Regulator takes wind farms to court over 2016 South Australian blackout

2016 South Australian blackout caused by power line failureWind farms in court over 2016 SA blackout.

The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) has taken legal action against operators of wind farms whose shutdown contributed to the 2016 South Australian blackout.

The “black system” occurred on September 28, 2016 following damage to transmission lines due to extreme weather.

In 2017, the Australian Energy Market Operator found protection mechanisms had then disconnected some wind farms from the grid. The mechanisms were automatically responding to voltage disturbances due to the line damage.

The AER now alleges operators failed to ensure the turbines complied with performance standard requirements to deal with the disturbances.

2016 South Australian blackout: AER says operators failed

AER has brought proceedings against subsidiaries of AGL Energy, Neoen SA, Pacific Hydro and Tilt Renewables.

2016 South Australian blackout

The Australian Energy Regulator takes wind farms to court over 2016 South Australia blackout. Image: Pixabay

The AER alleges these wind farm operators failed to provide turbine protection systems to ensure they remained online.

“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,” AER chair Paula Conboy said.

“These alleged failures contributed to the black system event, and meant that AEMO was not fully informed when responding to system wide failure in South Australia in September 2016.”

2017 AEMO report noted wind farm settings changes

The AEMO ‘Black System South Australia 28 September 2016’ report published in March 2017 noted that wind farms played a significant role in the 2016 South Australian blackout.

It also implied turbine settings failures: “Changes made to turbine control settings shortly after the event has removed the risk of recurrence given the same number of disturbances.”

The report found some turbine responses to voltage disturbance were “not included in the simulation models provided to AEMO”.

The AER is seeking declarations, penalties, compliance program orders and costs.

Renewables needs technical, infrastructure support

Given the right infrastructure and management, renewable energy like wind and solar power makes a significant contribution to the grid.

AEMO has recommended changes to the way the grid is developing to accommodate more renewable energy.

By bringing the case against the SA wind farms, the AER is also sending a message to emerging energy generators. But in addition it calls for better technical knowledge as renewables replace our old coal power stations.