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Two SA wind farms fined more than $1 million for their role in 2016 statewide blackout

The owners of two wind farms in South Australia’s Mid North have been ordered to pay more than $1.6 million in penalties for their role in contributing to a catastrophic statewide blackout in 2016.

In the Federal Court yesterday, the owner of the Clements Gap Wind Farm, Pacific Hydro, was ordered to pay $1.1 million for failing to obtain written approval for critical systems settings in their wind farms.

The owner of the Hornsdale Wind Farm, HWF 1 Pty Ltd, was ordered to pay $550,000 for breaching the same rules.

The two companies were among four wind farm operators taken to court by the Australian Energy Regulator in the wake of the blackout, which resulted in the loss of power to 850,000 homes and businesses.

In December last year, the owner of the Snowtown 2 Wind Farm was ordered to pay $1 million.

The fourth and final litigation, against AGL, is set to be decided in August.

A formal review of the blackout found overly sensitive protection mechanisms in some South Australian wind farms were to blame.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) found the unexpected operation of the control settings resulted in the sudden loss of generation from the wind farms.

In the court proceedings, both Pacific Hydro and Hornsdale admitted that they applied repeat low voltage ride through system settings to their generating units without prior written approval from AEMO and ElectraNet.

Justice Richard White found the wind farms’ “use of non-approved settings in the present case compromised AEMO’s ability to discharge its responsibility because it meant that it was making important decisions concerning the secure operating limits of the power system on the basis of incomplete information”.

The court ordered Pacific Hydro and Hornsdale pay a contribution to the AER’s costs.

Both companies have also made a legal commitment to the AER to update their performance standards for the wind farms and to have the updates reviewed by an independent expert.

The penalties against Pacific Hydro and Hornsdale were imposed in accordance with the earlier penalty regime.

New maximum penalties for breaches of some parts of the National Energy Laws can see businesses fined more than $10 million.