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Coalition launches fierce attack against wind and solar after blackout

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The Coalition government launched a ferocious attack against wind and solar energy after the major South Australian blackout, even though energy minister Josh Frydenberg and the grid operators admit that the source of energy had nothing to do with catastrophic outage.

Frydenberg, however, lined up with prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts, independent Senator Nick Xenophon and a host of conservative commentators, including Andrew Bolt, Alan Moran, the ABC’s Chris Ullmann, and Fairfax’ Brian Robins to exploit the blackout to question the use of renewable energy.

Frydenberg used the blackout to continue his persistent campaign against the renewable energy targets of state Labor governments in South Australia, Victoria and Queensland, saying that the blackout was proof that these targets were “unrealistic.”

He made clear that he wanted the states – South Australia and Queensland which are pushing for 50 per cent renewable energy, and Victoria 40 per cent – to abandon their schemes and conform to the federal target, which has target of about 23.5 per cent renewables.

The federal scheme effectively ends in 2020, while the state based schemes provide longer term investment signals by providing a 2025 and 2030 timeframes.

“These states are pursuing these unrealistic targets ,” Frydenberg told ABC’s AM program. “My job is to try and get these states to the table … only the Commonwealth, with 23.5%, is a realistic target.”

His comments were later repeated by Turnbull, who accused state Labor governments for imposing “ideological” renewable energy targets, describing the South Australian blackout as a “wake-up call” to focus on energy security.

(It should be noted that South Australia’s wind fleet was built via the federal target, which is a bipartisan policy between the Coalition and Labor. It has a state target, but it is aspirational only, it has no particular state measures).

Turnbull said there was “no doubt” that the “extremely aggressive” shift to renewables had strained the electricity network.
Hornsdale square
The attacks on renewables by Turnbull and Frydenberg were the most dogmatic since Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey said they found wind turbines to be “offensive” and expressed a wish that they could all be brought down.

Electranet, which runs the grid in South Australia, and other grid authorities have made clear that the blackout – which is unprecendted in Australia and led to its first ever “black start” – would have happened whatever the fuel source at the time.

Bruce Mountain goes into detail on what was happening in this analysis here. But it is now clear that 23 high voltage power poles were lost in five different locations, bringing down three of the big four transmission lines that carry electricity to and from the north of the state, sparking a state-wide outage and its isolation from Victoria.

“South Australia gets more of its energy from renewables, more than 40% from wind,” Frydenberg said. “There are questions with renewable energy, particularly because it is intermittent.”

His Coalition partner, agriculture minister and deputy prime minister Joyce, reprised his long crusade agains wind energy, saying wind power “doesn’t work when their is excessive wind and it wasn’t working too well last night because there was a blackout.” Neither were the gas generators, minister.

His views were echoed by the likes of Roberts, Xenophon, the fossil fuel lobby, the South Australian opposition, and even ABC commentator Chris Uhlmann, who agreed with Joyce that the wind farms were not working because the wind was blowing too hard. A column by Fairfax’s Brian Robins, also blaming renewables, was dismissed as “absolute garbage” by the head of the Clean Energy Council.

The Coalition’s attacks were predictable. They occurred last November when a smaller blackout was caused by another transmission fault but was again blamed on wind, and are part of an ongoing campaign against renewables that has now turned its focus to state based initiatives.

Curiously, no such allegations were raised when West Australia experienced a major black out last week, when 130,000 customers lost power for more than an hour when a gas fired generator tripped, or when more than 200,000 people were left without power for more than a week in coal-reliant New South Wales last year after more storm damage to poles and wires.

“South Australia gets more of its energy from renewables, more than 40% from wind,” Frydenberg said. “There are questions with renewable energy, particularly because it is intermittent.”

He then had the hide, like Turnbull, to say: “We have to put aside partisanship and ideologocial approach to emission reductions.” This from a party that has scrapped the carbon price, tried to demolish the Climate Change Authority, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, and still has no policies to meet its Paris climate targets.

Frydenberg then also questioned the cost of wind and solar, saying they could cost up to $100/MWh, while coal fired generation only cost $50/MWh and gas fired generation was $80/MWh.

His comments appear to ignore the falling cost of renewable technologies, and the rising cost of gas. The latest wind farms in South Australia will be built at a cost of $77/MWh, and that price is fixed for 20 years. (It translates into a current price in the high $50/MWh).

Solar is also coming down in cost. Contracts were written in the recent ARENA action for around $90/MWh, and as the supply chain grows and module costs come down quickly, they will soon be much cheaper than gas-fired generation.

It is also stunning that Frydenberg is making such comparisons when he knows that these are assets that last 25-30 years, and that much of Australia’s existing generation will need to replaced in coming decades.

And it is not clear that gas plants are cheaper than wind and solar. The rising cost of gas means that many gas fired plants won’t switch on for less than $100/MWh, and some peaking plants won’t be bid at less than $200/MWh. South Australia’s long term reliance on gas has long been the cause of its high prices.

It could be that the unprecedented  nature of the outage, combined with similar storm outages in NSW and Queensland during the 2011 floods, could lead to a focus on a more “climate resilient” grid, which would mean more local generation and micro-grids. This has been the main focus of policy in the US, for instance, after Hurricane Sandy.

There was applause, however, about the ability of the grid operator to restore power so quickly. “Black starts” – where the grid has to start all over – have never been attempted before, energy sources said, and are tricky because as each generator comes back into production, it has to be matched to demand to avoid another trip.

Within 12 hours, almost all of the state was back on line, although the worst affected, including the Eyre Peninsula, may be without power for days because of the huge scale of the infrastructure damage.

The renewable energy industry said it was disappointed that conservative politicians were using the blackout to further their ideological agendas.

Tom Butler, the policy manager at the Clean Energy Council, said no connection has been established to the state’s renewable energy generation.

“It is important to remember that this is a once-in-50-year storm, and no power system can fully prepare for the savage winds, lightning and hail that pounded the state today. It is a freak event.”

The secretary of the Communication Electrical and Plumbing Union of South Australia John Adley said critics of wind energy did not know what they were talking about.

“The outage is simply being used by friends of the coal industry to bash renewables,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how you generate your electricity, when 22 transmission towers blow over in an extreme weather event, the power goes off.”

And just to illustrate the point, this tweet appeared overnight, with a paid promotion, from a coal astro-turfing group.

“If anything, renewable energy sources had the potential to create a more secure electricity supply system,” Adley said.

“When you have widespread use of distributed generation technologies like PV solar in homes, the network is actually less vulnerable to events like this, because your supply is not purely linear.”

   

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  • Mike Jubow

    If Turnbull, Joyce, Freydenberg et al believe the crap they are spouting then they are definitely mentally handicapped and are not mentally fit to serve in their jobs. They should be retired to a mental institution immediately and put on happy pills for the good of the nation.

    • Rod

      No, they are not that stupid.
      Which means they are most definitely on the payroll or have been promised a role after politics.
      Capitalism and Democracy will mean Climate destruction is inevitable.

  • Brunel

    I knew all along that instead of 12 submarines, Adelaide should get a battery gigafactory instead.

    There is no excuse for having traffic lights without batteries.

  • Ken Dyer

    I am just glad that China has decided to ramp up domestic production of coal that will have the effect of reducing the price of coal for export. It will have the salubrious effect of making the mining of Australian much less economic than it already is.
    Turnbull, Xenophon,Bolt, et al will be eating their words in the not too distant future. Congratulations to the State Governments for sticking to their renewable targets. over 50% of the population cannot be wrong.

    • neroden

      China is *simultaneously* reducing its own coal consumption.

  • Brian Tehan

    Labor and the Greens should be all over this massive misinformation campaign by the right. It’s not difficult to understand why it happened when most of the distribution network was knocked out,is it. As someone else said, it smacks of desperation. The trouble is that 90% of the denier boneheads on social media wwil be quoting this long after it’s been publicly disproven

  • Kenshō

    ***** The Ability to Isolate Regions *****

    Here’s the contentious issue for the future of the grid/s:

    Impractical to have isolated states on energy grid – A senior executive of the company that controls the state’s high voltage line transmission said it would be possible to have regions within the state isolated but that it would be impractical.

    Currently the National Energy Market was divided into regions – those regions being states.

    A “safety switch” at the interconnector (which connects SA’s power supply to Victoria and the national market) monitors problems across the SA network.

    The safety switch goes off when there is a threat to network stability to prevent the problem affecting other states. ElectraNet network services executive manager Simon Emms said it would be possible to divide up the state into smaller regions each with its own safety switch but this would lead to reduced reliability in each.

    “The bigger you make the network the more resilient it is when there is a system disturbance,” he said.

    “(But) in five seconds lost 700MW from the network (yesterday).

    “Essentially, smaller regions could lead more frequent small-scale blackouts.”It (large scale blackouts) is not an unheard of phenomena when certain criteria have been met,” Mr Emms.

    “There have been system-wide blackouts in Hawaii, north east America and in Europe.

    http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/

    • Cooma Doug

      If we have a device in each home that measures frequency. We need a device that measures the frequency in the first half cycle at that location. Then when selected levels occur switching happens on the load side of that meter. This may be a fall to 49.5 hz.
      A fall of 0.5 hz on most systems can be corrected by an increase of 20% input or 20% load reduction.

      The advantage of reading the hz in the first 5 milli seconds is that frequency is seen to be different in locations on the same grid. This means the response would be dispersed throughout the affected area in proportion to the relevent grid fault and the burden on transmission lines reduced.
      It would also occur in a cost free efficient manner.

      At the moment the frequency is measured on the HV supply side and the response is to ram the energy onto the grid to correct it even though it may not be needed by the customer.

      That was a great idea when we had valve radio technology.

      • Kenshō

        Frequency response and islanding:
        On a micro level, my inverter/charger is currently programmed to accept a certain frequency variation from the grid and to drop the grid if the grid develops instability beyond that threshold. Although it’s not the two way process your describing, it does passively help protect the grid by not importing power when the grid is struggling by giving a signal for the inverter/charger to island itself while continuing to supply power to its local loads. This could of course be done at any level of scale – residence, commercial or industrial applications and regional localities. With the system you would like to see developed, I actually don’t know if my inverter/charger can be programmed to use a fall in frequency to trigger it to automatically export to the grid and hence actively help the grid to maintain frequency. It can export though I suspect it’s not currently loaded with the software with a provision to export upon a frequency signal, even though the hardware is present.

        • Cooma Doug

          Im talking about a frequency meter that will be little more then a cheap phone app that is part of your energy control system. The app gets the reading from the computer input.
          There are two options: The response could be an overiding trigger from the grid or a normal 5 milli second local response. In situations we had like last night the retailer would take over… a rare event.
          But normally your system is smart switching load in such a way it is as if the grid is a whole array of seperate systems. You are rewarded for this response and paid for this ancilliary service.

          Frequency issues are not always negative. If loads disappear the frequency goes high and we need to cut generation in response. This is costly and it could be managed by the same device and home loads switchrd on and excess solar withdrawn.

        • FeFiFoFum

          And the grid would flatten your source of domestic generation or storage in an instant !
          Think David and Goliath’s big brother who is 100x bigger than Goliath.
          Better for your system to detect a network supply issue and island itself to maintain your own load by disconnecting from the grid.
          The grid has to deal with the load rejection event, but if frequency is decaying that is what the network does anyway ( under frequency load shedding).
          Once the network is stable and frequency is restored, your inverter can reconnect to the grid and everything goes back to normal.

  • Pete

    As soon as I saw the news about the outage I knew the Coalition would be blaming renewables. There have been many lousy politicians but Turnbull is, in my opinion, the biggest piece of crap ever; and I’m being polite there. At least with Abbott you knew he believed the bullshit he was spouting.

    • NewCycle

      With what is known about climate change and the enormous threats to the Australian economy resulting from it, can there be any explanations apart from either wilful ignorance, or personal enrichment, when politicians take these stances?

      Sounds like fodder for an investigation into the sources of bias.

  • Chris Fraser

    Frydenberg has already forgotten the federal RET sets a minimum renewable target. But above this any government is allowed to have as much renewable as it likes. He should be on happy pills as well.

  • Kenshō

    “(Hurricane) Sandy helped to make it clear that bigger isn’t always better. To expand grid services, we have historically incentivized utilities to build large power plants and big transmission infrastructure. This has led to an inefficient and overly expensive electricity system. States across the country have built significantly bigger systems than necessary.”
    http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/winds-of-change-hurricane-sandy-is-ushering-in-a-smarter-power-system

    • Cooma Doug

      Well said.
      I look at my power bill. I pay 500 dollars a ton for coal that is burnt to run my fridge.
      Quick numbers tell me its close to a ton a year to keep my beer cool.
      But the power station only gets 45 dollars before costs for the ton. The other 455 dollars is for me to rent the infrastructure to deliver the power.

      • Brian

        No. Unless you are counting the generators themselves as infrastructure. Grid costs are small in comparison.

  • To be correct on “black starts have never been attempted before”. Black start around the world happen often. I suspect they have also happened in Australia before as well.

    • Cooma Doug

      Never an entire state

      • FeFiFoFum

        Yes they have.
        We experienced one in WA in the mid 90s’.
        It was and eye opener and an interesting experience ( as a network operator).
        Lessons were learnt from that event and it has not occured since ( touch wood).

        • Cooma Doug

          Oh yes sorry. I tecall that one. I was referring to eastern grid in my head.

      • Charles Ling

        Tasmania had an all state blackout on 23 December 1979.

        “..With Gordon offline, each station along the grid was unable to shoulder the ever increasing excess load, which there had not been time to shed, and isolated itself also. Soon the entire island had lost power (HEC 1980:4).”

  • Cooma Doug

    If a group of political druids decide that large base load with gas coal and or nuclear are the answer, it wont take long for them to change their minds when they look at the numbers.

    This solution would not solve the problem we had last night and would create more. In fact it would make it more difficult to recover from last nights circumstances.

    Solution is simple and people in the chairs that can empower it know it.

    A….Increase renewable content and despersion of generation.
    B…..Install load side applications to manage stability.
    C…..Make changes to wholesale market rules to encourage the process.

    If people with the knowledge, unbiased, are involved in the discussion and the release of outcomes are genuine, renewable options will emerge as preferance.

  • Kenshō

    Using wind turbines to add frequency stability to networks:

    “What the Laurel Mountain project was designed to do is called “frequency regulation.” The wind power stored in the batteries feeds more juice onto the grid when power demands increase. When there is too much electricity coming into the system, its batteries suck more into storage. It can make these adjustments in a second, thus saving the excess power to sell at higher prices the next day. It was good for the grid, good for expanding markets for renewable energy and good for the innovator. It led to bigger jobs for AES, including the Los Angeles project.”
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/world-s-largest-storage-battery-will-power-los-angeles/

  • Carl Raymond S

    Those look like downed power lines. The energy normally transmitted through those power lines could come from coal, gas, solar, wind, centralised storage, whatever, so how did the storm know to attack lines that have recently carried a higher proportion of RE? That’s a remarkably clever storm. Is Frydenberg asserting that god was angry with South Australia for adopting renewables and sought vengeance?

  • MaxG

    Wasn’t expecting anything less from the Looney and Numb nuts Party… what a bunch of [insert word here].

  • john

    From the news sources today it appears there were 27 networks out so just how any generator of power is going to deliver when all the available networks are out is beyond my understanding perhaps by magic.
    It has been very effective the message put out by Federal Government and others, the general comments I had to day from 5 different people is that the reason SA had no power is because they have 1 wind 2 solar.

    It seems because the general public are not in the least techno literate the message that this new fangled wind generator and solar tech is not going to work resonates with them.

    We are witness to a failure in people having any understanding of technology and believing what ever rubbish is peddled.

    Rather a sad situation considering that we live in a very technological age where it is ever increasingly utilized within society.

    • FeFiFoFum

      Tesla was working on this magic, but no one believed him 🙁
      Wireless transmission of electricity.

      But easier solutions have already been mentioned by the good folk here.
      Use temporary storage to keep the lights on while fast starting generators are running up to come online.
      And traffic light should all have some battery backup ( thats a no brainer).

      But in the end, if the electrical network that supplies power to you has been brought down then there is little anyone can do to about that.
      Even non electrical people can grasp that simple concept.

  • john

    What a pathetic Tweet the morons

  • S Herb

    The photos of the downed transmission towers are impressive. It would be interesting to know whether all of the state’s wind generators came through the wind and the lightning strikes unscathed. If yes (or almost yes) that’s a real plus for the technology.

    • Calamity_Jean

      “It would be interesting to know whether all of the state’s wind generators came through the wind and the lightning strikes unscathed.”

      That’s an answer I’d like to have. I hope in future days that RenewEconomy will be able to tell us.

  • Miles Harding

    Here’s an irony for the COALition dinosaurs to suck on:

    “… most dogmatic since Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey said they found wind turbines to be “offensive” and expressed a wish that they could all be brought down.”

    It would seem that it was the old poles and wires, not the turbines that were brought down.

  • Roger Brown

    Has anybody thought that the privately run “Poles and wires” has used the Chinese Dodgy & cheaper steel towers ? LNP are good at ” Look over there, its all Labor’s Fault ” again !

    • Hamish Barker

      Transmission towers are built with highly optimised design
      strength (less margin but enough) because a few percent saving on thousands of towers adds up to a lot. They were built long before cheap chinese steel imports.

  • Cooma Doug

    From my experiance as a grid controller, the AEMO and South Australian grid controllers achieved a remarkable result.
    From the studies I have been involved in and the number of outages over the years where I was putting things back together,
    I was surprised to learn how well they managed.
    Its a bit early to say but I believe the nature of the grid and the way it can be managed without the slow starting large coal, was a major factor.
    I am feeling a bit confident in the dark (pun) that the annalysis if conducted uncorrupted, will shine a big light on the elephant in the room.

    The wholesale market needs a tweak or two or three. What annoys me so much was the media people continually saying how the poor people had to pay 14000 dollars for a mwh. Yes indeed that would be terrible but one small …it isnt true.

    The 14000 is a price signal and all the companies on it are hedged for such situations. Those prices dont show up on your home mail. The contracts are re negotiated from time to time and if these conditions persist then prices will go up as the negotiations every year or so will reflect the fluctuations over the previous contract.
    So lets redesign the market in a wsy that will close shut the door on the temptation to encourage volatility and instead encourage the entire system on either side of the meter to do the opposite. Lets shift it beyond 1950.

  • MrMauricio

    Fierce attack- I would call it insane, stupid and unhinged. Huge power outages in NSW went for weeks-no comment from the LNP peanut gallery!!

  • Brian

    The article makes a good point about microgrids. Add distributed generation and you have a system that is nearly blackout proof. While renewable energy does not need batteries, the Grid could really use 15 minutes of battery backup so the reserve generators could cold start. That would have prevented this blackout.

  • Kenshō

    The biggest national tragedy is Port Lincoln is running out of essential services like water, food and communications and this is not the prime concern for the country. Local renewable energy for water pumping, refrigeration and communications facilities could easily be installed to prevent all this in the future. What’s important now is the families without essential services and disaster proofing our nation.

    • nakedChimp

      You somehow have the twisted idea in your head that this all is supposed to be fair and should make sense for everybody.
      Personally I came to the conclusion (after a couple decades living on this rock) that about 20-30% are in it for their own good, and only their own.
      They sometimes don’t think for their children or next relatives and certainly don’t care about anyone 100 m down the road if they don’t depend on them for their carrier or something.
      And the worst thing about it? Most of these are alpha/beta mammals, so they make up a good chunk of anything at the top due to systematic prevalence for these kind of features in our society.

      • Kenshō

        nakedChimp as an installer, you know better than anyone that water pumps at water utilities, communication facilities and refrigeration can all cheaply and easily be accommodated for by PV/storage. We need not give up on the evolution of our culture into a more caring and technologically sound society.

        • nakedChimp

          I’m not an installer.

          Again, you somehow think that the alpha/beta mammals running our society mostly have the best for the people in their mind instead of something else.
          You got that one wrong.
          A society that favors/prefers leaders with this ability and holds them accountable to it hasn’t yet existed on this planet.

          • Kenshō

            I’m not that naive. These are simple things that locals can do to make the lives of others that bit safer. City Councils could cut running costs. Ditto any private business. No big difficult negotiations with grids necessary to benefit in a few months time, when the jobs done.

          • neroden

            Labour was elected in 1945 in the UK.

      • Kenshō

        e.g. there were 12 embryos ready for IVF at Flinders Medical Centre that were lost as a result of the power failure. Whether we agree with IVF or not those people will be heartbroken. Someone also lost a great deal of money.

      • Kenshō

        Lack of storage (UPS) also resulted in people being stuck in carparks not able to get their cars out and stuck in lifts.

  • Geoff

    If anything this should be a wake up call to deploy more RE and make it centralized to the home or business. Extreme weather event due to climate change – yes, see what climate change is doing? all the more reason to increase RE.
    Applause goes to the states for taking a stand to putting forward their own targets and working towards them. clearly the feds are doing nothing here. I bet those wind turbines are still standing.

  • Ken Fabian

    I didn’t watch every TV news presentation but none of the ones I saw found homes with lights still on – because they have hybrid solar with batteries. They were there but our “journalists” (so called) failed to notice.

    The Turnbull government’s behaviour is appalling – isn’t climate and reducing emissions part of their official policy? Aren’t they signing up to the Paris climate agreement? How do they propose the emissions reductions and transition to low emissions energy that are the logical consequence of their own policy if they oppose the growth of low emissions energy? If there are issues with increasing proportions of low emissions energy within our electricity networks where is the commitment to upgrading them and investing in solutions to better cope?

    Instead the climate and emissions issue is somehow evaded and treated as entirely separate to the required transition that is inextricably tied to it and the alleged failures to keep up with the network infrastructure requirements even the inadequate RE targets State governments are proposing are blamed on RE targets.

    Expect some anti-green “but nuclear” responses from Turnbull’s Conservative Right should they get criticised, responses that are entirely rhetorical, lack any genuine commitment and avoid any mention of it being incompatible with their much higher priority of wanting to avoid having to fix the climate/emissions/energy problem at all. Ironic that climate science denial has muted and diverted the largest body of political support for nuclear by it’s support for the least cost, low budget option of opposing strong climate action – whilst giving enough rope to Renewable Energy in the expectation that it would fail so dramatically that it would be forever discredited – and that it has been these very policy choices that have allowed RE to haul itself up into viability.

    Turnbull is not a centrist and it’s looking increasingly like his alleged personal commitment to the climate issue was cynical populism intended to win middle Australia to a Turnbull led LNP – where the issue could be put in the too hard basket and procrastinated to death; it’s clear that Mr Turnbull isn’t even attempting to win the LNP over to commitment to real climate policy. South Australia is the opportunity to begin the next stage – overcoming intermittency – of support and investment in the long progression towards a low emissions economy.

  • Alan S

    One slight positive out of all this is that the lies and distortions by biased, technically illiterate politicians have been quickly refuted by people who know what they’re talking about. The average bod will hopefully be more sceptical and analytical when renewables are next blamed for a natural event.