AGL Energy, the bigger coal generator in Australia and the biggest player in the South Australia market, says wind farms are not to blame for the blackout in South Australia, in contradiction to the claims of the federal government and many in mainstream media.
In a statement issued late Thursday, AGL said it was clear that wind farms were not the cause of the blackout, nor was the loss of output in the chaotic seconds leading to the blackout of sufficient scale to cause the system to black out.
The blackout on September 28 sparked a frenzy of accusations from the Coalition, right wing parties and mainstream media that the state’s high reliance on renewable energy was at fault. This was despite early and clear signals from the market operator and the grid owner that the source of energy was not an issue.
AGL CEO Andrew Vesey earlier this week made it clear that it “didn’t matter what was hanging off the wires” when they blew over, the system would still have gone down after such an event had brought down so many transmission lines.
Still, the Coalition government and many in the media are still playing hard against renewables, saying they threaten energy security, and costs. A CoAG energy ministers meeting was being held in Melbourne on Friday, although it has been branded a “stunt” by the Victorian government.
Barnaby Joyce, who earlier in the week blamed wind turbines on the blackout, took issue with the report by the Australian Energy Market Operator and the South Australian government.
“But this idea that a storm caused the blackout,” he said. “No rubbish, Sherlock, we got that part. But why couldn’t you get the system up and running again?” Well, according to AEMO, the system took a while to get up and running because the gas-fired generators wouldn’t work.
Yet the media keeps attacking, or seeming not to understand; falling for the federal government’s attempts to muddy the waters and question the push to more renewable energy.
The ABC’s Chris Uhlmann wrote last week that the whole nation could be blacked out if it continued the push to wind and solar, and has since taken on an Andrew Bolt-like “I’m the victim for telling the truth” justification for his reports.
In the Australian Financial Review on Friday, columnist Jennifer Hewett said it was “very probable” that the combination of the wind not blowing and “a surge in demand for power for all those air conditioners could easily lead to a similar blackout for South Australia.”
The Australian joined in by publishing – in two reports – a federal government “analysis” that put a $41 billion price tag on the renewable energy targets in Victoria and Queensland. The government refused to provide RenewEconomy with the copies of the study.
The Australian Energy Market Operator released a report on Wednesday, cataloguing the series of events, but making no finding of what the causes were – apart from the major storm which brought down three major transmission lines.
Critics of renewables have pointed to the loss of 325MW of wind output just before the inter-connector to Victoria shut down, assuming that the nature of the wind farms and the loss of output was the trigger and the cause for the interconnector to close.
But this was rejected by AGL on Thursday, which owns and operates four wind farms in the state as well as the biggest gas generators, saying there were obviously other factors at play.
“AGL’s current view is that the reduction of wind generation alone was not sufficient in scale to cause the system to black out. In fact, a third of AGL’s wind generation at the time in South Australia continued to operate until the system blackout.”
It went on to say: “AGL has safely run its wind turbines in South Australia for the past eight years and is confident wind generation does not degrade the reliability of the electricity system. Wind generation is a valuable part of the energy system and contributes positively to the reliability and security of the system.”
But it said that the severity of the recent storms in South Australia and the unprecedented scale of impact along the transmission network are an appropriate cause for a review of protection settings of generators and the network system.
The cause of the loss of output of the wind farms is still being confirmed. It is thought that some wind farms had a software “glitch” – since rectified in some cases – that caused (to the surprise of the operators) individual turbines to stop generating after three successive “faults”, such as lightning strikes or loss of voltage.
It is not yet clear, but it is thought that the loss of power from the big Snowtown and Hornsdale wind farms occurred after the nearby transmission fell down, and caused a loss of signal that would have caused any generator to lose power.
AGL says it does not anticipate any system reliability or security obstacles to additional renewable generation in the NEM, “subject to the better integration of climate and energy market policy.”
It has lobbied hard for a staged exit of coal-fired generators, and also “capacity” payments, which would ensure that enough dispatchable generation remains in the system as more renewable energy is added.
AGL will continue to work closely with energy market stakeholders and regulators to ensure the safe and reliable delivery of energy to customers.