Not so long ago – was it only a fortnight? – the wind industry, its parasites and spruikers strode the political stage like well-preened peacocks – arrogant, aloof and seemingly unflappable.
Preying on school kids and warping their malleable little minds, was all in a day’s work (see our post here).
Feeding a constant barrage of propaganda-filled press releases to a lazy and gullible media happy regurgitate them was grist for the Clean Energy Council’s mill; and stalking the halls of Parliament in Canberra – bullying and cajoling those in charge of the RET-rort to keep the gravy flowing – was put down as time well spent.
Well, all that effort counted for nought as South Australians came to grips with what happens when you pin your hopes on a power source abandoned centuries ago for (now very) obvious reasons.
What the Editor of The Australian has to say in the following piece is a fair estimate of how low the wind industry’s stocks have sunk, but it’s the letters to the Editor that we set out following the Editorial that paint an even more pertinent picture as to the shift in the political wind: none of it favourable for the wind industry.
SA’s statewide blackout a circuit-breaker for action
8 October 2016
The International Energy Agency, of which Australia is a member, describes energy security as the “uninterrupted availability of energy sources at an affordable” price. It is an essential goal on which most major political parties and governments agree. Yet in the pursuit of other aims, many modern politicians seem to have forgotten the fundamental importance of energy security.
Renewable or “clean” energy has been the fashionable mantra for so long that policymakers have allowed themselves to be distracted from their core task of ensuring affordability and supply. South Australia’s disastrous statewide blackout last week has provided a circuit-breaker — if readers will excuse the pun — and federal and state governments are now refocusing on their prime responsibilities.
“Energy security has many dimensions,” says the IEA. “Long-term energy security mainly deals with timely investments to supply energy in line with economic developments and sustainable environmental needs. Short-term energy security focuses on the ability of the energy system to react promptly to sudden changes within the supply-demand balance.”
Australia faces serious challenges on both fronts. None of the challenges have been imposed on us — we remain blessed with plentiful, cheap and under-exploited energy resources — we have imposed difficulties on ourselves because we want to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions. This observation is not made to challenge that decision but to be clear about the impetus behind our energy dilemmas.
As a nation we have chosen to forsake the cheapest and most secure energy options to seek mandated levels of renewable supply. So it is incumbent upon policymakers to manage this transition effectively.
In South Australia the Labor governments under Mike Rann and Jay Weatherill have failed in this duty. A deliberate and much-trumpeted ambition to ensure half of the state’s electricity comes from renewable sources has increased wind generation already to a 40 per cent share and triggered the mothballing of the state’s two coal-fired power plants and significant gas generation capacity. This has increased the state’s reliance on two interconnectors to Victoria that can supply more than 800 megawatts.
Most of the time a combination of gas generation and the interconnectors can supply the state if wind generation is down. Still, at peak demand the state would struggle to meet its needs and with the interconnectors down, as it discovered last week, customers can be left floundering in the dark. Before Alinta closed the last of two coal-fired generators at Port Augusta in May, the firm wrote to the government to see if incentives or subsidies might be available to keep the state’s only remaining baseload power plant in operation.
Mr Weatherill scoffed at the idea. Indeed, given the coal plants were driven out of business by a deliberate government policy to subsidise clean energy it would have been absurd and perhaps even obscene for a deal to have been struck; taxpayers would have been subsidising wind energy to force coal out of the market and subsidising coal to keep it in.
Nevertheless these machinations highlight the avoidability of the crisis and the absurdity of the competing policy aims. Other states — especially Victoria, which wants to match SA’s 40 per cent renewable share by 2025 — must now be extremely wary about the medium-term implications of forcing coal out of production.
If Victoria creates baseload problems it will also exacerbate SA’s crisis, leaving it with an interconnector to nowhere. This highlights another glaring paradox: by turning so sharply to renewables, SA has never been more reliant on baseload power supplied from Gippsland’s brown coal: the dirtiest power in the country. We cannot avoid how coal continues to underpin the security and affordability of our energy needs. As Australia strives to meet its 23.5 per cent renewable energy target by 2020, and Labor states chase even more ambitious targets, policymakers must ensure they do not jeopardise security.
Yesterday’s meeting of energy ministers called by Josh Frydenberg wisely launched an independent review of energy security. This is a realignment to the essential basis of energy policy. It is a pity that SA had to plunge itself into crisis to trigger remedial action.
The Australian Energy Market Operator’s initial report on South Australia’s black day said the sudden, unexplained loss of 315MW of wind generated power actually triggered the interconnector shutdown. It also found that most of the transmission towers taken out by the storm fell after the blackout began. And it detailed how wind energy, being non-synchronous, was unable to restart the transmission system after the blackout.
In energy, as it happens, cleanliness is not next to godliness; there is virtue also to be found in affordability and security. Particularly since Australia contributes only 1.3 per cent of global carbon emissions, a proportion that is falling as global emissions still grow.
Green power won’t help improve the economy
7 October 2016
The Prime Minister is right to raise the issue of green power with the states (“PM to put the wind up states”, 6/10). Renewables do play an important part in our quest to rein in pollution but their effect on stable power supply and cost, as witnessed in South Australia, is of national concern.
Despite the excuses coming from the SA government, it is now clear that businesses and householders will have to pay even higher electricity prices to address what can only be described as inadequate strategic management.
The national economy depends on reliable and affordable power supply. Over-ambitious green power targets work against that aim, at least in the foreseeable future.
Michael Schilling, Millswood, SA
Renewable energy has come under pressure over the past few months as drought in Tasmania and inconsistent power in SA highlight the limitations of renewable energy.
However, the main reason the environmentalists say we should adopt renewable energy is the relationship between renewable energy and a reduction in greenhouse gases. They talk about solar and wind making a widespread contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gases.
This benefit is marginal, at best, because of the unreliability and inconsistency of renewable energy, and its need to be constantly backed up by baseload generators.
Governments are abrogating their responsibility if we can’t have consistent electrical power, which means if we want to lower our greenhouse gas emissions we have to have cleaner baseload generators.
Graeme Weber, Malvern, Vic
Wind turbines have an upper level speed control and a high-wind control that feathers turbine blades during storms. This prevents high winds turning the turbine blades at speeds beyond what they are engineered for, and avoids damage to the turbines and the gearing system.
All of the wind farm generators in SA would have automatically shut down and feathered the turbine blades during the storm last week. This would have been the initial cause of the blackout across the state. The storm then completed the damage by destroying the distribution system. The interconnector to Victoria then shut down to avoid further damage. It was this cascade of events that led to a statewide blackout.
Chris Squelch, Townsville, Qld
We are told by green groups, left-wingers and climate academics of dire consequences if we do not invest billions in renewable energy. The Queensland government has just announced a target of 50 per cent of renewable energy by 2030 for no other reason than to appease green groups. With a debt of $75 billion, and rising, it’s difficult to see how they are going to pay for an increase of more than 40 per cent of renewable energy, let alone do it in 14 years.
The recent blackout in South Australia saw the same groups shouting from the rooftops that renewables had nothing to do with the problem.
The debate is not about the viability of renewable energy but how to achieve it on a national basis; the righteous won’t hear any argument against their cause.
Spending billions on wind and solar projects is not the way to guarantee stable energy supply in the future. Both sides of politics have been captured to a certain degree by pressure groups wanting only their point of view heard. Politics, once again, gets in the way of sensible debate and, judging from the talent pool on show arguing their cause, the chance of a reasonable outcome seems virtually impossible.
Don Spence, Ashmore, Qld
Consumers are paying for green-power madness
8 October 2016
Any rational look at the “virtues” of renewable energy will conclude that it has been a failure and an economic disaster for South Australia, and it will be so for the rest of the country if promises by other governments ever materialise (“State of insanity has infected energy policy”, 7/10).
As the talkfests continue and as the SA government continues to spin stories about the reasons for the blackout and bombard us with their “green energy” propaganda, Rome continues to burn.
As the renewable energy industry lines up to seek funding to build solar-thermal plants and more useless wind farms, the ultimate funders of this madness, the consumers of electricity and taxpayers in general, should be asking for some accurate and impartial cost-benefit analysis so they can see what a sham it is.
David Bidstrup, Plympton Park, SA
The recent blackout in SA throws into doubt the wisdom of overplaying the importance of renewables in contrast to providing a strong grid with adequate backup of conventional power generators. Considering that Australia’s contribution to global emissions is very small and that electricity generation only accounts for about half of it, one wonders why our politicians attach quite so much importance to renewables.
It would be better if Australia’s skills in science, engineering and innovation were brought to bear on new sources of power generation such as thorium-fuelled nuclear reactors. This area is gaining attention in a number of countries and is attractive because its waste products have half-lives measured in hundreds of years as opposed to tens of thousands of years for uranium reactors.
Ian Napier, St Peters, SA