Jay Weatherill has today continued a robust defence of renewable energy, steadfastly refusing to accept that a lack of output from six South Australian wind farms was a key event that contributed to the state’s blackout last week.
This is despite the findings of an initial report from the Australian Energy Market Operator that found the sudden disconnection of wind farm generation helped cause the state’s main interconnector with Victoria to overload, causing the entire state network to switch itself off.
The Labor Premier, aligned with the ALP’s Left, also today told ABC radio that the only renewable energy target that had any impact was the federal one.
“There’s only one renewable energy target that does any work and that’s the federal one,” he conceded.
“States can add aspirational renewable energy targets. But the one that actually has a financial effect and causes people to invest is the national renewable energy target.”
Mr Weatherill said “ambitious” renewable energy targets set by the Labor states were only about “sending a message to the market that we’re a friendly place to invest for renewable energy”.
The Premier maintained he only accepted certain AEMO findings, primarily that “the blackout was triggered by the extreme weather events”.
“What occurred is that three separate transmission towers fell and that made a cascading set of effects throughout the system which eventually lead to the blackout,” Mr Weatherill said.
“What we do know now is despite all of the fear mongering about wind power is that wind power continued to operate throughout the event.”
However, this is not what AEMO’s report said.
The report found storms caused multiple transmission faults, including the loss of three major 275 kV lines north of Adelaide in the space of 12 seconds.
Generation was initially maintained but “following an extensive number of faults in a short period (seconds), 315 MW of wind generation disconnected”.
“The uncontrolled reduction in generation resulted in increased flow on the main Victorian interconnector to make up the deficit,” AEMO said.
This resulted in the interconnector overloading and an automatic-protection mechanism tripping the line to protect it from damage, causing the rest of the state to go black.
The report also found key electricity transmission towers blew over after the blackout began last Wednesday afternoon. The AEMO confirmed 10 wind farms in South Australia had been ordered to limit generation on an ongoing basis, as it was concerned a failure, or trip, of multiple generators could re-occur following another disruption to the unstable grid.
But Mr Weatherill did not want to apportion any blame to the wind farms, which his government has encouraged in South Australia since 2002 through legislation and subsidies. The state is now powered by a more than 40 per cent renewables mix, forcing the closure in May of the state’s last coal-fired power station and making it reliant on imported baseload power from Victoria for network stability.
The Premier today said that anyone who questioned the state’s reliance on intermittent renewable power “were essentially setting to demonise wind power … (and) were clearly motivated by political motivations and not by any of the technical facts”.
Mr Weatherill said he did not agree with AEMO’s assessment that the failure of the six wind farms helped create a big demand on the interconnector with Victoria, leading to it overloading and shutting down.
“No – what happened is that the storm event blew out three transmission lines and
essentially created defects or faults in the system, which had the effect of tripping some of the generation,” the Premier said.
Mr Weatherill claimed that AEMO had “rebuffed” the suggestion that if South Australia had not been so reliant on wind power, that there would not have been such pressure on the interconnector.
However, the AEMO report stated the cause was not yet known. AEMO chief operating officer Mike Cleary said: “At this stage we cannot apportion blame”.
“As to whether generation could have or should have managed through those types of faults at this stage is still subject to investigation. We just don’t have that information at this point in time,” he said, noting a further update was due on October 19.
Mr Weatherill said that, on his reading, the AEMO report did not link the drop in generation that caused the interconnector to crash to, “wind farms per se”.
He accused the federal government of being “bought and sold by coal interests”.
“The future is renewables, the past is coal and the sooner the federal government gets on and acknowledges that and creates a system that responds to that the better,” he said.
But Business SA today said a COAG Energy Council meeting in Melbourne tomorrow must consider how South Australia’s reliance on renewable energy impacts the reliability and cost of essential power supplies to businesses.
Anthony Penney, Business SA’s executive director of industry and government engagement, called on government to protect the long term interests of consumers with respect to price, quality, reliability and safety.
“COAG’s number one priority when it meets tomorrow must be to ensure that every reasonable step is taken to avoid a repetition of the blackout that was a disaster for businesses across the state,” Mr Penney said.
“South Australian businesses must have the confidence they require in the national electricity grid and, unfortunately, we are a long way from that point as the blackout clearly showed.
“COAG must also ensure that alignment of Australia’s energy and climate change policy begins now. We cannot continue on a path of each state and the federal government running
separate climate and energy policies which ultimately costs consumers, particularly South Australian electricity consumers who face the highest electricity prices in the nation.
“The impact of last week’s system shutdown on South Australia’s business sector was significant, particularly for major regional centres including Port Lincoln which were without power for two days”.
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