State renewables policies “aggressive” and “unrealistic”

September 29th, 2016

The renewable-energy lobby was quickly into gear this week as South Australia suffered another energy crisis – this time a blackout across the entire State.

Their message was unsurprisingly self-serving:  wind power had nothing to do with this blackout – it was all about global warming; coal-fired electricity was to blame!

The problem isn’t renewable energy – it’s coal,” blared the Australian Conservation Foundation, in a media release focussing on Australia’s supposed unpreparedness for storms (or ‘extreme weather events’, as the ACF prefers to call them).

Like the ACF, the Clean Energy Council emphasised that at the time the lights went out in SA, wind power was being generated – so this proved it was not to blame.

What neither organisation acknowledged was that without grid power, the turbines could not operate.  Like a combustion engine which relies on an electric starter motor, the wind turbines can not function without an electric boot to get them going.

It is also a fact that the turbines can not operate in high winds.  So the fact that wind generators were working at the moment of the blackout was a reflection that they were not proximate to the location where the high winds had knocked over network infrastructure.  Once they were in the storm, there is no way that wind turbines could have helped solve the energy supply problem in SA even if the transmission and distribution networks had been operating normally because they themselves would be unable to operate.

If you think the ACF and Clean Energy Council denials sound familiar, you are on the money.

They were also being trumpeted when the electricity price-hike crisis occurred in SA in July, when cold stormy weather caused a big spike in demand for heating electricity and a 100-times jump in the wholesale price.  Wind power was idle and unable to contribute to the ‘rescue plan’ for business and industry initiated by Government, the key element of which was ramping up gas-fired electricity.

In the July event also, the anti-gas green  lobbyists, lead by the Australia Institute, tried to shift the blame away from renewable energy, attempting to blame the problem’s actual solution — natural gas.  They harrumphed self-righteously, but their indignant rebuttal was blown away by the national energy regulator, as we explained at the time.

So it was no surprise this week to see the outrage among the Greens and their supportive lobby groups when the Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull had the ‘temerity’ to suggest that perhaps events in SA should be taken as a wake-up call.

“Let’s focus now and take this storm in South Australia … as a real wake-up call” the Prime Minister said.

“Let’s end the ideology, and focus on a clear renewable target. The federal government has one as you know, 23.5% is our target.

“Unfortunately, some States have adopted extremely aggressive, extremely unrealistic renewables policies.”

National Party leader Barnaby Joyce, was equally direct.  He said SA had become too reliant on renewable energy, wind in particular (which is running at about 40% of SA power – when it is working, with Victorian coal-fired electricity filling the gap).

“With the strong reliance on wind power, there is an exceptional draw that’s then put on the (electricity) network from other sources when that wind power is unable to be generated,” Mr  Joyce said on  ABC radio.

“And of course in the middle of a storm there’s certain areas where wind power works. It works when wind is [at] its mildest. It doesn’t work when there is no wind; it doesn’t work when there is excessive wind, and it obviously wasn’t working last night because they had a blackout.”

The inherent uncertainty created by the intermittency of wind power is likely to be exacerbated in both SA and Victoria in the months ahead, with the anticipated closure of the Hazelwood coal-fired generator.

Hazelwood currently generates 25% of Victoria’s electricity.  The Government intends that this be replaced by (subsidised) wind power.  The question is, where does the back-up then come from to provide continuity of supply when the wind is not blowing.  And what happens if the wind is not blowing on SA and Victoria at the same time – a ‘double jeopardy’ for electricity users.

Against this background, the Victorian Government can be expected to be taking a keen interest in avoiding a strike at the Loy Yang power station, where there is currently a dispute between the plant owner, AGL, and its workers, who are demanding a 20% pay rise.

Loy Yang provides about 30% of Victoria’s electricity.  Between Loy Yang and Hazelwood, that is more than half the State’s needs.   If both were offline, the lights would be off in many parts of Victoria – and SA.

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