Transmission Loss: $Billions Squandered Connecting Remote & Intermittent Wind & Solar

Untold $billions are being squandered to connect unreliable, intermittent and diffuse, wind and solar to power grids; grids that were working just fine before the unreliables turned up.

The wind and solar industries spear turbines and plaster panels way beyond the back of beyond. Increasingly remote locations for wind and solar generators require serious upgrades to transmission infrastructure, adding hundreds of $millions to transmission costs, that would have otherwise been avoided, had Australia simply stuck with conventional generators and not squandered $60,000,000,000 in subsidies to intermittent wind and solar.

As any first-year physics student will tell you, transmitting electricity over distances results in a mathematically predictable loss of the power transmitted, over any given distance. The greater the distance, the greater the absolute loss.

Just like the value of prime real estate, the most beneficial situation for generating capacity is all about location, location, location.

In the main, conventional generators are sited close enough to the majority of the load (i.e. power consumers) – such that the transmission losses involved amount to relative trickles. Back in March 2019, the grid manager determined to hit remote wind and solar operators with penalties for their substantial transmission losses over distance. Predictably, wind and solar operators howled ‘blue murder’.

Australia’s Green-Labor Federal government are deermined to add even more costly and chaotically intermittent wind and solar to a grid already on the brink of collapse. What these dimwits ignore (or try to pretend away) is the astronomical cost of trying to connect even more subsidised panels and turbines, situated in increasingly remote locations.

No prizes for guessing who pays?

Pull plug on costly power line schedule
The Australian
Ted Woodley and Simon Bartlett
30 August 2022

We have become accustomed to the cost of infrastructure projects being underestimated. These days it is rare for large projects to come in close to budget, let alone within budget. But new records in underestimation are being set for electricity transmission projects, potentially costing the community tens of billions of dollars extra.

The latest is another cost increase for VNI West, the proposed high-voltage intercon­nector between Victoria and NSW. VNI West’s latest estimate of $3.3bn represents a relatively modest 10 per cent increase on the previous estimate of $2.9bn, except the earlier estimate was only two months old. The latest estimate is 110 per cent higher than the initial estimate of $1.6bn four years ago. Who knows what the final cost will be when completed in 2031, after inevitable construction contingencies? No doubt much more than $3.3bn.

VNI West is not alone. Every major transmission project on the drawing board is experiencing cost blowouts. For example, since 2018, the estimated cost of:
• EnergyConnect, the interconnector between NSW and South Australia, increased 50 per cent (from $1.5bn to $2.3bn).
• HumeLink, the line connecting Snowy 2.0, increased 190 per cent (from $1.1bn to $3.3bn) .
• Marinus Link, the undersea interconnector between Victoria and Tasmania, increased 250 per cent (from $1.1bn to $3.8bn), though partly due to adding a second cable.

Collectively, the cost of these four projects has blown out 140 per cent, a compounding increase of 25 per cent a year across four years. And this is all during the preliminary planning stages, before construction has started.

The overall cost of the 35 transmission projects in the Australian Energy Market Operator’s 2022 Integrated System Plan, together with the necessary connections within renewable energy zones, adds up to more than $50bn. Based on the abject estimating performance to date, there is every chance the final cost will be considerably higher.

Not only have costs soared but scheduled completion dates also have blown out, by years for some projects. The unprecedented quantity of projects (10,000km of lines plus substations), after decades of minimal transmission being built, and coinciding with intensifying global supply-chain shortages, is presenting overwhelming construction challenges and putting unrelenting pressure on prices.

To give some idea of the enormity (and, in our view, impracticality) of the construc­tion prog­ram, in NSW alone five projects costing $12bn are scheduled for completion in the next five years: Central West Orana (2025), EnergyConnect (2026), HumeLink (2026), New England REZ (2027) and Sydney Ring (2027).

In addition to cost pressures from the construction frenzy, there is vehement opposition to overhead lines from communities and landowners, resulting in delays and costs, and potentially higher payouts for easements (ignoring the social costs). It may be appropriate for some sections to be situated underground, adding further upfront costs (though with offsetting social, environmental and financial benefits).

The $50bn-plus tab will be borne primarily by electricity consumers; transmission tariffs will triple. The federal government’s $20bn Rewiring the Nation plan could partially support this expenditure but that will serve only to transfer some of the cost to taxpayers. Either way it is the community that pays.

There is no question that more transmission is essential for the transition to renewable energy. But the cost is soaring many times higher than initial estimates and for some proposed projects beyond their economic worth. Attempting to build the current schedule of transmission projects is unrealistic and is of itself driving up costs even more.

[Note to Ted and Simon: your statement “that more transmission is essential for the transition to renewable energy” is true enough – connecting diffuse and sporadic energy sources from the back of beyond to the marketplace is all part of the ‘grand plan’. Although, we’re not sure how much benefit there is when there are at least half-dozen occasions every month when the entire fleet of wind turbines connected to the Eastern Grid is producing less than 5% of their nominal capacity, for a day or more on end: Wind Power: The Complete Joke That Just Isn’t Funny Anymore; Risible Renewables: Weather-Dependent Wind Power – Never There When You Need It Most

More to the point, however, there is nothing essential about ‘transitioning’ to renewable energy. Absent the more than $7,000,000,000 directed in subsidies to wind and solar each year, there will be no talk about any kind of transition in that direction.

As Australians are about to find out as soon as this coming summer, when they’re left sitting boiling in the dark for hours, there is nothing “essential” about wind and solar, except the essential need to have a MW of reliable, dispatchable coal, gas or hydro capacity for every single MW of wind or solar connected to the grid.

As the subsidies paid under the Federal government’s mandatory Renewable Energy Target drive coal-fired generators from the marketplace, households and businesses will soon work out which energy sources are “essential”. And, just like the Europeans, they will be screaming for coal-fired power and nuclear power plants which truly are “essential” to powering modern civilised societies. Oh, and here, as elsewhere, the grid infrastructure needed to deliver all the power generated by coal-fired plants to market was built and paid for decades ago.]

It’s time for a rethink, for a rigorous and far more accurate assessment of costs and benefits, and for a prioritised plan of what can be practically achieved at a worthwhile cost (financial, social and environmental). The community should not be lumbered with uneconomic infrastructure and exorbitant costs that we will be paying for across decades.

Ted Woodley is former managing director of PowerNet, GasNet, EnergyAustralia and GrainCorp. Simon Bartlett is former chair of Electricity Transmission, University of Queensland; chief operating officer, Powerlink Qld; and director ElectraNet SA.
The Australian

About stopthesethings

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

Comments

  1. Connecting and controlling the output of an assortment of far flung intermittent wind farms to the power grid might well be compared with a farmer being told that he is no longer permitted to use his well trained draught horses to plough his paddocks: instead he must now harness a menagerie of uncontrollable cats to his plough in the forlorn hope of achieving the same useful work.

  2. Reblogged this on whatyareckon and commented:
    It’s not their money!

  3. Oh well, look on the bright side.
    In a decade or two when this insanity has passed into history the local scrapmen will have a bonanza flogging off all the scrap copper.

  4. Not squandering $60,000,000,000 in subsidies to intermittent wind and solar could have powered 6 million homes.

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