Hundreds of megawatts of new electricity generation will be coming online in the next few months, but is the grid ready to handle it?
In a media response earlier this week, announcing its Elaine section had joined the grid, a Lal Lal Wind Farm spokesperson said its 38 turbines near Yendon – which joined the grid in June – were not operating at full capacity.
“There is 144 megawatts installed at Yendon. Currently the plant can only operate at 42MW due to grid constraints,” they said.
Lal Lal Wind Farm did not respond to a question asking what was causing the grid constraints.
However, experts are concerned action will need to be taken to upgrade the grid to avoid traffic jams as more renewable power plants across the state come online.
The state government recently passed legislation taking more control of upgrading the network into its own hands, instead of going through the Australian Energy Market Operator alone.
The state Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio said in a statement the government is working with AEMO “to ensure that wind and solar farms are connected as quickly as possible”.
“We have consistently advocated for faster, more effective connection processes so that we can keep creating jobs and driving investment in regional Victoria,” she said.
A plan to bring the western Victorian network up to speed, involving new high-voltage lines and substations to connect to other states, is under way, but not expected to be completed until 2025.
The Clean Energy Council’s director of energy transformation, Lillian Patterson, said the transmission network hasn’t kept pace with the renewables rollout.
“That’s not to say renewables can’t connect, or continue to connect,” she said.
“Also, we might have a huge amount (of solar and wind farms), but they might not generate at the same time, that’s important.
“We recognise that transmission is an enabler, it’s the biggest blocker at the moment.
“In terms of connecting new generators, AEMO’s looking at doing that in a way that ensures a stable gird, and there’s a lot of work being done with the different partners.”
The Victorian Energy Policy Centre’s Associate Professor Bruce Mountain cautioned it was important to note grid connection complications were often unique to projects, including local issues, but grid capacity was an issue “recognised” by the industry.
“It’s well known in the industry that for wind and solar development in west-central and north-western Victoria, there’s a lot more potential production than transmission capacity,” he said.
“Grid augmentations need to be made quite quickly to make the most of that resource.”
He said the state government’s legislation had provided “policy certainty”.
“It’s about working with the government and AEMO to figure out the solutions to these things quick-smart,” he said.
“It is disappointing we’ve had to wait to get to this point for them to come to light, when we and many others have said we need to make sure that when you establish the factories, you have to be able to get the product to market.
“It’s frustrating it’s now risen as an issue, but the intention to resolve it as an issue is very powerful.”
The Australian Wind Alliance’s national coordinator Andrew Bray concurred, pointing to the potential effect on regional jobs.
“We need to get cracking on building a transmission grid that’s fit for the twenty-first century,” he said in a statement.
“Commencement of work on a major upgrade to the Western Victorian section of the grid is welcome but much more is needed.
“This is a real opportunity for governments looking for ways to stimulate the economy as we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.
“Targeted government investment in new transmission can leverage much bigger investment in new wind and solar plants, creating thousands of jobs in regional Victoria.”
The Grampians New Energy Taskforce, which advocates for renewables in western Victoria, helped to develop the Western Victorian upgrade plan, and supports AEMO’s work to increase the system’s strength and resilience.
Its director, Stuart Benjamin echoed Professor Mountain.
“While we understand that AEMO has had to curtail output to protect the stability of the grid as a whole, it is extremely disappointing that these issues have only come to light after projects have been developed,” he said in a statement.
“GNeT pushed for, and helped to develop the Western Victorian Transmission Project. We continue to be a supporter of this project, as it will bring vast amounts of new capacity to the grid, and eliminate the chance of future curtailment.”
The operator of the Moorabool and Stockyard Hill wind farms declined to comment.
AEMO was contacted for comment.
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