Solar and wind projects fear big delays due to new “one-at-a-time” connection rules
Australian solar and wind farm developers say they fear new projects could face months or even years of delays under new ‘one-at-a-time’ connection rules offered by the Australian market operator. energy.
At an industry briefing on Friday, AEMO unveiled its draft proposal to introduce a protocol known as “sequencing,” in which only one wind or solar project connection is assessed or processed at a time.
Sequencing was first used after congestion and system soundness issues became a major issue in the West Murray area, northwest of Victoria and southwest of New South Wales , at the beginning of last year, which caused big delays for projects already built. But now AEMO is looking to extend the protocol to other parts of the network.
“In some areas of the network, multiple simultaneous connections are advancing … in circumstances where certainty is limited or information insufficiently detailed to adequately assess the impacts and interactions of each with the others,” AEMO states in its draft proposal. rule.
“This can present a serious threat to the security of the power system when multiple developers seek connection in grid locations with low system resistance or other constraints such as voltage stability, transient stability or thermal limitations. . “
Solar and wind developers are worried because they fear that there is little transparency about potential delays, which poses problems in securing financing, landing and confirmation of contracts for turbines and modules and entrepreneurs, and push back income if a project is built and has to wait to connect.
They are also concerned about the main purpose of the new proposal, which is to remove the time constraints placed on AEMO to approve new connections.
“AEMO wants to be able to remove its obligations to process connections within a certain period of time,” said a development manager at a large renewable energy company. (Several contacted RenewEconomy, but none wanted to enter the case due to the sensitivities involved).
“This means that there would be no obligation for AEMO to connect generators – it could take months or years.”
Another pointed out that most of those projects affected by West Murray’s delays were able to declare ‘force majeure’ due to an unexpected obstacle to their connection. But that would not be an option in a new formalized regime.
“Once this rule change is in the national electricity rules and AEMO declares a new zone a sequence zone, promoters of projects under construction are unlikely to be able to declare force majeure as becoming a sequenced generator is quite predictable, ”said one of them.
“Sequenced projects will miss their PPA (power purchase agreements) deadlines, lose project funding and go bankrupt. But, of course, that’s not a problem for AEMO as they make it clear that business matters are not their concern.
The reaction to the new sequencing rules highlights the growing tension between AEMO and other industrial bodies on the one hand, and some wind, solar and even battery storage developers on the other, the latter being both frustrated. by the complexity and uncertainty of the rules.
AEMO says the system will need 50 GW of new wind and solar power to replace existing coal, but it is overwhelmed by some 80 gigawatts of new development proposals and inquiries.
And although he has developed a 20-year plan known as the Integrated System Plan that charts a path to 90% renewable energy by 2040 – and could accelerate that transition by the mid-2030s. in its latest update – it seeks to take control of the pace of connections.
“It is essential for the NER to recognize the challenges of processing multiple connections simultaneously when they are both interdependent and heavily dependent on the accuracy of complex computer simulations for a successful assessment,” the AEMO document states.
“This rule change proposal is intended to allow AEMO to apply an alternative connection process in limited circumstances where it is unable to adequately meet its electrical system safety obligations while meeting certain regulatory deadlines for perform certain tasks in connection with the connections. “
AEMO argues that as the nature of the overall generation mix continues to change, it becomes increasingly difficult to undertake precise studies of the power system, especially to reduce system resistance in many parts of the grid.
And he wants more time to look at these issues and make sure the modeling is correct, and he admits that the models and license terms are being adjusted because every new project could impact others. existing or proposed projects.
“Models are adjusted as access standards are negotiated, and access standards and generator capacities are increasingly dependent on the connection location, current or likely electrical system conditions.” and the co-development of the correction of the strength of the system, ”he says.
There are now a number of large and smaller wind and solar projects that have experienced production delays or constraints – or both – due to concerns about system strength and grid congestion.
The hardest hit have been those in the West Murray area, and other large projects beyond that immediate area have also suffered big delays, including the Dundonnell, Stockyard Hill and Moorabool wind farms.
In some areas, fine-tuning the inverters helped find solutions, but it usually came about after projects were connected and commissioned and new modeling revealed new issues.
There was also controversy at last Friday’s meeting over AEMO’s refusal to release a letter it said it received from the Australian Energy Regulator, apparently relating to the legality of its provisional order to ” sequencing ‘in West Murray, an area that has become known as the “Rhombus of regret”.
The developers suggested that the letter state why AEMO is trying to take the lead and ensure that sequencing and removing time obligations are now part of the rules and not granted as an interim measure.
“What is AEMO trying to hide by not providing this advice, especially since they are looking for a rule change on the subject of this advice?” asked one.
“This rule change, if implemented, will have a frightening impact, increasing the risks for any new renewable energy production project.
“Nothing deters them from sequencing the zones; that’s just advantages for them … and sequencing the connections in new renewable energy areas would be likely as many generators will try to connect at the same time.
The Clean Energy Council says it is working with AEMO on a solution.
“The critical issues that have arisen in the West Murray area over the past few years have prompted AEMO to take a different approach to managing the hook-up of new renewable energy projects,” a spokesperson said.
“Any change from the current open access agreement to some form of sequential generator connection can have profound implications for renewables proponents, the timing and configuration of their projects and risk adding to the uncertainty already. growing number of investors in the energy market.
“CEC works closely with AEMO to better understand the issues with the current arrangements, assess alternative approaches and agree on a better way forward. CEC and AEMO hosted a workshop last week, gathering feedback and consultations on this issue, and will be hosting another workshop in the coming weeks.
“These are complex issues that require careful consideration, and we welcome continued consultations and collaboration with AEMO to ensure any changes are understood and effective.”
Update: AEMO later issued a statement saying that it and CEC had launched a joint response, the “Connections Reform Initiative,” to further improve the process of connecting renewable and hybrid projects to the domestic electricity market. electricity (NEM).
“This initiative builds on the existing work that CEC and AEMO have done with CEC members, transmission and distribution companies and other industry stakeholders to address systemic issues in the process. connection, “the statement read.
“We thank the Clean Energy Council and its members for the suggested improvements and their collaborative approach to pave the way to help connect the high volume of new projects into an efficient and cohesive process.”
Giles Parkinson is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Renew Economy, and is also the Founder of One Step Off The Grid and Founder / Editor-in-Chief of The Driven, which focuses on electric vehicles. Giles has been a journalist for 40 years and is a former business manager and deputy editor of the Australian Financial Review.