PSST! Want to Wreck Your Economy? Just Add Heavily Subsidised & Chaotically Intermittent Wind Power

You can wreck a first world economy in a heartbeat by relying on heavily subsidised and chaotically delivered wind and solar power.

Australia is well on the way to doing just that, and South Australia managed to destroy all vestige of private enterprise (we don’t count Commonwealth defence contracts, State make-work construction schemes and otherwise sucking on the taxpayer’s teat) in less than 15 years.

The chaos delivered by wind (see above) and solar has been met with plenty of talk about mega-batteries and pumped hydro. But that kind of talk don’t come cheap. SA’s Premier stumped up $150m of taxpayer’s money for a 100 MW battery that could power his little backwater for all of 4 minutes.

Then there’s the fevered talk about Snowy 2.0. Likely to cost around $10 billion and take a generation to build, with AGL getting back into coal, rather than out of it, it’s already under water.

Touted by Turnbull and his hapless sidekick, Josh Frydenberg as the Nation’s mega-battery, the heavily-hyped pumped hydro scheme (shelved in the 1970s because it was uneconomic then) has been heralded as the saviour for the Australian wind industry.

The line goes something like this: if we use 3 MWh of wind power to pump water through 27 km of tunnels, over an elevation of 900m, later, when power consumers actually need it, Snowy Hydro could return 2 MWh to the grid.

Never mind squandering 1/3 of the electricity originally generated; never mind that with the inclusion of the $85 per MWh REC the cost of the wind power involved exceeds $110 per MWh; never mind that the owners of Snowy 2.0 will charge a further $150-300 per MWh to re-deliver power to the grid; never mind that, in reality, the power used to pump the water uphill will largely come from coal-fired power plants, delivered overnight when it’s cheapest. For a break down of the costs and engineering of what’s proposed see our post: Turnbull Plays ‘The Man from Snowy River’ in Uncosted Pumped Hydro Plan

Whether or not Turnbull is simply protecting his son, Alex’s investment in Australia’s most notorious wind power outfit, Infigen is a moot point: Born Lucky: Stars Align Perfectly for PM’s Son with Mammoth Bet on Wind Power Outfit Infigen

But one thing is for certain, the numbers on Snowy 2.0 simply don’t stack up.

Alan Moran crunches the numbers on what amounts to a massive storage and energy release system designed just to compensate for Australia’s ludicrous obsession with wholly weather-dependent wind power.

The Snowy scam, the Donald and death of Australian industry
The Spectator Australia
Alan Moran
6 March 2018

It seemed too good to be true: Snowy being bought by the Commonwealth from state governments in what appeared as a money creation process – the Commonwealth had no apparent increase in debt or other costs, while Victoria and New South Wales got $6 billion for their Snowy shares. The reason behind the acquisition was to simplify the political process whereby the Snowy 2.0 pump storage project is pursued.

The credibility of innovative balance sheet practices aside, what we also now have is a major electricity generator owned by the government operating as a rival to other businesses in a market which is highly competitive. The Minister for Energy is responsible for the government’s energy policy and is also the shareholding minister of the major entity.

How does that role of maximising the value of one entity gel with the ministerial role of ensuring the lowest possible sustainable price for electricity for the nation? Some conflicts of interest issues in electricity supply have arisen in the past with union pressures requiring over-staffed government owned electricity networks and the allegations of government owned Queensland generation entities with market power ratchetting up prices to the benefit of their shareholder (and at the cost of the consumer).

The shareholding Minister of the Snowy, Josh Frydenberg, is of impeccable integrity. But even he might see some tension in seeking to maximise the value of the business that the government owns with his other role of seeking to ensure an electricity industry that provides the lowest prices to consumers in the context of providing a secure and system. According to the Department of Finance, the Australian Government’s relationship to its GBEs is similar to the relationship between a holding company and its subsidiaries, features of which include:

  • a strong interest in the performance and financial returns of the GBE; and
  • action by the shareholder in relation to the strategic direction of its GBEs where it prefers a different direction from the one proposed

The suggestion that the Commonwealth acquisition might foreshadow bestowing favours on a particular technology and entity is more compelling in the context of Frydenberg’s boss, Malcolm Turnbull. As a rusted-on supporter of carbon-light electricity generation, Turnbull has clearly been the driver of the Snowy 2.0 project. He also insisted on locking-in Australian greenhouse gas abatement policy by ratifying the Paris Agreement the day after Donald Trump was elected President on a platform that promised to torpedo it. In addition, Mr Turnbull has made key green energy supporting appointments, including his Departmental head, Martin Parkinson, and Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel.

In examining the economics of the Snowy 2.0 pump storage proposal, it can only make sense if it receives a high price for its products. And, as Rosie Lewis reported, according to Snowy CEO Paul Broad, “the economics of the scheme may not stack up if … ‘a lot more baseload’ is added to the National Energy Market.”

That assessment was amplified in the Parliament by Snowy Hydro Chief Operating Officer, Roger Whitby who said:

Snowy 2 is a project assuming the world that most players accept, where coal-fired generation is ageing and retiring and there’s increasing penetration of intermittent renewable energy. Clearly, if we have a reversion, essentially, to the past then of course under that scenario Snowy 2 is not viable.

There is, therefore, a strong likelihood that the government’s interests as a shareholder of Snowy will operate to forestall new plant that might adversely affect the project’s economics even if such new plant would reduce electricity prices.

All of this assumes a new topicality in light of the threats of President Trump to place tariffs on Australian aluminium and steel.

Tomago, the giant NSW aluminium smelter, consumes about 10 per cent of the state’s electricity. Its main supply contract is with the AGL Liddell coal generator and is said to be set at a price of around $30 per MWh. That price is a legacy of the time – just three years ago – when the spot price for electricity was under $40 per MWh. The spot price is now $80 per MWh as a result of the poisonous effects of renewable energy subsidies on existing and prospective coal plant.

AGL is starving the Liddell plant of investment to ensure it will close four years hence, thereby boosting the electricity price. To reinforce its strategy, AGL refuses to sell the (ostensibly worthless) plant. Tomago like all other Australian aluminium smelters (and a chunk of steel production) will need to close if the present renewable subsidy continues to operate and to destroy the low-cost power industry Australia enjoyed just three years ago. Portland in Victoria is already on life-support following the closure of Hazelwood.

We do not know what price the Snowy board is factoring-in to allow Snowy 2.0 pump storage to proceed but it would be at least $80 per MWh, even if the costs were the $2 billion originally mooted by Malcolm Turnbull; it would need to be more than $80 per MWh at the $4.5 billion cost that Marsden Jacobs estimated and more still if the eventual price with cost overruns and transmission costs is $10 billion.

The irony of the Trump threats of dumping tariffs is that such measures may not be necessary – Australian politicians are far more capable of destroying our own industry than anyone in Washington.
The Spectator Australia

Turnbull’s Folly: Snowy 2.0 an un-costed, white elephant.

About stopthesethings

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


  1. d mckenzie says:

    Pumped storage hydro schemes use gravity to balance electrical load on a large scale. In Qld, as elsewhere, water is pumped overnight from Wivenhoe Dam when power demand is low and cheap, and released in periods of high demand, usually the morning and evening peaks. This is a very good fit, as the thermal coal fired plants can avoid costly shutdowns and restarts overnight. The plant can also be used to stabilise the grid in synchronous mode.
    Due to the sheer size and engineering limits, typically large hydro plants are not very flexible in output, requiring to be loaded towards their higher limits.
    While useful for supplementing loss of supply, the pumped storage hydro plant in Qld, for example, takes considerable time to bring to full generation from pumping mode, as it has to go through a system process of stopping the pumping, and a restart.
    I can only conclude, for the above reasons, that the Snowy 2 pumped storage hydro may be of little value if our politicians push ahead with even more renewable volatility in the Austalian national grid.
    Another NBN, piloted by our esteemed PM.

  2. Terry Conn says:

    Surely Alan Moran jests when he says Frydenberg is a man of impeccable integrity – from where I sit he is a man of incredible weakness of mind and a man of incredible stupidity, a man who dances only to the tune of the father of the man who finances Infigen Energy. Why, one must ask, do these people in such powerful positions want to destroy their own country – in fact when was the last time any of them set out the narrative, with details attached, as to why it is good for Australians to pursue a renewable energy obsession, an obsession adopted from the United Nations ( a body who just wants to get its hands on Australia’s natural wealth).

  3. Peter Pronczak says:

    I can see it now, a submarine with solar panels & a wind turbine. A lot of yo-ho-hoing going on there. Aarrr me hearty, pass the rum ta drown me sorrows!

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