The Australian Energy Market Operator has officially warned wind and solar developers that the West Murray Zone of the main grid that straddles north west Victoria and south-west NSW is effectively full, and any new projects will cause the output of all wind and solar projects in the region to be heavily constrained.
The warning from AEMO came in a letter to stakeholders, and would not be a complete surprise given the ongoing issues in the region, which has seen the output of five big solar farms cut by half for more than seven months while voltage issues were resolved, and other solar and wind generator west of Wagga Wagga in NSW warned of heavy cuts to output because of grid congestion issues.
“The capacity of the existing network in the WMZ (West Murray Zone) to host large scale inverter-connected generation has likely been reached or will be reached by the time already-committed projects are integrated,” AEMO writes.
“New and existing generation across large parts of the WMZ will be materially constrained for significant periods of time pending large-scale network investment.”
The warnings of network capacity being reached have been made for some time, both by AEMO and the local transmission networks, and has led for the call to new network additions, such as the VNI West, and the creation of renewable energy zones.
But the process to approve and then build these additions will take years, and while the NSW government has been pushing the creation of REZs in other parts of the state, it has yet to do so in south-west NSW.
Already committed wind and solar projects in the region have been hit by heavy delays to their connection and commissioning, even though many of them have been mechanically complete for some months. AEMO has created a “sequencing” order where wind and solar projects will be connected one or two at a time, rather than all at once.
In its email to stakeholders, AEMO says it “successfully completed assessments” for 16 projects this year, including the integration of two solar farms in Victoria and NSW, and the registration of the 200MW Kiamal solar farm and the 275MW Darlington Point solar farm, which is the largest solar farm built in Australia to date.
“We are also progressing assessment of another solar farm in NSW,” AEMO says.
“For uncommitted projects (those still in the connection application stage), AEMO has developed a sequencing proposal for its integration assessments under NER clauses 5.3.4A (access standards) and 5.3.4B (system strength remediation).
“The sequence approach is based on objectively ascertainable dates to ensure fairness and transparency, similar to the approach taken for commissioning and committed projects.
“Projects will be allocated a position in the first phase of the integration assessment sequence for uncommitted projects based on the date of application. This will be the date that the NSP determined the application submission was complete, meeting all the requirements of the NER.”
But then it warned of the network limits.
It also published a series of maps showing existing, committed and proposed projects across the NEM, including this in the map above (click on it to enlarge). Orange represents projects at the application stage, while green is “enquiry”. There are many of both in WMZ west of Wagga Wagga.
“(The network limits) will not only restrict commercial output but may prevent or delay completion of commissioning for new projects. Connections that rely on future regulated upgrades to the network and/or longer-term system strength solutions cannot be assessed until those upgrades and solutions are substantially progressed.”
It warns that prospective developers interested in connecting generation in the WMZ and surrounding area should contact their local NSP (network service provider) before making any financial commitments, to discuss whether, when and how they might be able to progress their project.