Two wind farm owners have been fined more than A$1.6 million (US$1.2 million) for their role in a state-wide blackouts in South Australia during a storm in September 2016.
Nearly five years ago, a once-in-50-year cyclone knocked down high-voltage power lines across South Australia, which triggered a wave of automatic safety switch-offs to protect the rest of the state’s grid.
About 850,000 customers lost power across the state on 28 September 2016 due to a failure of transmission infrastructure — rather than generation assets, according to a report from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).
However, in August 2019, the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) sued four wind farm owners for not complying with regulations during the storm – a move that Australia’s renewable energy industry group, the Clean Energy Council, called “disappointing and distracting” .
Australia’s Federal Court has now ordered Pacific Hydro Clements Gap Pty Ltd (Pacific Hydro) to pay A$1.1 million in penalties and Neoen-owned HWF 1 Pty Ltd (Hornsdale) to pay A$550,000 for failing to obtain written approval for critical system settings.
Another developer – Tilt Renewables – was fined A$1 million in December 2020, while a fourth – AGL Energy – is listed for a penalty hearing in August.
AER chair Clare Savage said: “As we become increasingly reliant on new forms of generation with different technical characteristics, it is more important than ever that all generators comply with the rules so households and businesses can keep the lights on..
“It is paramount that generators obtain written approval for system settings on their generating units from the AEMO to ensure power system security and the effective operation of the wholesale energy market.”
Pacific Hydro Australia CEO Rachel Watson said: “This dispute has been a distraction and we wish to focus on delivering our clean energy vision and our pipeline of exciting new projects.”
Neoen has not commented on the fine.
Lack of approval
Both Pacific Hydro and Neoen admitted that they had applied low-voltage ride-through system settings for their wind farms – 56.7MW Clements Gap Clements Gap (56.7MW) Onshoremid-north of South Australia., South Australia, Australia, Asia-Pacific Click to see full details and Hornsdale (102MW Hornsdale I Hornsdale I (102MW) OnshoreJamestown, South Australia, Australia, Asia-Pacific Click to see full details, 100MW Hornsdale II Hornsdale II (100MW) OnshoreJamestown, South Australia, Australia, Asia-Pacific Click to see full details and 112MW Hornsdale III Hornsdale III (112MW) OnshoreJamestown, South Australia, Australia, Asia-Pacific Click to see full details), respectively – without prior written approval from the AEMO and grid operator ElectraNet.
In his judgment in each case, Justice White said that the wind farm owners’ “use of non-approved settings in the present case compromised AEMO’s ability to discharge its responsibility because it meant that it was making important decisions concerning the secure operating limits of the power system on the basis of incomplete information.”
The Court also ordered Pacific Hydro and Hornsdale to pay a contribution to the AER’s costs and to implement programmes to ensure compliance with Australia’s national electricity rules.