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Frydenberg on blackouts: No mention of failing network, gas, software

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Federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg has put the blame for recent blackouts in South Australia directly on the state’s high penetration of wind and solar, and attributed no blame to network faults, storms or failing gas plants.

In a speech on energy security to the right-leaning Sydney Institute on Monday night, Frydenberg listed four black-out events that had hit South Australia since and including the “unprecedented” state-wide outage on September 28.

Josh Frydenberg wants to grasp the commercial potential of new energy technologies.

He made no mention of the fierce storms, the falling power lines, the network faults that caused outages in December and February, or the role of gas plants that sat idle, or had to shed capacity because of the heat and other technical faults.

Nor did he mention the software glitch that meant 90,000 households, rather than 30,000, suffered power cuts in South Australia earlier this month when demand hit record highs.

Instead, Frydenberg pointed only to the roles of wind and solar, both of which he said were producing at a fraction of their capacity when the rolling blackouts were implemented.

“This means that the days of easily forecastable supply are over,” he said. “Nowhere was this more clear than during the last South Australian blackout, when 90,000 consumers lost power.”

An Australian Energy Market Operator report last week said the cause of the problem was bad forecasting, not just of supply, but of demand. It was caught short when demand spiked and could not wake a gas generator from its slumber.

Another 300MW of gas capacity was unavailable because it was broken – with half of it failing in the hours before the blackout. Wind energy was producing twice as much power as had been forecast a day earlier. Solar was the only local generation that produced exactly as predicted.

As AEMO told the Senate inquiry last week: “It is going back to the unforced and unplanned outages that eroded our reserves at that time in such a short period of time.

“Yes, we knew the wind would drop-off and we knew the solar would drop-off at a particular time, but our reserves were fine up until the point when we had forced outages.” i.e. the gas plants.

Frydenberg also spoke of South Australia’s price spikes, but made no mention of similar price spikes in Queensland and South Australia.

Indeed, average wholesale electricity prices in coal-dependent Queensland so far this month have average $301/MWh, nearly 50 per cent more than South Australia last July ($201/MWh), when network supplies from Victoria were restricted by an upgrade and which helped trigger the Coalition’s anti-renewable campaign.

In February this year, NSW has averaged $214/MWh while South Australia has averaged $210/MWh. In January, average wholesale prices in Queensland were at $197/MWh, while in South Australia they averaged just $84/MWh.

AEMO, in its report, has insisted that it is not the nature of wind energy or solar that have contributed to the various blackouts. Frydenberg, however, is having none of it.

“Our political opponents are looking for scapegoats rather than confronting the very real problems facing the South Australian electricity system,” he said, attacking Labor for its focus on renewables.

“They want to blame a storm, they want to blame the market operator. They want to muddy the issue by conflating events in South Australia with NSW,” Frydneberg added, referring to the load shedding events in NSW in the same heatwave that caused the load shedding in South Australia.

“It’s now clear to all Australians, and particularly South Australians, that the Weatherill Government’s self-described ‘big experiment’ has failed and that better planning should have been in place to prepare for the high uptake of intermittent sources of generation.”  

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  • David leitch

    speaking to his gallery. Facts will win in the end.

    • trackdaze

      It seems the donors has seen the error of allowing frydenburnt free rein initially and bypassed the more subtle string control method and gone the full hand.

    • That’s fine if he were a murdoch commentator or a cocker spaniel. He is the country’s energy minister.

      • Chris Ford

        Energy and environment minister, even worse.

      • DevMac

        Is it possible to get them ousted for dereliction of duty?
        What remediation / punishment / disincentive is there for politicians that act in defiance of facts?

    • Chris Ford

      What makes me angry is that this type of rubbish pushes that “end” further away. This government is putting us miles behind where we should be.

  • john

    There has been a concerted effort over the last few months to sheet home the blackout in SA to renewable energy.
    It would appear this is driven by advice to the LNP that painting the other party as bad because they support this unreliable sun does not shine wind does not blown message will result in reelection.
    In politics the message is more important than facts.
    To the average person it seems reasonable that a coal powered generator will just chug along and they can relate to the message.
    I honestly do not think how many times the facts are presented it will not cut through to the average Joe.
    So expect a continuation of the message reinforced by the dribble press.
    The outcomes in the USA have shown that message is far more important than anything else just paint your story and it will be accepted.
    The very poor explanation by the other party of their policy only helps the present government, frankly I think they are on a winner and will flog it for all it is worth.

    • Steve159

      Agree – Labor has been feckless, ineffective in countering the LNP’s blaming renewables.

      I saw Plibersek on Q&A mention the Warburton review, but she did so in a quiet, almost meek manner. We need an “Abbott of renewables”, someone who goes on the front foot, forcefully and relentlessly calling out the fraudulent LNP.

      • solarguy

        Yes, Tanya needs to find some mongrel, show some passionate persistence in getting the message across.

  • Jo

    I thought these guys were just idiots with blinkers. But I have to change my mind: They are evil.

    • suthnsun

      Sociopaths or very very weak people, at the least..

    • solarguy

      “Evil” oh yes.

  • howardpatr

    Josh Frydenberg – on behalf of the Prime Minister and his LNP Government, especially the RWRNJs within the Liberal and National parties I have nothing to say about this fake news.

    The Government’s position is clear and we will not budge despite whatever the markets and the science might contend.

  • lin

    I suspect that legacy electricity generators and networks around the world are watching S.A. with interest, and in some cases horror. Hundreds of billions of dollars of investment in the coal and nuclear industry are critically dependent on renewables failing in some way. And if they can’t be made to fail, then at least the propaganda machine can be cranked up for a while so those with money invested can flog off their holdings before the shit hits the fan. Prepare for a lot of “intervention” by governments in the market using our money. Fry-de-bergs is already spruiking hand outs for coal mines and generators.

  • Chris Fraser

    Actually he’s the ‘big experiment’. To be able to hold two contradictory ideas in his head, and be fine with both.

  • FeFiFoFum

    He and the moronic LNP government need to be sacked.
    What a clueless idiot,, or if not then he is just a bare faced liar.

  • Farmer Dave

    While I agree with the criticism of our Energy and Environment Minister in the comments, another way of looking at his performance is as a massively wasted opportunity. The two portfolios were put together for a good reason: it is simply not possible to have good climate change policy in the absence of good energy policy, and it is not possible to have good energy policy in the absence of good climate change policy. Frydenberg’s solution to properly aligning the two is to have really bad policy in both areas.

    The speech he should have given should have started with the rock solid science of the greenhouse effect and the impossibility of negotiating with the laws of physics. He should then have moved to the dynamics of the climate system and how more adverse changes are already locked in, even if we achieved the impossible and stopped all emissions overnight. These points would have led inexorably to the need to phase out coal, oil and gas as fast as possible. Such news would not be popular at the Sydney Institute, but part of leadership is the need to be fearless in communicating bad news.

  • Chris Ford

    Having read the full transcript, there’s a glaring question. “Given that HELE coal with CCS is a proven low emission technology, and yet there is not one new HELE CCS plant being built worldwide, WHY IS THAT?” For a mob obsessed with budget repair and bottom line, cost seems strangely absent from this discussion. You’d almost think they’re trying to avoid mentioning it for some reason.

  • Mags

    Very disappointing, but the polls suggest that the people don’t believe him, thankfully.

  • Gary Rowbottom

    Speaking of failed experiments. Josh Frydenberg. And I am thinking Malcolm Turnbull may need to be put in the same bin.