Regulator takes wind power companies to court over 2016 state-wide blackout


Australia’s Energy Regulator (AER) is taking four wind energy companies, AGL Energy, Neoen SA, Pacific Hydro, and Tilt Renewables to court for allegedly not meeting performance requirements during the South Australia state-wide power-outage on 28 August 2016.

Severe voltage disturbances, due to a storm that occurs once every 50 years, caused significant damage to state-wide transmission infrastructure, and resulted in over 850,000 homes being left without power.

The AER blames the four wind energy companies for a drop in wind power generation following the voltage disturbances, which it alleges added to the effects of the blackout.

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AER chair, Paula Conboy, said that failure by the four companies to communicate the state of their wind assets with the AER resulted in the country’s Energy Market Operator not being fully-informed when responding to the outage.

 “The [regulator] 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,” she said.

According to Conboy, AER will seek declarations, compliance programme orders, penalties, and costs.

An investigation published late in 2018 indicated that no formal action would be taken against the companies, but rather that “recommendations for improved processes” would be proposed, with a fact-sheet from the regulator noting at the time that whilst some instances of non-compliance with obligations, such non-compliance “did not contribute to the state going black”, and that all key obligations had been met.

AER alleges that the December report noted the events leading, and subsequent to, the blackout, but the new alleged infractions result from the blackout itself, and thus are valid.

A spokesperson from AGL said it  would strongly contest the new findings, and insisting that it had complied with national rules. The weather events, including two tornadoes with wind speeds of 190km/h and 260km/h were part of a freak weather system that occurs once every 50 years, and that AGL had subsequently worked with the South Australian government and regulators to learn from the incident.

 “We are committed to working with the regulator and stakeholders to ensure the integrity of the energy market and the ongoing stability of South Australia’s electricity system,” an AGL spokesperson said.

A market operator report in 2017 found that the windfarms rode out the grid disturbances after the loss of a transmission line, however, a protection mechanism in the turbines led to about 450MW in capacity being lost in less than 7 seconds. This drop triggered power transmission via the interconnector between the state of Victoria and South Australia, which tripped the state’s power grid.

The energy minister, Angus Taylor, said it was important that the regulator enforce market rules. “Our job is to make sure that we do everything we can as a commonwealth government to keep the lights on, and we expect the states to do that as well,” he said.