Western Victorian major transmission projects ‘monumental mistake’, warn energy experts
Credit: By Jane McNaughton | Posted Wed 12 Apr 2023 | abc.net.au ~~
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Two of the nation’s leading energy industry experts have warned persevering with the projects would lead to higher power bills in Victoria, increased risk of blackouts and bushfires, and “needless damage” to communities along the transmission corridor.
Former member of the National Electricity Market’s reliability panel and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Simon Bartlett AM, and Victoria Energy Policy Centre director Bruce Mountain, said they based their critiques on findings in the latest Australian Energy Market Operator’s (AEMO) Consultation Report.
They warned if AEMO’s plans for the Western Renewables Link (WRL) and the Victoria-to-New South Wales Interconnector West (VNI West) were to proceed, it would be the “biggest mistake in transmission planning in living memory”.
“It’s an enormous expense and it doesn’t meet the needs of expanding production of wind and solar in the state to be able to move quickly out of coal-fired generation,” Professor Mountain said.
Professor Mountain said the western Victorian transmission network would take a decade to build and would delay the transition to the National Electricity Market target of 82 per cent renewable energy by 2030.
Instead, he suggested utilising existing infrastructure in Gippsland on the other side of the state.
‘Blackouts’ and ‘upset communities’
Bushfire risks associated with natural disasters would increase along the route tenfold by 2050 if the 500-kilovolt lines were built, Professor Mountain said.
“We are quite clear that a single-circuit transmission line from Tasmania to Townsville, which is AEMO’s vision first sketched in 2010, puts enormous risk of failure on that line,” he said.
“There would be heavy power flows on a single line and, in the case of extreme storms, if that line falls over there will be a blackout in the state.
“It’s a weakening of the power system and a major reason not to proceed with it.”
Professor Mountain said predicted congestion on the powerlines would also result in up to 50 per cent wastage of the renewable energy through spills.
“Building this massive transmission line right through the heart of the state, according to AEMO’s own studies, will have a lot of wind and solar production close to the new lines which will very quickly reach full capacity and get clogged,” he said.
“We absolutely see this transmission expansion not just as an unnecessary waste of money and imposition on local communities, but we see it as undermining the very urgent switch out of coal.”
Cost ‘makes no sense at all’
An AEMO spokesperson said the western Victorian transmission plan would “help share low-cost, diverse electricity from multiple renewable energy zones with consumers across several states”.
“Extensive modelling shows that VNI West delivers benefits to consumers in meeting energy reliability and security as ageing coal-fired power stations close,” the spokesperson said.
“In our role as Australia’s not-for-profit independent power system and market operator, as well as national and Victorian planner, our focus remains on working with stakeholders to enable the energy transition in the best interests of consumers.”
But Professor Mountain disagreed, and said Victorian power bills were likely to increase if the project went ahead, as transmission charges due to ongoing infrastructure costs could triple.
“The claim that governments and others have made, that the transmission to clean energy promises a cheaper future is eminently possible, but with AEMO’s plans that’s not actually going to be achieved,” he said.He said the power grid already built in Gippsland should instead be upgraded to suit new renewable energy projects, as building hundreds of kilometres of new high-capacity transmission lines would be too expensive.
“We have fantastically strong transmission in the Latrobe Valley, which has been built up over decades. That’s one of the strongest transmission corridors in the whole of Australia,” Professor Mountain said.
“It has plenty of spare capacity now and can be expanded at a low cost because the easements already exist.
“Why are we not utilising that? AEMO has put various constraints in it’s model so that it’s not used. It makes no sense at all.”
Professor Mountain said renewable energy projects in the state’s west could then be used to “soak up” surplus supply, with smaller, less invasive means of transmission and more storage, rather than moving energy vast distances across the state.
“Wind and solar are now a great deal cheaper than building new transmission lines and the priority has to be extracting the value from existing transmission lines,” he said.
Minister backs AEMO
A spokesperson for Federal Energy Minister Chris Bowen said the government’s Rewiring the Nation commitments, including VNI West, would support implementation of AEMO’s Integrated Systems Plan (ISP) and other projects that modernise Australia’s electricity grids, increase access to renewables and drive down power prices.
“AEMO’s ISP is a roadmap for the transmission revolution the country needs,” the spokesperson said.
“It is informed not just by the impressive expertise within AEMO, but by consultation with over 1,500 stakeholders, including energy users and providers, governments, regulators and analysts.”
Victoria’s Minister for Energy and Resources Lily D’Ambrosio did not respond to the ABC’s request for comment.
Corporate vs community interest
Professor Mountain called on state and federal energy ministers to take back control of the National Energy Market and said AEMO had pushed to become an “unchecked monopoly” that put “itself first at others’ expense”.
“AEMO is stuck in the past, pursuing a redundant vision that suits its corporate interests, under the guise of providing solutions for the urgent energy transition,” he said.
“Energy ministers have, so far, caved in to its demands.
“AEMO is not a small expert organisation anymore. It’s a corporation and I think ministers have frankly lost the plot in the transmission task. they need to get involved.”
“The Australian people want ministers to be accountable for decisions and I think they’ve been keen to pass that off to other organisations and to hide behind that.”
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