Proceedings by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) in the Federal Court against four wind farm operators for alleged breaches of the National Electricity Rules (NER), have generated a strong objection from the Clean Energy Council (CEC) which has reiterated that the operators were not to blame.
AER has brought proceedings against subsidiaries of AGL Energy Limited Neoen SA, Pacific Hydro Pty Ltd and Tilt Renewables Limited in connection with wind farms they operated in South Australia during severe weather conditions on 28th September 2016. The extreme weather conditions led to significant damage to transmission lines in South Australia, causing voltage disturbances and a blackout right across the State. The AER is alleging that each wind farm operator failed to ensure that their plant and associated facilities at the relevant wind farms complied with their generator performance standard requirement to ride-through certain disturbances.
In addition, the AER alleges that the wind farm operators failed to provide automatic protection systems to enable them to ride-through voltage disturbances to ensure continuity of supply, in contravention of the National Electricity Rules.
“The AER has brought these proceedings to send a strong signal to all energy businesses about the importance of compliance with performance standards to promote system security and reliability” said AER Chair Paula Conboy. “These alleged failures contributed to the black system event, and meant that Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) was not fully informed when responding to system wide failure in South Australia in September 2016. Providing timely and accurate information to AEMO is critical in ensuring power system security and the effective operation of the wholesale energy markets”.
The AER is seeking declarations, penalties, compliance programme orders and costs following their release of an investigation report into the blackout in 2018. The proceedings are the culmination of a series of detailed actions undertaken since the event.
The Clean Energy Council (CEC) has reacted strongly to the announcement of these proceedings. The CEC feels that the decision to pursue court action against the wind farm operators is disappointing and will reignite misleading claims that wind farms were responsible for the events in 2016 following a once-in-50-year storm.
Clean Energy Council Chief Executive Kane Thornton said the state-wide blackout in South Australia was the result of freak weather which caused a vast range of problems, including more than 20 huge electricity pylons which bent in half like paperclips.
“There were tens of thousands of lightning strikes and a series of mini tornadoes during the storm which ultimately plunged the SA grid into an unprecedented situation” Thornton said. “Previous investigations by the regulator found a high level of compliance by market participants under these extreme circumstances. New rules for the operation of wind farms were developed by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) following the event, but they were operating as directed during the event, with a lot of extraordinary factors at play. This AER court action relates to highly technical and complex wind turbine settings. The wind industry has been working closely and constructively with the market operator and regulators to refine the operational settings of these plants. It is therefore unfortunate and disappointing that the AER has now chosen to pursue court action”.
Mr Thornton added that it remains unclear what – if anything – can be achieved by the court action.
“In its own investigation into the incident, the AER noted the commitment from all the wind farms involved to work together to restore power, then investigate the incident and take all appropriate steps to learn from it and stop it happening again” Thornton said. “Given the remarkable nature of the storm and the incident, we supported this course of action. However todays court proceedings now create unnecessary tension between those who are there to oversee the system and those who are acting in good faith to ensure its integrity”