Murdoch media vs Renewables: Anatomy of a Twitter spat | RenewEconomy

Murdoch media vs Renewables: Anatomy of a Twitter spat

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AEMO’s final report into SA blackout sparks a social media spat between the state’s energy minister and The Australian’s Michael Owen.

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The release of the Australian Energy Market Operator’s fourth and final report into South Australia’s state-wide blackout last September has sparked a social media spat between the state’s energy minister, Tom Koutsantonis, and  opposition energy spokesperson The Australian’s Adelaide bureau chief, Michael Owen.

The heated exchanged started when Owen – who this morning published an article on the report titled “Wind farms key” to SA blackout – took a swipe at the South Australian government for its response to the report.

Seemingly undaunted by AEMO’s actual findings – which have since been reiterated in a news briefing by AEMO chair Tony Marxsen, who said the system black had “very little” to do with the type of generation, and that it “was not about renewables” – Owen tweeted:

So @AEMO_Media report finds wind farm settings “led to the Black System” in SA YET @JayWeatherill@TKoutsantonisMP insist wind not a factor!

To which Koutsantonis replied:

To which Owen fired back:

And then, because he is a staunch defender of unbiased reporting:

Indeed, as Marxsen said, this is all about control settings – and not generation type. In 2003/04 in other major outages, it was about the settings on coal plants. On March 3, it was about settings on the gas plants. In September, it was about the settings, since fixed, on wind farms.

Owen was not to be distracted however, and decided – like the ABC – that it was all the fault of wind energy.

He has also been Tweeting busily in defence of his article, and particularly it’s misleading “quote-unquote” headline:

Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 1.24.35 PM


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  1. George Darroch 3 years ago

    Rupert Murdoch’s media pretty much invented ‘fake news’ in the modern era. If you’re in another sector, pray that their editors don’t give it any attention.

    Given that the Coalition have started to attack the Vic Government on Gippsland issues post-Hazelwood, I expect a bunch of false forestry stories to start appearing.

    • Ian Franklin 3 years ago

      “This week we learned that the complete power blackout that occurred in South Australia last September was due to the existence of a large number of wind farms that simply ceased to operate in the context of a strong storm ..”
      Judith Sloan, Weekend Australian, 1 April.
      She goes in this vein for her entire column. Is she promulgating deliberate lies, or is she too stupid (or too lazy), to read and understand the AEMO report?

  2. Rod 3 years ago

    At least Tom is aware of the lies and where they are coming from.
    He wouldn’t want to see some of the local opinion forums in the Advertiser.
    So many gullible sheep, it beggars belief.

  3. FeFiFoFum 3 years ago

    This is all so juvenile.
    Everyone looking for a single cause to blame to for the blackout.

    It was a sequence of events that lead to the eventual final blackout, but along the way if the chain of events was broken then the blackout “may’ have been avoided.

    Regardless, there was always going to be some loss of power, as is always the case during a storm let alone a big storm.

    The only way to avoid loss of power at an individual customer level is to take control of your energy needs by having some storage insitu.
    And even that will not ride you through a prolonged period of network outage.

    The grid itself can never be guaranteed to supply you with power 24/7/365.
    It can be reliable to supply you with power up to 99% of the time but there is never a 100% guarantee of supply.

  4. Chris Fraser 3 years ago

    A twitter spat is a clandestine search for relevance.

  5. Andrea 3 years ago

    Juvenile is the correct assessment of this whole spat. The reporting on this incident over past 6 months has been bad. There were many causes of the blackout including wind farm settings, aemo’s poor risk management, low system inertia, etc. Very disappointed that RenewEconomy has been as biased as the rest of them. How are we going to learn how to transition successfully to renewables if we can’t learn from these incidents. It ain’t easy to make this transition but we need to do it.

    • FeFiFoFum 3 years ago

      Exactly !!

    • Peter G 3 years ago

      That is a long bow to draw Andrea, can there really be any media as biased and venal as News Ltd?

      • Andrea 3 years ago

        Dunno Peter – maybe Breitbart? 🙂
        But seriously, this whole discussion is silly beyond belief. It is quite possible for some of us to be advocates of wind power while still acknowledging the challenges of integrating it. Why are others finding it so difficult? And why does RenewEconomy find it so difficult?

        • Darren 3 years ago

          the only challenge is the lack of forward thinking from AEMC/LNP in regards to moving everything forward. The tech exists, make it a fair playing field for all and let the market work… which they wont cause they know they cant compete or the AEMC would have pushed through the 5 min rule anyway.

          • Andrea 3 years ago

            I think there are many challenges, and we should discuss these and work out ways to overcome them. Also it is debatable whether the market just needs fixing or whether it needs eliminating (that being my own view). But surely we can discuss these civilly, acknowledging that the transition to renewables is throwing up challenges rather than pretending that they don’t exist. How is “turning a blind eye”
            helpful? I know that the vitriol from the right-wing press is appalling and people need to defend it. But the current polarisation has become so stupid

          • Darren 3 years ago

            all these things are being discussed civilly but the point that ultimately its AEMO mismanagement of the network due to their own words “werent aware of the protective features”‘, is neither the wind farm or the protective function at fault. That’s just misdirection away from accountability.

            You run the network, you should be aware of all functions of things connected to said network, period.

            As for polarization, well, that question is best directed at the LNP and the right wing media who to this day continue to use old reports and ignore the newer ones that do not suit the agenda. The misreporting, or complete lack of facts.

          • Andrea 3 years ago

            Yes, the blame really should lie with AEMO. But I also think the market has become dysfunctional

          • wideEyedPupil 3 years ago

            Who at Reneweconomy is pretending technical challenges don’t exist? Giles has been publishing about battery systems to do FR and replace spinning reserve in a more cost effective and responsive way for YEARS longer than I’ve heard you discussing FCAS, Andrea.

          • Andrea 3 years ago

            Comments on RenewEconomy relate to Uhlmann/Parkinson spat and the misinformation in the related articles.
            The internet was rather new when I started discussing FCAS. I didn’t see you there either.
            We can have a debate on political tactics without throwing insults. Yes, there is a deliberate scare campaign. Yes there is misinformation on both sides. But is it politically naive to worry about joining the era of fake news? Should one have any respect for the truth? Do you want to throw the baby out with the bathwater?

          • wideEyedPupil 3 years ago

            So I repeat the question: Who at Reneweconomy is pretending technical challenges don’t exist?

          • Andrea 3 years ago

            Recent example: Uhlmann cites “challenges” of integrating wind. Parkinson changes the word challenge into “limit” and cites CSIRO, who say it is trivial. Meanwhile AEMO has been investigating the challenges of integrating wind power for years. They are charged with managing these challenges.
            A challenge is not a limit. Not according to the dictionary I use.

          • Giles 3 years ago

            HI Chris
            This is what i wrote.

            ABC’s political editor Chris Uhlmann continues with his ill-informed campaign against wind and solar, warning in an article on Sunday of the risk of widespread blackouts and claiming there is a limit of 20 per cent renewables before problems arise.

            “Once wind energy passes about 20 per cent of generation it creates a series of well-documented challenges for electricity grids in both managing intermittency and stabilising the system’s frequency,” Uhlmann writes, without citing any such documents.

          • Andrea 3 years ago

            I am not sure who is the Chris that this comment is addressed to. However, here is the sentence that summarises the article and that comes up on facebook feeds. “ABC political editor continues ill-informed campaign against wind and solar, now claiming that 20% is the limit for wind energy.” To which people have been replying with all sorts of abuse at Uhlmann. Yet Uhlmann didn’t say any such thing!

            The question of what level of wind power penetration causes “challenges” is really a matter for AEMO, who are responsible for managing the system. They have conducted quite a number of studies about handling this. CSIRO also imply that it is relative to the flexibility of other generators on the system.

            Actually I checked Wikipedia and the 20% figure is there. (Though there are various qualifications on where it is applicable, and some of the references are from last decade.) I won’t comment on the use of Wikipedia as a reference, though I understand that Greg Hunt is a fan.

            I don’t think the German example is helpful, since it has a strong grid. Australia, and particular South Australia, has the issue of skinny grids. We are clearly learning as we go.

          • Giles 3 years ago

            Well, I think you have successfully argued against all your points. You’re not sure about wikipedia, but you happy to cite it as a source. You say that the wikipedia citations are from more than 10 years ago, yet that is exactly the point of my article. Look at the quote from 50 hertz. You suggest that wind limits is a matter for AEMO, and S.A. has a skinny grid, which must make it more prone, but you don’t stop to ask yourself why AEMO did not prevent new wind farms from being installed more than 5 years ago, when it got past 20%. It just doesn’t add up.

          • Andrea 3 years ago

            I was being flippant about Wikipedia.
            But why did you misquote Uhlmann with that subhead? He didn’t say it was a limit.
            AEMO clearly saw it as a challenge, which is why they did all those studies. Also AEMO made it quite clear (in a ref that I can dig up if you want) that they had no power to prevent what generation went where. They just had to deal with it (or words to that effect.)

          • Andrea 3 years ago

            Okay Giles, perhaps we could look at what 20% actually means. SA has 32% wind penetration. Say it had 20%, which would translate into about 900 MW installed capacity. Say 883 MW of wind was running, gas provided 330 MW and interconnectors provided the rest (i.e. the same conditions as on Sept 28.) If half this wind power tripped, and the interconnector picked up the load and then tripped, SA would be islanded with low system inertia. The frequency would have plummeted and hence system black. So what is the difference between having 20% wind penetration (with nearly all running) and 32% wind penetration with only some running? It is just as vulnerable to sequence of events of Sept 28.
            Of course the low system inertia can be addressed with various technical remedies, but this of course represents a “challenge” to be overcome.

          • Giles 3 years ago

            It’s like trying to argue with Malcolm Roberts. There are so many variables and imponderables in there. The key to what AEMO said it wasn’t the wind farms per se, it was the settings on the wind farm, which they didn’t know about. Just like it was the settings on the gas generators which tripped on March 3, which they also didn’t know about and which nearly sent the state into system black, were it not for wind holding steady, just like it was the settings on the Northern coal plant back in 2003 and 2004, which they also didn’t know about.

          • Andrea 3 years ago

            Are you comparing me with Malcolm Roberts? That is terribly offensive Giles. I expect better of you (and it is a terrible look if you have to resort to abuse). Please stick to the facts and discuss this with respect!
            I am of course referring to the low system inertia, which was discussed obliquely in the AEMO final report, but highlighted in the MHI report. It wouldn’t matter what generators were lost. (Actually it would be worse if a thermal generator had tripped as it would take its inertia and FCAS with it!)
            The point is that when the interconnector trips under high low when there is low system inertia in SA (like almost happened also on March 3), then SA is very vulnerable. Low system inertia could (as I have shown) be experienced under 20% wind.

          • Greg Hudson 3 years ago

            Education lesson #1745: Poultry is actually paltry.

          • wideEyedPupil 3 years ago

            Thx, why #1745? think that’s the first time I ever rowt it!

          • Greg Hudson 3 years ago

            And that was the first time I ever reddit!
            And 1745 is the official correction count 😉

          • humanitarian solar 3 years ago

            Yes it’s important not to be naive. With the “deliberate scare campaign” it’s important not to “project” positive qualities of our own awareness on the other side as well. If we judge they are more aware than the evidence suggests, we attribute knowledge they don’t have and can judge them harshly. I can see there’s a scare campaign, though it is in part because the Murdoch media are scared (and blaming renewables). It is this being scared and blaming, that stalls the regular process that often accompanies the process of going through crisis – denial, anger, bargaining, grief and acceptance. Being scared and blaming, is part of the early stages of the process. So we can’t attribute too much awareness to the Murdoch crew because they are hanging onto an old reality and really don’t want to move forward and hence understand the situation accurately or the merits of renewables. If you look at it, you’ve potentially created a polarity because judging the Murdoch crew has more awareness than they do is the opposite of Andrea’s position of hoping for unicorns. You want sharp insight and she wants good feelings. It’s a classic masculine feminine polarity. Sorry for the long explanation. My writing hasn’t been so succinct of late.

    • wideEyedPupil 3 years ago

      There were some clear examples in AEMO interim reports where they used technical language that was easy to misrepresent as “wind caused it”. Like ‘several wind farms disconnected from the grid at this point’ which many took (probably with motivated ignorance) to mean wind turbines failed. Bolt, Uhlmann, Xenophon all claimed wind turbines failed less than 24 hours of the incident even though they were at near maximum output at time of the transmission line failures. THen they used the AEMO language to back up false claims.

      I can’t help feeling AEMO was happy to let wind power take the fall for poor contingency planning on their part and ride through settings that proved to be inappropriate for the sudden loss of generation. Some in the industry have used the phrase asleep at the wheel.

  6. Dismayed 3 years ago

    Owen’s has run a continuous misinformation campaign. He should admit his Liberal Party links and if he has investment is fossil fuel generation. He has been proven to be factually incorrect consistently.

  7. Jonathan Prendergast 3 years ago

    It is AEMO’s role to provide secure electricity supply. I think they should have been on top of the control settings.

    It’s kind of like blaming the traffic lights if their control settings are wrong, rather than blaming the RTA/Vicroads.

    Beyond that, transmission lines falling over caused the faults in first place.

    • David Jago 3 years ago

      My analogy is that blaming the wind farm/s instead of the control settings is like blaming the engine when in fact the accelerator is stuck.

      The other comments about the multiple factors also apply.

  8. humanitarian solar 3 years ago

    Michael Owen: “Media should check their control settings ahead of @JayWeatherill @TKoutsantonisMP post-AEMO spin conference. Predict will be breathtaking”

    This is a fine example of the phenomena of “projection”, believing oneself to be seeing something in another when it often exists in the person making the accusation. There’s also the street language analogy of the finger doing the pointing, has a hand with a number of fingers pointing backwards to its owner.

    The way to identify if we are “projecting” is to note if there is an emotional charge e.g. feeling repugnancy at the thing we are perceiving exists outside us. If we find something emotionally objectionable, it’s a guide to our own healing process still working itself through. It is possible to see past the phenomena of projection, though more likely this happens when we have compassion for the foibles of others.

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