The success of wind and solar power in cleaning up South Australia’s energy mix has made it a big target. In the 8 years from 2005 to 2013, South Australia’s emissions dropped by 34.5%*. With the closure of Northern coal-burning plant and addition of new wind farms at Snowtown and Hornsdale since then, this amount will only have increased further. Lights have stayed on, business has continued and policy objectives have been met.
A success story like this makes the losers very nervous because the renewables mood is starting to catch on in other states, particularly in Victoria, threatening the coal industry’s future. That’s why The Australian newspaper has gone totally off its na-na at renewable energy in recent weeks. In a campaign characterised by bombast, overstatement and screaming errors, this organ of the fossil fuel industry has abandoned any pretext of impartiality. A recent increase in prices caused by a ‘perfect storm’ of events such as cold weather, steeply rising gas prices and a scheduled grid outage has launched a bevy of not-so-sober headlines such as:
- South Australia's energy madness fuelled by protectionism
- SA Liberals pushing for all new wind farms to be assessed for their impact on the electricity market
- Energy price reveals folly on renewables
- SA’s self-inflicted power pain
- From reliable and cheap to patchy and expensive: South Australia's energy policy
- Over-reliance on renewable energy has Whyalla fearing a grim future
- Green push risks power price surge, distorts national market
And my favorite...
- Insanity is blowing in the wind (ah, if I had a dollar for every 'blowing in the wind' headline I've seen...)
So, there are a few things that are worth knowing about what’s happening in SA right now. The Climate Council put out an excellent briefer which explains the following points:
- Recent short-term increases in South Australia’s wholesale power prices have been driven primarily by a reliance on expensive gas for power and a lack of competition amongst power generators.
- Renewable energy has dramatically reduced electricity price spikes in South Australia.
- The key to reducing electricity prices in South Australia is reducing the state’s reliance on expensive gas through increased competition and a smarter, more connected electricity grid.
It should be noted that the power price 'surge' lasted for all of a couple of hours and that all domestic customers and most business power users were unaffected by a rise in spot market power prices. Only the handful of large power users who choose to reap the benefits of lower prices when the wind is blowing were the only ones exposed when prices headed in the other direction. Essentially they take a punt on electricity prices and that day they lost.
It’s not a closely guarded secret that wind doesn’t blow all the time. It’s a key role of the grid to incorporate a whole range of generation into a constant stream of power for consumers but on July 7 this manifestly failed. The fact that a lot of South Australia’s power comes from wind and solar at different times was not a cause of this.
To his credit, the new Energy & Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg refused to buy into the campaign, saying “To say that [this price spike] is the fault of renewables is not an accurate assessment.”
This is a campaign for the continued existence of coal-burning power in Australia so this outburst won’t be the end of it. As advocates for the role of wind power in the 21st century grid, we need to be speaking out as often as we can about the success of renewable energy
In particular, keep an eye out for the period leading up to the next Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Energy Ministers’ meeting, the first in which Minister Frydenberg will be presiding.
* Peaking Capacity, CO2-e Emissions and Pricing in the South Australian Electricity Grid with High Wind Penetration 2005-2013, Windlab Systems
Photo Credit: Starfish Hill Wind Farm, Dave Clarke ramblingsdc.net