NSW energy minister Anthony Roberts has picked a novel culprit for the price spikes in South Australia in July, blaming it in part on the outage of the Basslink cable that links Victoria and Tasmania.
In recent testimony to the general purpose standing committee in NSW parliament, Roberts expressed caution about relying too much on renewable energy, citing the price surges in South Australia as an example, and then linking those price surges to the failure of the Basslink connection.
He said it once, and was queried on it by Greens MLC Jeremy Buckingham. And then he said it again, referring to one of the biggest price spikes at 7pm on July 7:
“What occurred there (in South Australia) was you had the wind not blowing, the sun not shining because it was dark, everyone switching on their heating, you had the interconnector outages, you had Basslink down, so the power that may have come into the national grid from Tasmania from their hydro was not functioning.”
His error might have been blamed on poor memory or by confusing the name of Basslink with the Heywood line that actually connects Victoria and South Australia – and which was actually “out” due to planned repairs.
But when questioned on it during his testimony, Roberts was insistent, saying Tasmania’s hydro electricity resources could have alleviated the issues.
There’s a couple of problems here:
One: Basslink was not down during those price spikes in South Australia. It was down from December to mid June, causing that state to resort to high price gas and diesel (because most of its dams were dried up), but it was functioning fine in late June and July when South Australian power prices jumped sharply.
Two: The issue was not the amount of power available, it was the ability to get it to South Australia. The fact that the Heywood link was down, flagged almost a year ahead, allowed the price in South Australia to be set by the dominant gas fired generators operating in South Australia, who ruthlessly exploited their market power – to the approval of the competition regulator. No amount of hydro generation from Tasmania into Victoria could have changed anything.
Asked by Buckingham if the price spikes weren’t the fault of gas companies gouging consumers in South Australia for hundreds of millions of dollars, it sparked this exchange:
Roberts: When you have less than 1 per cent of installed capacity generating power in South Australia you have got a major problem—
Buckingham: Are you seriously saying, as the Minister in New South Wales, that the reason the prices spiked in South Australia on that date was because of renewable energy and not because of issues relating to gas infrastructure and the operations of the various energy retailers there?
Roberts: It was very much a combination of factors. You had Basslink issues, you had some issues—
“Absolutely, particularly with the onset of cheaper battery storage, which is incredibly critical,” Roberts said. “But it has got to be an orderly transition. What we do not want to happen is what occurred on 7 July of this year at 7.00 p.m. in South Australia where the sun was not shining, the turbines were not turning”.
And apparently Basslink was down. It’s understandable that ministers can get situations confused and jumbled, the electricity market after all is a complicated beast. But who the hell is advising him?