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Federal Court puts the wind up no-show SA turbines

Updated: Jul 5, 2021

The operators of two South Australian wind farms have been ordered to pay more than $1.6 million in penalties for breaching national electricity rules in action taken after the 2016 state-wide blackout in South Australia.

Pacific Hydro Clements Gap Ltd, was hit with a $1.1 million fine on Friday for failing to obtain written approval for critical system settings designed to allow its wind farm to ride through network disruptions.

The Federal Court has also hit the Hornsdale wind farm with a $550,000fine for breaching the same rules following proceedings taken by the Australian Energy Regulator.

The two judgments follow the $1 million fine imposed on the Snowtown Wind Farm Stage 2 in December last year, after the court found it had operated for about three years with inadequate protection settings.

Action against a fourth SA wind farm is continuing and is listed for a penalty hearing in August.

AER chair Clare Savage said that breaches of the rules had the potential to affect system security and were taken seriously:

"As we become increasingly reliant on new forms of generation with different technical characteristics, it is more important than ever that all generators comply with the rules so households and businesses can keep the lights on.
"It is paramount that generators obtain written approval for system settings on their generating units from the Australian Energy Market Operator to ensure power system security and the effective operation of the wholesale energy market."

In the immediate lead-up to state-wide blackout, severe storms damaged more than 20 towers in SA's mid-north, bringing down major transmission lines and causing a knock-on effect across the state's energy grid.

About 850,000 customers lost power, with some in the state's north and on the Eyre Peninsula left without electricity for several days.

A report from AEMO released about a month later found nine of 13 wind farms online at the time of the blackout switched off when the transmission lines came down.

It found the inability of the wind farms to ride through those disturbances was the result of safety settings that forced them to disconnect or reduce output.

In his judgments this week, Justice Richard White said the generators' use of non-approved settings meant AEMO was making important decisions concerning the secure operating limits of the power system on the basis of incomplete information.

Justice White also ordered both Pacific Hydro and Hornsdale to implement programs to ensure compliance with the National Electricity Rules.

In a statement, Pacific Hydro CEO, Rachel Watson, said:

"This dispute has been a distraction and we wish to focus on delivering our clean energy vision and our pipeline of exciting new projects.”


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