Expert: Wind Farm’s ‘Violent Fluctuations’ Left 1.7 Million Without Electricity

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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“Violent fluctuations” from a wind farm blacked out an entire Australian state Wednesday, leaving 1.7 million people without power, according to a physicist.

Australian physicist Tom Quirk concluded in the blog WattsUpWithThat the huge blackout began when Snowtown’s wind turbines experienced “violent fluctuations.” The wind farm suddenly stopped providing 200 megawatts of power, which caused the power grid to become extremely unstable. Then, another wind farm in Hallett experienced smaller 70 megawatt fluctuations.

The local South Australian power grid didn’t have enough conventional coal or natural gas power to meet demand or compensate for the instability. To make matters worse, the wind farm’s instability seemingly caused other Australian power grids to shut off their links to South Australia. As a result, the region suffered a complete power blackout, plunging 1.7 million residents into darkness.

South Australia has been experiencing a power crisis since July, when the state’s last reliable coal power plants were shuttered in favor of wind. Hugh Saddler, a professor of climate economics at Australian National University, warned that South Australia’s green energy policy would lead to blackouts due to a lack of reliable base-load coal or natural gas powers.

Independent experts believe that the ability of an electrical grid to absorb unreliable green energy becomes increasingly more difficult at scale. South Australia’s reliance on wind power makes blackouts more likely because the amount of electricity generated by a wind turbine is very intermittent and doesn’t coincide with the times of day when power is most needed. This poses an enormous safety challenge to grid operators and makes power grids more fragile.

Australian Liberal Party Sen. Chris Back blamed South Australia’s excessive reliance on wind turbines for both several other blackouts and incredibly high electricity prices. Back has formally called for a moratorium on new turbines pending a cost-­benefit analysis.

“There should be no further subsidies paid for an intermittent and unreliable power source that can be seen as a proven failure. There are solutions to our climate challenges but wind power is not one of them,” Back told The Australian.

The power crisis in South Australia has caused the price of electricity to spike to 200 cents per kilowatt-hour of power. The average Australian currently pays about 25 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity, according to research by the country’s parliament. To put that in some perspective, the average American only spends 10.4 cents per kilowatt-hour of power, roughly half the cost. Major businesses in South Australia have already threatened to suspend operations entirely until the price of power comes down.

Household electricity prices in Australia have risen by more than 40 percent between 2007 and 2012, the same period when the government offered lucrative wind subsidies. Power prices in Australian states with a lot of wind power are almost double the rates in other states.

Other Pacific nations are cutting back and outright banning wind power due to the risk of blackouts. China has ordered wind operators to stop expanding four times in the last five years, because unreliable wind power was damaging the country’s power grid and costing the government enormous amounts of money.

The Chinese government stopped approving new wind power projects in the country’s windiest regions in early March, according to China’s National Energy Administration. China was wasting enough wind energy to power Great Britain, according to an article published earlier this month by a green think tank.

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