If recriminations could be turned into energy and stored, maybe the next power blackout could be avoided

Recriminations  flew  after  the  power blackout   on  Monday,  one  of the coldest  nights in  New Zealand.

Energy Minister  Megan  Woods blamed  a  market  failure  and “commercial decisions”. According  to  the  Dominion-Post,  she  pointed  the  finger  at  Genesis  Energy, which had not  turned on one of the  Huntly power station’s units.

The  government is  said to be  demanding  answers  from the industry.

Genesis chief executive Mark England said the company had been made a scapegoat and he will be asking the minister why.

Transpower has apologised after it asked lines companies to cut power in some areas to handle all-time-high demand for electricity, combined with insufficient generation, on one of the coldest nights of the year.

 Transpower CEO Alison Andrew said there was  enough generation to cover predicted demand on Monday evening.

“It was going to be tight but we felt we’d make it through.  But then between 6pm and 7pm we had an equipment failure. We lost 170 megawatts of generation which is about 2.5% of generation. That’s enough to power about 170,000 homes.”

The failure was caused by weeds in the dam at Genesis Energy’s Tokaanu hydro plant near Taupō.

“When you have equipment failure you just have to respond.  We escalated communication over the day to warn the market that the situation was tight.”

 Transpower can only instruct the industry to respond once there is an emergency, Andrew said. Up until hat point it can only request more generation or load shedding.

Andrew said this was a good opportunity to review how it is allowed to communicate and what reserves it carries.

“As we start to carry more renewable and intermittent generation in the system it’s going to be really important that we take the time to review these processes.”

The electricity industry can carry more capacity and have higher risk margins, but that would come at a cost, she said.

Meanwhile National’s Judith Collins   says the minister should have known about the problem sooner.

“There’s clearly a massive breakdown from the minister to Transpower and Transpower to the generators.”

Competition is not the problem – generators weren’t given information that they needed more power, Collins said.

“It’s not like you can just take the coal, suddenly make it hot and just get on with it.”

Collins said that natural gas – unlike coal – was the perfect peak fuel because it can be switched on and off very fast.

“I wouldn’t have had an offshore gas ban, exploration ban.” 

In the  NZ  Herald,  Hamish  Rutherford  cited   other  issues  arising from  Monday night’s rolling blackouts.

He  says they  are far from the first sign that NZ’s electricity system is struggling to cope, but it does take the issue to a whole new level.

“With the government squarely blaming the problems on commercial decisions of the electricity generators, the sector faces increasing risk of a shake-up”.

He  noted Megan  Woods  telling  Parliament:

“If we are going to have a market-oriented system providing security of supply, then that market must deliver, The market failed in this respect.”

For months, Rutherford said, major industrial users have been warning that the industry was under such strain that thousands of jobs are at risk.

Already Taranaki’s Methanex has idled one of its plants, the Norske Skog pulp and paper mill in Kawerau has closed, other paper plants are said to be precarious and even New Zealand Steel has dropped hints about the future of its operations at Glenbrook.

As well as low hydro lake levels, the system does not have nearly enough gas to provide the resilience needed to keep the system at capacity,  Rutherford  said.

The  Dominion-Post,   which   seldom  criticises the Ardern government   in    editorials,   headed up  its  Wednesday leader as  “Power  failure’s perfect storm”  and   two  of  its  feature  writers  offered  their  views,  one  under  the  heading  “The market has  created  scarcity  in  land of  plenty”  while  the  other was headed “Was the  oil  and gas   ban to  blame?”.

Look  to  the  page  containing  letters  to  the  editor  and  there  was a  more  forthright  opinion.  It  came  from  one of the  country’s  most formidable  business  leaders,  now  retired,  Kerry McDonald:

“Given the importance of the  electricity  sector to  the  economy and  society,  a  number  of  people   should  be removed  from  their  roles,  including  the minister  and her  key  advisers, and the  chairs and  CEOs  of  the  Electricity  Authority  and  Transpower. They all  had plenty of warning  but  showed  a  lack of  leadership  and  abandoned consumers  to  their  costly  and  risky  fates”.   

That’s putting things bluntly – but we don’t expect the advice to be heeded.

One thought on “If recriminations could be turned into energy and stored, maybe the next power blackout could be avoided

  1. People died in Texas for the same reason. Wind and solar just do not “cut the mustard”. The oil and gas exploration ban was an unbelievably bad decision, especially in view of the highly doubtful need for a declaration of “Climate Emergency”.

    Liked by 1 person

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