered on a stormy afternoon, especially when there is no penalty for a failure to deliver? STT wouldn’t.

        However, even if your view wins the day, viz problems with frequency of supply to the turbines themselves causing them to shut down, then what you are observing is a domino effect: as a series of turbines at one wind farm drop out, then the drop in voltage affects the neighbouring wind farm and so on until there is a voltage/frequency problem to the point of no return (without any reactive power to bring voltage/frequency back in order, the whole system collapses).

        Whoever is right, the wind industry loses: another blackout, more load shedding and spot price spikes are guaranteed. Turnbull & Co are bound to back some grid scale solar (at the margins) but wind power will no longer get bi-partisan support.

        The debacle in SA has put paid to any further expansion of wind. Our bet is that the Coalition will fudge the accounting for the LRET, count all of the new capacity in small scale solar towards the LRET (there is about 12GWh of small scale solar, well above the SRES target of 4GWh), then they can claim the target is satisfied and close off any entitlement to new wind projects.

  4. Terry Conn says:

    This article by Chris Kenny could well be remembered as the best he ever published. A very real problem is, however, that we are now into the 2nd generation of people who are almost entirely living their reality in the ‘virtual world’ rather than the ‘real’ world.

    A senior executive in a company that manages billions of private superannuation dollars recently told me that for people under 50 the only way the ‘real world’ can interfere with their ‘virtual world’ is if there is a long and continual ‘disruption’ to it – he cited the failure of the electricity system in South Australia as an example but said the disruption hasn’t been long enough yet and if fixed by real world technicians too quickly than nothing will change – I think this is true.

    If the AEMO now just fixes this renewable energy mess in South Australia by continuing to cover up the fundamental problems of non synchronous generation then the lesson will not be learned until the entire nation suffers long term blackouts (after spending billions on interconnectors to other intermittent power generators).

    The current NSW minister for planning (a new age law graduate from Macquarie university) is on record criticising old people (specifically Maurice Newman) as having a ‘generational ‘ problem with ‘renewable ‘ energy. The record also shows he cannot discern the difference between coal fired power and wind power except that the former ‘pollutes’ — until there is no power to charge his mobile on demand then he will remain in a state of blissful ignorance along with millions of others – AEMO sees itself charged with the responsibility of ensuring the bubble doesn’t burst but it would be much better to allow it to burst now rather than later when the remedies will be too late.

  5. Perhaps this lot – ‘Half of Scotland’s power can be green by 2030, says experts’ – should be sent this…….

    Best, C.

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