Assessing ADGO

Last week was a pretty big one in the energy arena, starting with the surprise announcement by newly-formed Australian Industrial Energy of its LNG import plan, encompassing the many aspects of the Australian Domestic Gas Outlook conference and ending with the federal government cutting a deal to buy all of Snowy Hydro from Victoria and New South Wales for $6 billion.

It also was a week that saw a former State premier, Colin Barnett, single-handedly lift the issue of a west/east gas pipeline back in to the mainstream debate through his engagement at ADGO.

It was a week in which the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission signalled, both via ADGO and in an appearance at Senate Estimates hearings, that it sees the east coast market as still being “incredible tight” and posing a threat to the operations of manufacturers.

And it was a week in which the Victorian government, facing an election in November, signalled (via an address to ADGO by State Treasurer Tim Pallas) that it will defy pressure to pursue onshore gas developments as the east coast’s biggest offshore gas production area, the Gippsland basin, reaches the end of its existing operations.

(The other State government facing widespread pressure over its handling of gas developments is New South Wales and its Energy Minister, Don Harwin, given a prime speaking slot at ADGO, pulled out on 24 hours’ notice, claiming other commitments. He later tweeted about a visit to a wind farm near Goulburn that day.)

The core message from the ACCC’s chairman, Rod Sims, is “the fundamental problem of a lack of both sufficient and divergent sources of gas supply, particularly in the south, needs to be addressed and this needs to happen soon, given the lags in bringing supply to market.”

“Soon” looks different to a factory owner confronted with “now” decisions about business viability and gas suppliers confronted with all the requirements of development.

It is apparent from ADGO that “soon” in terms of supply is most likely to be the LNG import projects of AIE and AGL Energy, the former focused on Newcastle, the latter on Victoria, should they proceed.

As a mark of how times and circumstances can change, veteran manufacturing executive Peter Dobney of Orora Group, a frequent speaker at ADGO, wryly complained in a panel session this week that he was mocked at the event five years ago when he raised recourse to importing LNG to NSW………

This, it seems to me, should be borne in mind when dissing the pipeline from Western Australia to Moomba about which former WA leader Barnett is so passionate. The Australian Financial Review, which along with The Australian provided extensive ADGO coverage, sees the west/east pipeline as a threat to the LNG import plan, but a case can be made, looking out to 2030, for “all hands on deck” for eastern domestic gas supply, never forgetting the ongoing critical role for the fuel in power supply to the dominant demand areas of the country (NSW, Queensland and NSW).

A thread running through all this is the need for greater competition on the east coast energy scene, a strong pursuit of the ACCC’s Sims but also a topic that comes up continuously now in the general debate and which was well-canvassed at ADGO.

James Baulderstone, who is fronting the Australian Industrial Energy import project, argued  at the conference that the mooted AGL development will entrench a market incumbent while AIL is “a completely new entrant with a focus on the forgotten sector of commercial gas buyers suffering from sky-high prices.”

Users, whether representing manufacturing or power generation, were vocal at ADGO on the issue of prices and the fact that more supply without shifting costs down will not alleviate their problems.

Baulderstone told ADGO that his project (offering 40 petajoules of gas a year to the 140 PJ New South Wales market) will be the equivalent of discovering a large new field right off the coast of Greater Sydney, a point that could also be made about the AGL import plan focused on Victoria. This focus raises in my mind just how many other such deals could be pursued as others view the AIE/AGL game plans? In practical terms, it would seem perhaps another two.

Again, to come back to Dobney’s point, how fascinating that this stuff can now be discussed without suggestions about loss of mental marbles.

Their potential doesn’t change the fact, as Malcolm Roberts, CEO of the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association declared at ADGO, that the policy approach to the gas supply issue in southern States represents “failure on a grand scale.”

Not surprisingly, the States deny this. Pallas was at pains to point to the Andrews Labor government’s support for new exploration offshore Victoria. Harwin emerged from his wind farm foray to tell Fairfax Media that “there is no moratorium in NSW; we have a Gas Plan with science-based regulation – we are taking a sensible approach.” Which, of course, is cold comfort to 500 large industrial users and 33,000 small businesses in NSW freaking out about their gas contract problems or the million household customers considering their much higher bills.

The approaches by the Andrews and Berejiklian governments, both described by Malcolm Turnbull last September as “comprehensive failures” in this respect, sees gas reaching their States from Queensland carrying a transport price tag of $2 to $4 per gigajoule. That’s not a “Gas Plan” for today’s consumers – it is a dog’s breakfast. As the Energy Users Association’s Andrew Richards said in an ADGO panel discussion: “There is a great level of frustration and desperation (among industrial consumers). We need a price correction, not a softening of high costs. Too many (factories) are concerned about whether they can survive long enough to enjoy (mooted) future benefits.”

And, in terms of end-supply costs, the continuing strong efforts by governments of both stripes in Queensland, is not really a solution for southern consumers. (Queensland Natural Resources Minister Anthony Lynham gave an ebullient talk, back to back with Pallas, announcing new acreage releases with any gas found earmarked for domestic use – “further demonstrating we are a reliable and affordable gas producer” – which both in terms of time and final price prospects does not cut today’s mustard in Melbourne and Sydney.)

Pallas declared his government, in imposing onshore gas project bans, was looking out environmentally for the State’s $13 billion food and fibre industry with its 190,000 employees – which drew a riposte later from a Victorian manufacturing executive in the audience that the food and fibre businesses badly needed an adequate supply of competitively-priced gas.

The C-word (as in “cost”) was again perhaps the most used one at ADGO.

The harsh reality was summed up by EnergyAustralia’s Mark Collette. “After 30 year of an ubiquitous resource with constant availability and stable prices, the golden age of gas is over, “ he told attendees. “Cheap gas has gone.”

Collette and his colleagues have since announced plans to evaluate new gas-fired generation, as well as energy storage, in Victoria.

Not surprisingly, a fair bit of discussion at ADGO revolved round the impact of gas availability and cost for generators in a market environment where increased investment in intermittent renewables and impending further closure of coal plants creates opportunities for the “bridge” technology – and the determination of the Turnbull government to forge ahead with “Snowy 2.0” raises issues about its role.

The conventional outlook is for NEM generation use of gas in 2020 to be half what it was (200 petajoules) in 2010 and then to rebound to this level by the mid-Twenties.

The advent of LNG imports could change this trajectory – AIE’s thinking encompasses feeding gas to generation in NSW, including possibly new plant – and how this plays out seems very likely to be a topic high on the agenda of future ADGOs.

 

Big week in gas

The upstream petroleum industry was quick to seize on the International Energy Agency’s report on Australia last week.

The message to policymakers from the IEA executive director, Fatih Birol, “could not be clearer,” declared Malcolm Roberts, chief executive of the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association. “The number one step Australia can take to deliver secure and affordable energy is to remove bans on unconventional gas projects.”

Later this week – from Wednesday to Friday – Roberts and a slew of other key stakeholders in the gas imbroglio will have an opportunity to review where things stand at the Australian Domestic Gas Outlook conference on Sydney. Speakers will include the federal Resources Minister, Matt Canavan, the New South Wales Minister for Resources, Energy & Utilities, Don Harwin, the Queensland Minister for Natural Resources, Mines & Energy, Anthony Lynham, the Victorian Treasurer and Minister for Resources, Tim Pallas, and the former federal energy minister Ian Macfarlane, now chief executive of the Queensland Resources Council.

Canavan has been pushing the point this month that the Turnbull government has delivered on its quest to reduce domestic gas prices, declaring that the threat of export controls has seen them fall from as much as $20 per gigajoule to $8 to $9 since April, “a fair level, a level that reflects the world price.”

He told media the government reserves the right to use the “gas security mechanism” to trigger action next year if these prices do not hold.

More exact numbers for gas charges were provided late last month by consultants Oakley Greenwood in a report to the CoAG Energy Council. They said the average delivered price for large industrial customers, a key part of the economy and large direct and indirect employers, is $10.08 per GJ, with the wholesale segment $9.19.

Both Canavan and APPEA keep pointing out that the size of bills being paid by consumers in southern States would be lower if their governments removed impediments to local production.

Roberts says the governments in Victoria and NSW “should squirm” when faced with the Oakley Greenwood data. “Victoria now has the most expensive wholesale gas in the market and NSW is almost entirely reliant on inter-state supplies.”

All of which makes the announcement overnight by a joint venture, Australian Industrial Energy (helmed by Andrew Forrest with former Santos executive James Baulderstone as the management leader), to bring LNG to a NSW regasification site rather interesting. I see it reported that the project aims to be provide 100 petajoules a year to the southern market, equal to about 75 per cent of the NSW demand.

A key question will be “at what price?”

There can be no return to the era of $3 to $4 per GJ prices because of the costs involved in bringing new resources, including those in Victoria and NSW, to market. The petroleum industry argument is that between $7 and $9 is the price manufacturers should expect to be the new normal if adequate resources can be made available.

Another key question is whether or not such fuel availability as presaged by the Australian Industrial Energy concept could spark investment in a new gas-fired power station and, if so, where? And by whom?

Such a development would wipe the smiles off faces of green activists who have seen baulking gas development as a strong ploy in promoting wind and solar (and now batteries) in Victoria and NSW.

In context, here, the apparent inevitability, based on current projects, that the 2020 federal renewable energy target of 33,000 gigawatt hours annually will be met is a factor no-one contemplating a new fossil-fuelled power station can ignore.

Whatever flows from the AIE announcement, I imagine it will be the talk of the coffee breaks at ADGO this week.

Meanwhile, with energy costs now recognized as a major impediment to manufacturing competitiveness (a theme that has run through the previous five ADGO forums since 2013), another key question is what level of “demand destruction” – that is consumer companies closing down activities – will be seen between now and 2020? The Australian Financial Review, which has broken the Australian Industrial Energy news this morning, reckons recent Australian Energy Market Operator modeling suggests a loss of demand equal to 22 small manufacturers.

Overshadowing all of the above is the issue of global oil prices – to which gas prices are linked. If they rise, our gas prices will rise – that’s the petroleum merry-go-round for you.

Canavan’s case if that his government’s actions over the past year have helped prevent domestic gas prices here being higher than they were overseas (a comparison that carries its own contention). The government, of course, has the added challenge of supporting Australia’s strong position in the international LNG trade – a significant economic factor now – while being seen to ensure domestic supply.

And through it all endures the issue of finding an acceptable political solution to the highly-charged issue of regulating access to new gas resources across the country.

It’s going to be a lively three days at ADGO, I imagine.

Golden opportunity

Experts among stakeholders will pore over the Energy Security Board consultation paper on the “national energy guarantee” in the next three weeks; what interests me right now is the commentary with which the famous five – Kerry Schott, Claire Savage, Paula Conboy, John Pierce and Audrey Zibelman – open the exercise.

They cut straight to the chase: the NEG is an opportunity to resolve some of the most vexing issues bedeviling the NEM, but it “cannot solve all of these issues alone.”

This brings us back to a point that has been made over and over again during the past five years – there is no silver bullet to address Australia’s energy and climate policy mess but there is probably a fair bit of silver buckshot and, even then, some solutions will come with their own baggage.

As the ESB says, “15 years of policy instability have complicated long-term investment decisions and required responses (the paper says “requited,” typos creep in everywhere) for (power) system reliability and security have not been forthcoming.”

This, the five add, “has left our energy system vulnerable to escalating prices while being both less reliable and secure.”

That “15 years” says such a lot about how we have institutionalized ineptitude in energy management across the political system (we are talking late-term Howard through Rudd, Gillard and Abbott to Turnbull here and that’s just the federal scene; the States are as much to blame as anyone for today’s situation). Turnbull and Frydenberg are entitled to say they are trying hard to address the “crisis” they have inherited but, even so, the Coalition government is as riven by dissension on energy and climate issues as CoAG itself.

The five’s claim for the NEG is that, if CoAG backs the plan, it “will provide a clear investment signal so the cleanest, cheapest and most reliable generation gets built in the right place at the right time.” That’s really a huge statement, given the source (ie it’s not pollie-speak) and that delivery of such a promise requires years, not months, and expenditure of many billions of dollars (when support infrastructure is taken in to account, as it must be) in a political environment that shows signs of being even messier than in the past 15 years.

Another important point is also set out in the ESB’s opening salvo: “Over the past decade policymakers have attempted to design the perfect emissions trading scheme and every attempt has failed.”

Let’s not loose sight of the fact that those who failed are not just politicians but the Treasury, Prime Minister & Cabinet Department and the various contortions of the environment and energy bureaucracies plus assorted expert advisers.

The five assert that their NEG is just a requirement on retailers to ensure that what they buy is in line with the abatement target politicians agree to set for power generation.

How hard is it for CoAG first ministers to agree such a target? Answer so far: apparently much too hard.

Perhaps we should force them to listen to the tale of how Alexander dealt with the impossibility of unraveling the Gordian Knot – he took his sword and sliced through it.

For me, what this passage in the paper highlights is (a) the critical need for the CoAG leaders to take the high ground on this key point and (b) just how hard this is going to be in a period of four State elections, and very possibly a federal one, in barely a year.

Moving along, the ESB is attempting to create a framework of eight steps for the NEM. They are:

  1. Forecasting the reliability gap: AEMO forecasts whether the reliability standard is likely to be met (or not) in any NEM region over a forecast period.
  2. Updating the reliability gap: AEMO updates the forecasts of any reliability gap over time, as the market changes, for example to reflect a notification of retirement of a particular generator.
  3. Triggering the requirement: If a reliability gap has been identified, the market would be expected to react and start to invest in new capacity or offer additional existing capacity to the market to close the gap. When a gap persists, there will be a point in time in advance of any forecast reliability gap at which the reliability requirement is ‘triggered’ and retailers are then expected to respond.
  4. Qualifying instruments: Retailers will be incentivized to make investments or enter into contracts that underpin new investment that can alleviate the identified gap. Participants will need to know what instruments will ‘qualify’ for meeting the reliability requirement. Retailers will be required to demonstrate that they have entered sufficient eligible contracts to cover their share of the peak demand requirement at the time of the reliability gap.
  5. Allocating the requirement: If there is an identified gap and the obligation has been triggered, there will be a defined process for filling or allocating the gap to retailers.
  6. Compliance: At the compliance date, the AER will need to assess whether retailers have met their reliability requirement.
  7. Procurer of last resort: If retailers do not meet the requirement by the compliance date, AEMO will need to procure resources to fill any remaining gap.
  8. Penalties: Penalties will need to be assigned to retailers that have fallen short of their reliability requirement.

Of course, the imps of detail will immediately start to nip at this approach – just wait for the submissions – but, as a bridge across the market swamp, it makes broad sense to me.

The ESB devotes most of the 58 pages of the discussion paper to addressing NEG detail with a broad brush, but the five rightly make the point that a key element is the capacity of governments to work together in a federal system, which has been the great big failure through this century to date.

Fatih Birol of the International Energy Agency, on his brief visit to Australia, told the politicians that the NEG, at least conceptually, represents a “golden opportunity.” Given what else was going on last week, was anyone in federal parliament alone even listening?

Reading the coverage of the ESB statement in the mainstream and greenstream media in the past several days, I doubt that anyone in the community other than energy nerds will have got anything they can understand from it – and therefore there is no community pressure on governments in eastern Australia and in Canberra to knuckle down and create the environment for the “golden opportunity” to be seized.

What we need is a modern Paul Keating, modern Wayne Goss and modern Nick Greiner, at the pinnacle of power and public influence, to run with this – and we don’t have them, do we?

Review reaction

It depends where you stand.

An Australian Associated Press report declares the International Energy Agency review of Australia, released in Canberra last week, is a criticism of this country’s lack of a long-term climate policy and a call for “a swift embrace of electricity market reform.” This echoes Labor’s Mark Butler, who says the agency’s 244-page paper highlights the federal government’s energy and climate policies’ failures.

Environment & Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg, however, sees the report as aligning with the reforms the Turnbull government has under way. He also told the House of Representatives, in a week the body politic was deeply distracted by the Barnaby Joyce affair and coverage of the energy report was minimal, the IEA supported his view that “the States should lift their mindless bans and moratoriums on gas development.”

The Greens, you won’t be surprised to know, believe the IEA “has made it clear that the overwhelming majority of pollution cuts will come from renewables and energy efficiency and this is where the federal government should be spending its money.”

The Energy Efficiency Council also heralds a focus on the need for the government “to ramp up its ambition on energy efficiency across all economic sectors including building, industry and transport.” It adds: “The global experts have run the ruler over Australia’s policy settings and found that our current effort on energy efficiency is not up to snuff.”

The Minerals Council welcomes acknowledgement by the agency that Australia is a “cornerstone” of global energy markets and sees the review as consistent with its stance that technology neutrality should underpin national energy policy.

According to The Australian newspaper, which stole a march on its peers through a day-before interview with IEA executive director Fatih Birol, the agency sees the “national energy guarantee” as “a promising opportunity to integrate reliability, affordability and climate policies” in electricity supply.

As for the IEA itself, the agency media statement on its paper diplomatically has praise for the way the federal government is emphasizing the need for energy security and resilience in its policy approach. (PV Magazine, reporting on the review, accuses the agency of being “adept at framing its analyses in terms that are palatable to political interests and incumbent energy market players.”)

You probably need to go to page 191 of the report to gain a straightforward insight in to what the IEA really thinks. But, en route there, it is worth alighting briefly on an earlier sentence that is no less true because it is a statement of the bleeding obvious: “Energy policy governance in Australia is very complex and fragmented; it suffers from frequent changes of policy and institutions at (a national) level.” In this assessment summary, the IEA opines that current national policies, with respect to the power sector, are unlikely to help achieve the carbon abatement goals to which the federal government committed in the Paris agreement. It goes on: “While the current trends point in the right direction, the sector is not sustainable in terms of affordability and security.”

The IEA says: “Policy uncertainty drives the fast retirement of coal capacity and equally undermines future investment in any low carbon technology. Emissions reduction policy in Australia has been marked by fast and frequent U-turns and uncertainty, notably around carbon pricing. Many attribute the high electricity prices in Australia to this uncertainty and it is clear that the closure of old coal plants can lead to higher prices and windfall profits for remaining plants.”

It also asserts that “an emissions reduction goal for the power sector and a related mechanism are critical” and it believes that “such a mechanism should provide clarity for the exit of capacity but that it could be combined with low-carbon capacity auctions and demand response to encourage the entry of new capacity on the basis of locational signals in the NEM.”

Then the agency adds: “The NEG can be an effective market-based mechanism if the government can ensure more competition, better interconnections among the NEM regions and stringent rules for the integration of renewable energy capacity in to the system. The NEG cannot solve all issues and it could create new barriers and windfall profits if those elements are not considered.”

Importantly, if rather lost in the argy-bargy of reactions, the IEA points out that, to accommodate higher shares of variable renewables in the NEM, governments overseeing the market must prioritize measures to safeguard system stability, enhance grid infrastructure, including interconnections and regularly upgrade technical standards

The agency also asserts what we all know to be true but locally mostly despair of its achievement: joint CoAG leadership is required to achieve the integration of energy and climate/environment policies both nationally and in the NEM. In the absence of a federal political consensus on how to address these issues, it says, “policies at the levels of the States/Territories are evolving in an unco-ordinated manner leading to fragmented markets and sub-optimal outcomes.”

Specifically, the IEA recommends that a “national, stable and integrated energy and climate policy framework” should be designed for 2030 via collaboration between the nine governments with integrated policy packages for energy efficiency and renewable energy. It also calls for work to “ensure that low-emission technology support is market-based and guided by energy system-wide network planning and locational signals.”

Elsewhere in the document, it comments that “a more flexible (market) system with new system services, updated technical standards and grid codes and appropriate network investments, including new interconnectors, remains critical to ensuring stability.” There is nothing here, however, about the fact that we can’t have this on the cheap.

Meanwhile Mark Butler apparently can’t see the irony in Labor’s continuing obfuscation about its RET plans and the comment in his media statement highlighting the IEA pointing out “there is a lack of visibility for business, consumers and policymakers alike with regard to the pace and magnitude” of the energy transformation. Nor does he highlight the agency observation that “markets can most effectively deliver desired investments and outcomes when investors have visibility” of what politicians really intend to do and all the implications – which isn’t surprising, I suppose, given the carry-on by the left of politics about undoing utility privisatization.

Frydenberg,for his part, ignores in his media statement the warning that the NEG “is not a silver bullet and could create new (market) barriers and windfall profits.”

There are two other points from this review that that I think should be underscored – and both have been completely ignored by the media to date.

First, the IEA comments: “Australian States and Territories have large subsidy schemes for households to support their energy bills, notably vulnerable consumers. However, such subsidies are often not well targeted and can fail to encourage consumers to save energy. Government aid programs should be reformed to support consumers’ action on energy efficiency (including renovation or fuel switching as well as flexible tariffs and metering).”

Second, it observes: “Tariffs for grid use will need to evolve. Payments should not only be based on how many kilowatt hours are drawn from the grid. Rather, these should reflect the costs that consumers cause to the grid. For example, consuming electricity during times of peak demand in distribution grids should be more costly than during times when there is much spare capacity. Such an approach will also help limiting financial transfers between customers with and without residential PV systems. Under current arrangements, there is a risk that the cost of the grid has to be allocated to less and less energy, in turn increasing grid charges and further encouraging customers to displace grid consumption.”

Why are these not news?

FOOTNOTE: For the statistically minded, it is interesting to see in the IEA report’s data a comparison between 1990 and 2016 in terms of electricity generation shares. With output going up from 154.3 terawatt hours to 257.5 TWh (this is national, not just the NEM), coal plants’ share has fallen from 78.7 per cent to 63.4, oil is unchanged at 2.3 per cent, natural gas more than doubled (9.3 per cent to 19.6), hydro is well down – from 9.2 per cent to 5.9 – and wind power up from zero to 4.7 per cent with solar PV up from zero to 2.7 per cent. What will it be in 2025, let alone 2030? This period (1990 to 2016), by the way, is when Australia’s population rose from 17.17 million to 24.37 million and GDP, says the IEA, rose from $US673 billion in constant value dollars to $US1,521 billion.

Hasten carefully

What east coast energy supply system we will have by the end of 2019 is not an idle question and this point has been accentuated in the past couple of months by a number of developments.

There is, for example, a notable interest in some quarters, mostly green-leaning, in playing off the Australian Energy Market Operator in its current guise against the rule-maker, the Australian Energy Market Commission, portraying the latter as being too conservative, too wedded to reliance on the competitive market and too slow to pursue changes (that it is believed will advance wind and solar power and batteries) in an environment where to quote one report this morning “the (grid) genie is out of the bottle.”

This perspective got a run last week in an Australian Financial Review story about the need asap for a “strategic reserve mechanism” as part of the effort to ward off generation-related supply failures.

The commission’s attitude can be summed up by a paragraph from a discussion paper on NEM reliability it published just before Christmas: “Some form of a safety net, such as a limited and targeted ability for a system operator to pay a premium for capacity that is not otherwise being traded in the market, is appropriate in the event that the market is expected to fail to meet the reliability standard. Given the costs that can be associated with such safety nets, it is important to understand what the existing limitations are with the current safety net in the NEM, the Reliability and Emergency Reserve Trader (RERT), before a balanced solution to these limitations can be developed and assessed to make sure it is in the long-term interests of consumers.”

Behind the agitation led by the warriors of the green revolution is a growing desire in some quarters (by no means all environmentalists) for a return to central planning in power supply, taken to its extremes in recent days by the Greens, hell-bent on winning the Batman by-election in Melbourne, calling for networks to be renationalized (in the States where they have been privatized), and Labor, desperate to cling to the federal seat, making noises that might, in the dark with the light behind them, be taken for an interest in considering the point (at least until the poll closes).

It is interesting to read the AEMC’s comments on central planning in its reliability paper (for which responses closed last week).

“Historically, it has been common for governments around the world to own and operate electricity infrastructure – including generation assets. Australia was no exception. Prior to the start of the NEM, central planners (that is, governments or their agencies) would decide when to invest in new generation, what types of plants to build (for example, base-load, mid-merit or peaking) and where they would be located. The chief advantage of this pure central planning approach is that it can generally be expected to deliver a reliable power system. Put simply, public funds can be allocated directly to try and make sure that the desired level of reliability is met; it is a simple way to make sure that there is enough generation to ‘keep the lights on’ for an acceptable amount of the time

“However, the problem with this approach is associated with high cost to consumers. It is generally accepted that central planners perform this capital investment function far less effectively than private firms and individuals.

“Private investors pursuing profits invariably have superior information about their own forward-looking costs and are subject also to important capital and take-over market disciplines. They will consequently be striving to produce their output at a lower cost than their competitors and to maximise their returns.

“In contrast, central planners generally:

  • have access to only highly imperfect information, that is, much like an economic regulator, they face an asymmetric information problem in that they cannot estimate accurately the respective costs and benefits of different investment options (and)
  • do not have very strong incentives to ensure that the industry is operating at least cost, that is they are not subject to the same market disciplines and may be motivated primarily by ‘keeping the lights on’ at whatever the cost, for reasons of political expediency.

“Centrally planned electricity generation consequently tends to be significantly more expensive to consumers than market-based investments since it passes the risk of ‘getting it wrong’ on to consumers.”

So far as I can see, none of the media types have felt the need to convey this admirably succinct case for the competitive market to their readers or viewers while headlining the nationalization demands.

To all the above the commission adds: “The basic idea of the existing reliability framework in the NEM is to deliver the desired outcomes through the market mechanism as much as possible, albeit within specified price limits. As the supply/demand balance tightens this should manifest in higher spot and contract prices that should provide a spur for efficient entry and expansion that addresses any potential problems before they transpire. Those market-based initiatives are assisted by further information provided by AEMO in various publications and it is only after all else has failed that direct interventions are used as a last resort to minimise the likelihood of involuntary load shedding.”

Well, that’s the theory; the practice, especially since 2016, is for government to knee-jerk in response to every latest piece of news that plays badly in the media, piling interventions or proposals for interventions on top of each other.

Perhaps the core issue is that the “we want it now” brigade, including some politicians and certainly including those who ache for fresh ways to trip up coal-fired power, are for fast moves in new directions, aided and abetted by the media for whom heat and movement is almost always their preference, while the “conservative” AEMC sees its duty in, as it puts it, helping to create “a coherent package for the future” that requires “a detailed design of reforms likely to provide balanced solutions that will address the needs of an evolving system.”

My South African high school had as its motto “festina lente” – which is a Latin take on a Greek adage that roughly translates as “make haste slowly.” Don’t indulge, in other words, in heedless hurrying – which is good advice in many areas of life and should certainly apply to pursuing change in our economically and socially critical power supply market.

The activists, on the other hand, are pushing for use of the new Energy Security Board to bypass the AEMC’s examination of this issue and get CoAG (that is politicians) to make a quick decision on new reliability moves in an election year…………

Data games

Propaganda by the warriors of the “clean energy revolution” – by which they don’t mean nuclear – continues to rely rather too heavily for my taste on pea and thimble word and data games.

A case in point is a current bid to impress on us that, in 2017, more electricity was made from selected renewables than from coal for the first time in the European Union. (Described by some in the media as “the continent as a whole;” take that pesky Russians, the Swiss and a few others like Serbia.)

This, declares boosters, is the tipping point (defined as a threshold for “abrupt and irreversible change”) in European power supply,

But let’s read the fine print.

What is being promoted is that power produced from wind, solar and biomass in the EU last year exceeded that from brown and black coal by 679 terawatt hours to 669 TWh.

However, this outcome includes 196 TWh of biomass-based production, still considered a renewable energy source in Europe despite rising concern in green circles that burning wood pellets is not really a good idea for the environment. In Britain in particular there is a barrage of criticism from green groups, who charge that use of wood-based biomass drives deforestation internationally. Europe is now consuming about 20 million tonnes a year of wood pellets in power generation, importing them from the US, Russia, the Ukraine and Belarus.

In other words, this latest triumph of renewables over coal in the EU is rather a contrivance.

You can break down the union data to 44.4 per cent fossil fueled generation and 30 per cent renewables, as some of the boosters do, but it needs to be appreciated that the latter also includes 9.1 per cent from hydro-power (in a rather poor year for European rain and snow).

Another way of describing the 2017 European situation is that the long-established conventional sources of power (coal, gas, oil, nuclear and hydro) last year contributed just over 79 per cent of electricity – versus 11.2 per cent for wind power (at 364 TWh double what it supplied in 2011) and 3.7 per cent for photovoltaic solar (119 TWh). Oh, and six per cent for biomass.

The 184 TWh rise in production from wind farms this decade has involved a massive outlay since 2011 – construction of 85.3 gigawatts of capacity in seven years, taking the total for this technology to 153 GW.

Nonetheless, the largest single contributor to electricity generation across the EU last year was nuclear – 25.6 per cent, more than double the output of wind farms from 119 GW of reactors. The second-largest was gas (19.7 per cent). Together, they provided almost half the union’s power from non-emitting and low-emitting sources.

For many casual Australian readers of the media (which means those who skim the headline and the first 2-3 paragraphs of a story if they still read newspapers and don’t rely on social media for their “news”), this claimed European triumph of renewables over coal is likely to be reinforcement of the argument by green advocates (including the Labor party as it sweats on outrunning the Greens in the Batman by-election and the upcoming Tasmanian and South Australian polls) that there is no impediment to pursuit of 40-50 per cent renewable power here in the relatively near future.

Now the European Commission, the policymaking energy room of the union, also has a new proposal before the EU parliament and member states: to chase a target for 2030 of 27 per cent of non-hydro renewables (up from 17 per cent in 2016). Sure, the European parliament had earlier voted to pursue 35 per cent – but, to quote a German report, “many national governments are opposed to pursuing a more ambitious binding target.” Put less politely, the EU parliament is a windbags’ castle and the decisions are really made by the EC working with national governments.

From the vantage point of Australia, this is relevant to the local push for a much-increased RET because carefully-massaged EU “news” is used quite frequently to bolster the local greens’ argument. And our alternative federal government – which could be in office by next summer if you take heed of the weekend’s media suggestions that, no matter what he might say, Turnbull is planning a spring election – is committed to the 50-by-30 target.

Here is what Bill Shorten said to the National Press Club last week: “We have all the sun and wind you could want and with it we can make an endless supply of the energy the whole world is moving towards. No serious energy plan, anywhere in the world, is built on the assumption of a decline in renewables investment. It’s like releasing a roads policy based on the resurgence of the horse and cart…or a national broadband network based upon copper. Labor’s objectives are clear, achievable and responsible: 50 per cent renewables by 2030, a 45 per cent cut in pollution by 2030 and zero net pollution by 2050.”  By “pollution” Shorten means carbon emissions.

Not a syllable, you will note, about the cost of going down this path. Not a word about the headline-hogging debate over the past year about the stability of the NEM and the need to balance pursuit of abatement with system reliability.

Malcolm Turnbull had the opportunity to challenge Shorten on this at Toowoomba when he subsequently delivered an opening speech for the new year’s political debate. What he chose to say was this: “We’ve also taken action to make energy more reliable and affordable. Now, 12 months ago, I said that pumped hydro needed to be a vital part of our energy plan; the storage that makes renewables reliable. The feasibility study for Snowy 2.0 proves the project is technically and financially viable. Work is on track to start later this year. This, again, is nation-building infrastructure that will bring thousands of jobs to regional Australia.

“Now, we’ve already reduced wholesale energy prices. With the help of the competition regulator, those savings will be passed on to customers. Longer term, the national energy guarantee will lock in those gains. Independent analysis commissioned by the Energy Security Board predicts that wholesale electricity costs will fall by 23 per cent over the decade. Those actions, along with Snowy 2.0 and others, will cut the average household energy bill by $400.”

Neither of these energy comments got any coverage at all in the mainstream media.

This is not so much a debate as two leaders talking past each other to what they hope is their corner in voter land. Which is what their predecessors (Howard, Rudd, Gillard, Abbott) spent their time from 2007 doing, too, collectively delivering us in to the “energy crisis” we have today.

 

In the dark

Sunday’s events in Melbourne as Victorians strove to cope with extreme evening heat and humidity while watching Roger Federer demonstrate his wonderful tennis skills have seen the public energy debate descending in to yet another shouting match with the year barely begun — but whether the right questions will get asked in 2018 is another matter.

It, of course, didn’t take long for clueless politicians to seek to connect 50,000 Victorian households deprived of energy with the State Labor government’s commitment to driving investment in variable renewable power – even though a moment’s thought should have told them that this one was down to distribution network hassles. One of these was no less than the Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, tweeting before engaging his brain cells: “We said Labor’s power policy would cause blackouts over summer and it has.” Similar flatulence was produced by the State leader of the opposition.

The noise, I see, has sparked the ANU’s Hugh Saddler in to pointing out on The Conversation that “the reality is that blackouts, trips and intermittency are three very different issues, which should not be conflated.” He adds: “Unfortunately, for reasons of basic physics, electricity distribution systems do not work well when it is very hot, so the combination of extreme heat and high demand is very challenging. It appears that significant parts of the Victorian electricity distribution system were unable to meet the challenge, leading to uncontrolled blackouts.”

Networks United Energy, CitiPower and Powercor sought to make a similar point to the media but the comment was utterly buried in a long report in The Age as Melburnians blearily tried to cope with Monday morning (and an overnight “low” of 28 degrees after a peak of 38 degrees at 5pm Sunday): “A spokeswoman said substation fuse faults were the main cause of most outages as the mercury climbed past 40 degrees. The prolonged high temperatures and humidity through the weekend significantly increased electricity demand at many locations across the network.”

Upfront in the shouting match, it didn’t take long, meanwhile, for the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, to get out a big stick to wave at the distribution businesses – who, at it happens, charge the lowest network costs of any State and who, in real terms, now bill their customers less than two decades ago even while adding hundreds of thousands of homes to their systems and doubling their operating expenditures (which include maintenance) in nominal terms.

As well, this level of performance hasn’t stopped the Greens’ leader, Richard di Natale, rushing out on Monday to declare that the era of power privatization should be over. (Andrews feels sufficiently pressured by this in seats where Greens are rivals, it seems, that he was soon declaring “most Victorians” would prefer that the State electricity system had not been privatized — two decades ago – “but a State take-over is not possible.”)

The Premier is also rabbiting on about “compelling” the networks to consider compensation for affected households and to improve their systems – while asserting they shouldn’t be “ripping off” consumers by “piling” maintenance costs on to bills.  He apparently is paying no heed to the roles of the Australian Energy Regulator or the process of determining network charges. The AER, after all, is not up for election next November……… and Andrews got the headline he sought: “Daniel Andrews lashes power companies over blackouts.”

Is it worth also noting that 320,000 Victorian homes now have rooftop solar PV (14 per cent of the State total)? One wonders how far this contributes to a “let it rip” approach to air-conditioning when the heat is on even when the sun has gone down?

Energy Networks Australia’s CEO, Andrew Dillon, is pointing out that “because of the period of prolonged, intense heat residential customers are using air-conditioners for longer periods of time, putting significant pressure on electricity networks at a local level.” He adds: “What solar power has done is certainly well and truly clicked the load off at midday and it has helped with these peaks at 3pm or 4pm. But what it’s effectively tended to do is shift them to later in the day, so now we’re starting to see the network peak doesn’t happen until 6pm or 7pm.”

Overall peak demand in the State on Sunday was 9,443 MW around 4pm at which stage rooftop solar was estimated to be contributing about 330 MW – but by 7pm this contribution had effectively disappeared while sweating Victorians still wanting much the same supply.

According to the Australian Energy Market Operator, “Victoria experienced its highest operational demand for a Sunday ever, recording 9,144 MW of demand at 7:30pm.” At this point the Victorian in-State load was being borne by brown coal, gas turbines and hydro power (with fossil fuels representing about two-thirds of the required generation) while some 900 MW was being accessed over interconnection with South Australia, Tasmania and New South Wales (which in turn was sourcing almost 600 MW from Queensland).

Blowing wind

As I write this in the middle of the latest south-eastern Australia heatwave yet another small storm has blown up between federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg and poll-bound South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill over the intermittency of wind power — with the former today labeling the latter “the Neville Chamberlain of energy.”

To quote Frydenberg: “The wind was blowing so little in SA during (last week’s) heatwave it was only producing 6.5 per cent of its capacity, which meant (SA) needed to import a stack of power from Victoria (which) was able to do this not only because of its coal-fired assets but also because of hydro-electric power from the Snowy and ­Tasmania.”

He points to last Thursday when it was still 30 degrees in parts of SA at 10.30pm and available wind capacity had dropped to 117 MW, a tenth of what the farms had provided just after dawn that day. Frydenberg argues (not for the first time) that, because of variability issues, “an over-reliance on wind power is causing (both) reliability issues and price volatility” in South Australia. Weatherill, he accuses, has failed to ensure the State has access to sufficient dispatchable power at peak demand periods.

Back in the latter part of last year, on the other hand, you may recall green power boosters getting exercised about wind accounting for 52 per cent of large-scale generation in SA in September and 45 per cent in October. This followed (although I saw no mainstream media reports providing the context at the time) June being probably the least windy month in south-eastern Australia for a decade.

As it happens, I looked at a snapshot of NEM capacity at 7pm last Friday when the available generation in South Australia was 2,503 megawatts against a State need of 2,816 MW – with supply (apart from the balance attained over the transmission line to Victoria which was under constraint at this time) at 1,842 MW from gas turbines, 212 MW from Weatherill’s controversial diesel generators and 428 MW from wind farms supported by 21 MW of battery storage.

Earlier (at around 4pm that day Adelaide time) the State grid requirement was 2,717 MW and local supply was 2,286 MW – with wind farms contributing 282 MW, again leaving the heavy lifting to gas plant (1,880 MW) supported by 157 MW from the diesel units and the flow over the interconnector. In addition, South Australians were using an estimated 365 MW from their rooftop solar systems.

There have been times in the current heatwave, I gather, when South Australians have been relying on interstate transmission for as much as 31 per cent of supply.

Looking this (Monday) morning, I see that at 8.40am in Adelaide the wind capacity contribution in SA was 270 MW and most of the in-State supply was again from gas (913 MW). By just after 11am the wind share was still only 290 MW against 969 MW from gas with the State needing 1,665 MW from the overall grid system. (At this latter point in Victoria wind power was contributing just 98 MW versus 4,254 MW from brown coal plant, 793 MW from gas turbines and 914 MW from hydro sources.)

The total wind farm capacity in South Australia at present is 1,698 megawatts (compared with 1,516 MW in Victoria and 826 MW in New South Wales.) NEM-wide current wind capacity is 4,360 MW.

Of course the variability of wind power is not (or shouldn’t be) news anywhere. In Germany last week, for example, available wind capacity on Friday was half what it had been on Thursday and in next-door France (where nuclear power was accounting for 91 per cent of needs) it was down 60 per cent.

This is the nature of the beast. Hence all the discussion here about the “national energy guarantee” for the NEM and disputation about the total system cost of an east coast grid with a much higher level of intermittent energy than today as the Greens and Labor desire.

It’s also worth noting en passant that the current cost of power for German householders (beneficiaries of the Energiewende) is reported to be 0.305 euros compared with 0.168 euros in France (and the cost for commercial and industrial consumers is 0.152 euros in Germany versus 0.099 in France).

If you scan the media here (green-boosting sites as well as the mainstream), it is notable that every opportunity is taken to talk up VREs (variable renewable energy) and to badmouth coal generation in particular (the anti-gas diatribes here are mostly limited to campaigning against exploration and production – the bans and moratoriums naturally feeding in to limitations on NEM gas-fired power generation).

A case in point in recent months has been reporting here of the rise of VREs in Britain and the decline of coal power. It is interesting, therefore, to dig in to the data for England, Wales and Scotland (Ireland is a different set-up) for past year. Supply (in terms of actual energy sent out) is widely reported to have been up sharply for wind generation – reaching 49 terawatt hours after a 20 per cent increase in capacity over 2016.

Barely noted at all in the media is the overall picture: the Brits obtained 70 TWh from nuclear power last year (a level hardly changed this century), 31 TWh from biomass (that is mostly burning wood), 134 TWh from gas turbines, 23 TWh from coal and about half that from solar (mainly available in summer).

Green PR boisterously sells the line that “Britain was completely coal free for 613 hours” last year in “Britain’s greenest power year ever”. I’ve seen that in any number of reports. Nowhere have I seen 613 hours rendered as 25 days.

Nor (except in the UK version of The Conversation) have I seen the fact that the low level of coal generation over 2017 masks its continued importance in providing capacity during hours of critical peak demand. During the highest 10 per cent hours of power demand of 2017, coal provided a sixth of Britain’s electricity. When it mattered most (which is the depths of winter there rather than our heatwaves), coal was relied on more than nuclear and more than the combined output from wind, solar and hydro (which was twice that of PVs over 2017).

What all this demonstrates in our debate is that, rather than the non-stop Punch-and-Judy show, we should be focusing on the best possible power mix in terms of reliability, affordability and carbon abatement. This is not going to be achieved by demonizing different technologies (and in the case of nuclear power maintaining an absurd total ban) nor by playing games with numbers.

PS: For all the fuss about South Australia, it is a tiddler in the NEM scheme of things. In the past week, for example, it appears the market required 3.8 terawatt hours of electricity – of which 3.3 TWh (or nearly 87 per cent) was produced in Victoria, NSW and Queensland. This share holds good for 12 months, too.

Banish the ban

One of the best (or worst) examples of our national inability to think straight about a reliable electricity strategy for Australia in a world hell-bent on reducing carbon emissions is the ongoing legislative ban on any form of nuclear energy production despite years of safe operation of a 20 megawatt reactor at Sydney’s Lucas Heights (for medicinal and research purposes).

John Howard had a stab at turning things round in 2006 with a task force chaired by Ziggy Switkowski which told him that nuclear power here could become competitive with fossil fuel-based generation in Australia if based on international best practice and with the introduction of low to moderate pricing of carbon dioxide emissions. Without a carbon price, such generation would be 20 to 50 per cent more expensive to produce than coal-fired power. The panel also said that, with deployment starting in 2020, it was conceivable a third of national power supply could be nuclear by 2050.

As we know, Howard lost office the following year and, for a time, we got a carbon price but there was no way that federal Labor (ever looking over its shoulder at the Greens) would embrace nuclear energy.

Then the Fukushima fiasco in Japan in 2011 made any such idea politically untenable here for years, but more recently a royal commission in South Australia proposed that the local legal prohibitions on nuclear power should be removed, suggesting the technology has potential to contribute to supply after 2030.

Commissioner Kevin Scarce recommended in 2016 “the development of a comprehensive national energy policy, which would enable all technologies, including nuclear, to contribute to a reliable, low-carbon electricity network at the lowest possible system cost.”

It would be fair to say, I think, that the nuclear bit did not gain even tepid consideration in the mainstream energy debate and then the “energy crisis” swept us all in to fresh fields.

Last year’s Finkel panel report, sparked by the South Australian blackout, irked advocates of a new approach here to nuclear energy by, in effect, failing to acknowledge it could have a role – but the New South Wales Deputy Premier, John Barilaro, subsequently caused a minor stir by declaring a debate on the issue was “crucial.” (Interestingly Premier Gladys Berejiklian, while saying she was “not convinced” reactors could play a role in NSW, declared she was open to discussing the issue at CoAG.)

The Minerals Council is maintaining pressure for a change of approach, telling the Turnbull government in its latest pre-budget submission that the ongoing ban is “hampering debate about future energy and climate change management,” noting that the policy is “at odds with Australia’s export uranium mining industry.”

The MCA adds that small modular reactors could offer a long-term stable electricity supply to underpin household and industrial needs in mining and other remote towns. The association argues that a new generation of venture-capital backed nuclear start-ups are coming through, with designs for smaller reactors with significantly reduced up-front costs.

This led the Sydney Morning Herald to run a story last week asserting that both critics and supporters of nuclear power “see little future for large-scale (generation) in Australia’s energy mix,” quoting Switkowski as acknowledging that “the window (here) for gigawatt-scale nuclear has closed.”

And this led my friend Barry Murphy to pen a short letter to the SMH which apparently has been ignored.

This is what Murphy, former chairman and CEO of Caltex Australia and former chairman of Delta Electricity, an advocate for the use of small modular reactors, wrote: “It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry about Australia’s confused position on nuclear power. The Minerals Council’s call to have the federal ban on this technology lifted makes good sense. The (energy) minister apparently agrees with this position, but bipartisan and State support is “…not evident right now. “  So nothing happens.

“The continuing obfuscation on this issue is putting Australia’s long-term clean energy portfolio at risk. Current developments with solar and wind (both dependent on electromagnetic radiation from nuclear reactions on the sun) and batteries will all play a part, but issues of scale, timing, cost and reliability will have to be assessed for the longer term. Deliberately refusing to look at how nuclear technology in its modern, smaller, modular form could provide a secure base for these renewables is a mistake. No one in their right mind would put a realistic proposal on the table while ever the ban remains in place. Memo to COAG Energy Council: banish the ban.”

I’m with Murphy on this – and also with the Energy Policy Institute when it argues (as it did in the wake of the Finkel report last year): “Recourse to all new technologies should be part and parcel of strategic energy planning.”

Nuclear power poses a particular dilemma for energy planners, EPIA says – it is a dispatchable, base-load form of zero-emissions power but its deployment in Australia is subject to a moratorium. “One might have thought that each State wishing to introduce a new technology, such as small modular reactors, should have the right to do so with appropriate safety and environmental regulation.”

EPIA executive director Robert Pritchard suggests that places like Ipswich, Mount Isa, Broken Hill, Olympic Dam and the Pilbara could all host SMRs a decade from now if the ban is banished. He says the start of a discussion here should not be about the technology – “that’s a given” – but about community support. “We now realise that politicians will follow the community view,” Pritchard said. “We have to get out and get the community on side.”

Sydney-based SMR Nuclear Technology, of which Pritchard is a director, sent a submission to the Energy Security Board in November declaring it will be “imprudent” not to factor the technology in to its thinking.

SMRs with unity capacity of 50 to 300 megawatts would be particularly suitable for the east coast grid, the company says, arguing that the current national legislative prohibitions were put in place “at a time when there was no real appreciation of the contribution that modern, safe nuclear power plants could make to energy security, affordability and emissions reduction in Australia,”

It seems to me that the appropriate launching pad for a discussion specifically about SMRs in the NEM is the CoAG Energy Council when it next meets in April and the appropriate vehicle for pursuing further consideration is the Energy Security Board.

Time to end the obfuscation?

Missing links

One of the things for which 2017 was notable in electricity supply was the replacement of “base load” in the discussion jargon by “dispatchability” (meaning power that can be sent out in response to demand).

In this context, it is being pointed out that the east coast market (the NEM) has some of the highest levels of dispatchable energy in the OECD – but the key load areas are not well-connected so that it is not uncommon for one sub-region to be experiencing a shortage of supply when three others have a surplus. Also of contextual importance is that there are currently development proposals for 20,000 megawatts of wind and solar power in a market that has 53,000 MW capacity.

The Australian Energy Market Operator includes in its critical tasks, first, the non-negotiable operational and technical requirements for a secure and reliable NEM and, second, “the extent and mix of dispatchable capability required to meet consumer reliability expectations.”

In the latter respect, this involves “the provision of firm and flexible dispatchable capability that will in future depend on the relative cost trajectories of pumped hydro, batteries, solar thermal” as well as gas-powered and coal generation.

So far as New South Wales and Queensland (65 per cent of NEM supply and demand) are concerned, I would think this will mean for at least most of the next decade coal generation supported by gas plants and hydro power, providing most of the electrons and vying in the marketplace with wind power and solar PVs for dispatch.

Notwithstanding green boosterism, the potential for battery storage in this large slab of the market remains a matter for speculation while the role of gas will depend on its wholesale price – and that will depend on how much of the fuel is available on the south-east market.

There is another factor in all this that wasn’t by any means ignored in 2017 but will be getting more attention in the public debate this year, not least because AEMO is now engaged in producing a report on it, due out in mid-2018.

This is in response to the Finkel recommendation, taken up by the CoAG Energy Council, that AEMO interprets as saying it should “develop an integrated grid plan to facilitate the efficient development and connection of renewable energy zones across the NEM.” The actual Finkel wording calls for “the introduction of an integrated grid plan to inform investment decisions and ensure security is preserved in each region as the generation mix evolves”. This, the panel added, “will ensure that we can generate and deliver electricity more efficiently”.

The operator chooses to call this task coming up with “an integrated system plan” because, it says, it is necessary to consider “a wide spectrum of interconnected infrastructure and energy developments including transmission, generation, gas pipelines, and distributed energy resources.”

AEMO acknowledges that the key question is the best way to achieve the NEM-wide policy objectives of affordable, reliable, secure power while meeting carbon emission targets.

The Energy Security Board in its December-released report on the “health” of the NEM says this: “In the longer term the pattern of the transmission grid in the NEM must change. The grid was designed in the last century to run from large coal-fired generators to the load in the cities. It must now be reconfigured so that it runs from renewable energy zones (and dispatchable power resources) to the cities. Planning for this long term change has commenced.”

It seems from the new AEMO issues paper that foremost in its thinking is “what makes a successful renewable energy zone” – adding “REZ” to an already overgrown forest of energy acronyms – and then how to link REZs to the load regions. These are dominated, of course, by the greater urban areas of Melbourne, Sydney and south-east Queensland, between them accounting for three-quarters of the east coast power market whether measured in residential and business consumption or in the number of consumers (aka voters).

AEMO defines “REZ” as areas “where clusters of large-scale renewable energy can be developed to promote economies of scale in high-resource areas and capture geographic and technological diversity in renewable resources.” It intends to identify and map “prospective REZs” across the NEM and already tags Far North Queensland, New England, Snowy 2.0, western Victoria, the Eyre Peninsula, Tasmania and the intersection of South Australia, Victoria and NSW among them.

It also is going to consider “what is the optimal balance between a more interconnected NEM, which can reduce the need for local reserves and take advantage of regional diversity, thereby more efficiently sharing resources and services between regions, and a more regionally independent NEM with each region self-sufficient in system security and reliability?”

Coloring its thinking is a view that up to 30,000 megawatts of new wind and large-scale solar PV capacity could be built in the NEM by 2037. No doubt some stakeholders will be pitching in submissions to suggest this is not the only outcome it should be considering.

Some will be comforted by AEMO flagging that it needs to assess the total costs of these “REZ” developments “relative to other options, including the costs of augmenting the existing transmission network or building new transmission to develop each REZ, along with the costs of any other developments to continue to be able to operate the power system securely once the REZs are developed”.

The operator asserts that the need for transmission augmentation “previously driven by load growth, is now predominantly driven by the changing generation mix and the location of new generation”. To which it adds: “transmission networks in the NEM, designed for transporting energy from coal and gas generation centres, must transform if they are to support large-scale development of non-synchronous generation in new areas”.

The deadline for submissions to AEMO on this review is 2 February, which is not far away.