AEMO suspends new wind and solar projects as it battles to deal with market crisis

Some developers of wind and solar projects in Australia have been told that all commissioning activities and approvals have been suspended until further notice as the market operator focuses its efforts on the supply crisis in the market.

The Australian Energy Market Operator sent out emails to a number of project developers late last week informing them of the decision, provoking howls of frustration in some quarters over the new obstacles to an already difficult process.

The suspension is expected to hit a number of wind and solar farms working there way through various levels of the commissioning process, and may also affect some thermal generators awaiting approvals to return to service after repairs.

Wind projects that have yet to complete their commissioning process include Stockyard Hill, Moorabool and Murra Warra 2 in Victoria, along with the Port Augusta Renewable Energy Hub, the country’s biggest hybrid wind and solar project.

The Wandoan big battery in Queensland, that state’s first, is also waiting for final approval to operate without constraints and may also be affected by the suspension.

Solar farms working through the commissioning process include the Western Downs, Blue Grass, and Columboola solar projects in Queensland, and the Metz and Wagga Wagga North solar farms in NSW.

It is not known how long the suspensions will be in place.. The worst affected will be those projects currently seeking to boost output by adding capacity or moving to a new “hold points”.

Stockyard Hill and Moorabool earlier last week moved to a new “hold point”, helping to push Victoria to a new output record, so are unlikely to be affected by a short suspension of commissioning work.

AEMO earlier this week suspended spot trading across the entire National Electricity Market for the first time ever as a result of the chaos caused by soaring wholesale prices that triggered an automatic price cap followed by mass withdrawal of capacity.

One developer noted the irony of the situation where the market operator is forced to issue instructions to existing generators to switch on when needed, but has halted the process of approving much needed new capacity.

Australian wind and solar projects have already suffered from lengthy connection and commissioning processes, some due to faulty equipment, some to network limitations, and others due to the complexity and delays of the process itself.

In some parts of the grid, AEMO has reverted to “sequencing” for connections, processing one or two projects at a time in a bid to ensure it can maintain grid stability. Many projects have been delayed for up to two years.

“This seems absurd, and a problem of their own making,” said an executive with one frustrated renewable energy developer.

“They are issuing market instruction forcing generations on to the market, so it seems bizarre that they are stopping others from coming on. We should be part of the solution.”

Update: An AEMO spokesman later told RenewEconomy that it was facing enormous operational challenges to maintain supply and it was focusing resources on labour-intensive manual dispatching

“While we have continued to progress commissioning activities for more than 500 megawatts of plant over the last week, we have had to adjust the schedules for some plant due to our operational resources prioritizing overall system reliability and security,” the spokesman said.

“We expect these adjustments to be in the order of a week and will keep relevant parties informed. We thank participants for their consideration as we work towards returning to normal operating conditions.”

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