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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 955


Mr RAMSEY (Grey) (22:11): There are increasing concerns around Australia, and particularly in my home state of South Australia, about the rapid expansion of wind farms and the associated health risks and long-term threats to agriculture. Last year, I raised in this place the issue of the stability of the electricity grid in South Australia. Those points still remain. To reiterate, South Australia is home to 51 per cent of the nation's installed wind capacity—that is, around 1,050 megawatts—which represents 35 per cent of South Australia's total installed generating capacity, including the baseload generators of coal and gas. To flesh this out further, currently there is 792 megawatts of installed capacity in the electorate of Grey alone, making it the undisputed wind capital of Australia. There are considerable spin-offs for local employment opportunities, and I am pleased with the investment.

But this question needs to be asked: how far can we go? Already there is between 2,145 and 2,609 megawatts of further wind power generation officially under development in the state; although, as I have raised before, because of the inherent destabilization of the grid it remains to be seen whether they will ever be completed. In fact, if all the wind farms under development were to be completed they would encompass 63 per cent of South Australia's installed generation capacity. This is clearly ridiculous and totally unachievable. The grid would collapse well before then. Best advice around the world recommends that unreliable sources not exceed 20 per cent of capacity. In fact, the leading lights in wind generation around the world—Denmark, Portugal and Spain—are presently generating 19 per cent, 18 per cent and 16 per cent of their total electricity from wind.

In August last year, Suzlon Energy announced their intention to build one of the biggest wind farms in the world on Yorke Peninsula: 600 megawatts, with an undersea high-voltage DC line connecting the peninsula to Adelaide. That is a very good announcement, even though there are considerable local concerns about the environmental impact, the health impact and the implications for agriculture, particularly aerial spraying. However, if this project were completed, installed wind energy capacity would represent 65 per cent of the total grid capacity, and even this is an underestimate because by then the coal fired power stations at Port Augusta and probably much of the capacity of the gas generation at Torrens Island would be closed.

This is unsustainable and cannot happen. Already the grid is experiencing difficulties. At times during the last year, Alinta Energy at Port Augusta has been forced to dump power. Simply, coal power stations and even the gas units at Torrens Island—combined gas cycle generators—are not designed to chase power spikes. They are baseload generators. When the wind blows strongly there is a surplus of electricity on the market and the price crashes below zero. As retailers, who are compelled to buy 20 per cent renewable, will always buy renewable first, while it is cheap, this leaves the baseload generators with no choice but to dump electricity which is already generated. Obviously, too many days when the generators operate at a loss threaten their long-term viability.

At this stage any increase in wind energy will erode the viability of the only baseload generators we have, and that will be a crisis for the state. As an example of just how close we are skating to the wire already, on 31 January last year, a high-demand day, the unreliability of wind was demonstrated when the state was becalmed and the wind produced just 60 megawatts from an installed capacity of 1,018. Should the most optimistic of the wind energy predictions come true and all of the proposed schemes come on line, a similar day would produce a situation where the grid would be reduced to 50 per cent of its capacity, and this would most likely be on one of the highest demand days in the year because that is when we are becalmed, in the middle of summer. Of course, that would be a disaster and cannot be allowed to happen.

Wind energy can continue to expand, but it urgently needs either another major interconnector to the eastern states or a technology capable of storing large amounts of electricity. In the short term, I think both of these outcomes are unlikely.

I raise the issue because I believe much local anxiety is being caused by projects that will not and indeed cannot get off the ground at the moment. I urge the South Australian government and the promoters of these wind farms to be honest with the electorate.