Production stoppages at wind farms with a collective capacity of more than 900 megawatts have added to problems plaguing renewable energy ventures in the National Electricity Market, due to grid bottlenecks and instability.
The latest interruptions, caused by a transmission line outage in western Victoria, affect the state’s giant Macarthur wind farm – owned by AMP Capital and Morrison and operated by AGL Energy – and Pacific Hydro’s Portland wind farm. Also temporarily out of action are Engie’s Canunda venture in South Australia and Infigen Energy’s Lake Bonney wind farm nearby.
They are expected to be required for about two weeks as Victoria’s transmission grid owner, AusNet Services, puts in place a temporary link around the six damaged transmission towers, which would allow the Heywood interconnector between Victoria and South Australia to resume operation.
A spokesman for Pacific Hydro said the company was “disappointed” with the situation.
“It serves as a reminder that a strong and secure power system is really critical to driving Australia’s transition to renewable energy,” he said.
Engie said it supported the Australian Energy Market Operator’s approach to maintaining a stable energy network, noting its other generators in South Australia, gas power plants at Pelican Point and Synergen, are available to supply if required.
The curtailments come as five other solar ventures in north-west Victoria and south-west NSW are entering their fifth month of output restrictions, after AEMO had to step in to keep the power system secure.
The market operator has been working with the solar power generators, equipment suppliers and network service providers Powercor and TransGrid to develop a technical solution that would allow the plants to resume full output. But in the meantime, other project developers in the renewables-rich area are queuing up to also connect into the grid.
AGL confirmed its 52MW Broken Hill solar farm was operating at half-capacity. Others affected include Wirsol’s Gannawarra plants, BayWa r.e.’s Karadoc venture and Foresight Solar’s Bannerton project.
Rob Grant, at the Clean Energy Investor Group, which represents investors including Macquarie and BlackRock, said it was “pretty unfortunate” AEMO had to restrict generation at a time when demand is high and supply is needed.
He said investors were frustrated, given all the five projects had individually secured regulatory approvals and operating licences, only to find that further technical issues had to be resolved once AEMO considered the combined impact of all the projects on the grid.
“It all goes to [the need for] better system planning and more investment in transmission backbones, but it impacts the projects and the consumers,” he said.
“We’re just hoping the fix will be as quick as possible.”
An AEMO spokesman said the scale and pace of solar and wind generation connected in electrically remote areas of the National Energy Market was presenting “unprecedented” technical issues that were affecting grid performance and operational stability.
He said the process to assess the technical changes required was inevitably slow, causing frustration as the energy sector transitioned towards greater reliance on renewables.
The spokesman noted the West Murray area continues to attract major investment despite the weakness of the grid there, with about 1200 megawatts of committed wind and solar in the pre-start-up phase, and about another 3000 megawatts still seeking approvals.
“Thermal and stability limits mean it will not be possible for many of these projects to connect or generate at full output ahead of significant investment in network infrastructure,” it said, pointing to work to advance the South Australia-NSW interconnector and the Keranglink project between Victoria and NSW, now renamed VNI West.
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