SA Blackout, Qld Commits to Renewables, Turnbull on Racial Discrimination

What Value in Renewable Energy?

Part 1 – South Australian Blackout

It is now more than two weeks since the South Australian blackout on 28 Sept and yet the South Australian government has said nothing about the possible need to change its existing policy of relying on wind power to supply 40 per cent of the energy for electricity. Indeed, in terms of official news releases it took five days before on Oct 4 Premier Weatherill made even a formal acknowledgement of the blackout However, he did then announce an “independent” review led by former Police Commissioner Burns on October 4. My inquiry to the Premier’s office about whether submissions could be made has still not been answered.

Then, on 11 October Energy Minister Koutsantonis was reported in The Australian as warning that the state faced the potential of more blackouts because of its energy mix of more than 40 per cent renewables. He acknowledged that “the problem we have is that when wind comes on, it pushes gas generation out…it’s clean energy and reliable, but can’t be dispatched all the time”. One would have thought that some change in policy might have been made or sought to prevent such an occurrence or at least reduce the possibility of a blackout.

On Wednesday 12 Oct it was reported that the SA government had revoked the emergency control order of the energy market by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO). This apparently exposes purchasers of electricity to prices determined in the spot market (AEMO appears to have set prices).  Koutsantonis was reported as complaining that the government had “very few levers it can pull because the previous Liberal government sold our power assets to monopolies and the electric market is operated by national agencies”. This development prompted me to send the letter which The Australian published today  suggesting that the existing structure of the energy market is such that it should remain under emergency control with AEMO (see below).

Meantime, while all this was happening the Premier acted to confirm his Green inclinations. This involved taking his family on a few days walking tour of the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail. He officially announced this in a news release on his return (he explained that the expenditure of $5.8 mn on the trail was an election commitment of the government’s nature-based tourism strategy).

Blackout could recur (Letter published in The Australian, 14 Oct 2016. Phrases in square brackets deleted by Ed)

It is premature for the South Australian government to revoke the emergency control of its energy market given to the Australian Energy Market Operator (“Power fears as emergency order ends” 12/10).

Energy Minister Koutsantonis blaming the opposition for selling the State’s power assets skates over the real problem caused by the government’s decision to expand the use of wind power to supply 40 per cent of energy.

That decision appears to have been made for political reasons [and there has been no indication that the government undertook a careful analysis of the risks involved, particularly the lack of sufficient back-up supply from generators fuelled by coal or gas in circumstances where the wind supply is intermittent.]

[Expert] analysis [emphasises that as fundamental and also] cautions against any extensive use of windpower in circumstances where a group of generators is operated at synchronous speed. In that situation the loss of  a few generators because of either excessive or small  wind can disrupt the whole system and that may be what happened in SA. It is possible also that it could happen again{, which seems to have been acknowledged by the Minister. Until that is determined a skilled operator should continue to control the energy market and the government must review its 40 per cent policy].

Des Moore, South Yarra Vic

What Value in Renewable Energy?

Part 2 – Queensland

The Queensland Government is apparently determined not to be left out of developing the Green strategy of using renewable energies. Qld Energy Minister Mark Bailey released on 12 October (see Qld Renewable Energy Press Release) a draft report by an independent Panel which outlines possible ways of reaching the 50 per cent target by 2030 and which will undertake a second round of community consultations before delivering its Final Report to Government by the end of the year. The draft report claims that the target can be met “while maintaining electricity security and reliability over the next 14 years”.

This presumably reflects the Minister’s statement in the press release that “coal and gas-fired generation are expected to continue to play a significant role in Queensland to 2030 under a 50 per cent target” and, as reported in the attached article in the AFR, that there will be no closures of such generators (see AFR on Qld Renewables Policy). This would be consistent with the need to have back-ups for generators constructed to use renewables when the supply of such renewables is not available because of low or excessive wind or no sun during the night/clouds. But it would of course mean a considerable doubling up of production capacity and a resultant substantial addition to capital costs.  Note that the map of projects shown in the AFR article includes a substantial number using solar power.

There is no recognition in the statement of either the problem of having no supply of energy available when using renewables or the resultant need for back-ups using coal or gas.

What Value in Renewable Energy?

Part 3 – Turnbull’s View

The claim by Turnbull that the Labor States have excessive renewable energy targets raises the question of where to draw the line. Turnbull has indicated that he supports the use of renewables but has given no indication of where the balance should be struck between RETs and fossil fuels or indeed whether the use of fossil fuels should be recognised as appropriate at all. This exposes him to being attacked for not saying what he really stands for. Andrew Bolt argues “Yes, Turnbull will be criticised by the Left, but better to be attacked for what you are for rather than for what you are against. Turnbull today is in the Land of No. Time to find the Land of Yes” (see attached Bolt on Turnbull). Butperhaps it is more a matter of being caught between Yes and No.

ASIO Annual Report

A brief report in today’s Australian says that ASIO Chief Duncan Lewis has indicated in his annual report that “ASIO cannot provide complete assurance that all terrorist attacks or high harm espionage activities affecting Australia and Australians will be identified and prevented” (see ASIO Concerned About Extremist Threat). In what seems something of a retraction of his earlier statement when Turnbull became PM, Lewis refers to the danger coming from “a small number of individuals in Australia who remain committed to anti-Western, violent and extremist Sunni Islamist ideology”. He had earlier denied any connection with religion, as indeed had Turnbull at that time.

This follows a speech made by Turnbull to Parliament on 10 Oct rejecting any banning or limiting of Muslim immigrants and arguing that “As leaders our job is to explain the facts, reassure citizens and ensure that everything we do is calculated to keep Australians safe.” (see Banning Muslims).  The AFR article reporting the speech indicated that Mr Turnbull noted that terrorists wanted the wider Australia community to turn against Muslims. “Their message to Australian Muslims is ‘you are not wanted here, you will never be accepted here, you cannot be Australian.’,” he said. The most effective weapon against this is inclusion. “An inclusive nation is a safer nation. It enables our security agencies to better protect us. It enables them to secure the support and assistance of the Muslim communities without which they cannot keep us safe,” he said. “Australia’s migrant story tells us that if we keep learning from each other, opening our doors, our hearts and our minds, harmony will win out.”

The article also refers to an ANU study that shows 71 per cent of Australians are concerned or very concerned about the possible rise of Islamic extremism in Australia and 56 per cent want more done to prevent an attack. This suggests that Turnbull needs to do much more than support inclusion.With Muslims in particular it is not sufficient to say that “Australia’s migrant story tells us that if we keep learning from each other, opening our doors, our hearts and our minds, harmony will win out”(see full text of speech as Turnbull on Racial Tolerance & No Banning of Muslims).

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