Tasmania government urged to consider strategy to boost wind & solar

The Tasmanian government is being urged to support the development of more rooftop solar and wind energy, as it negotiates the state’s biggest energy crisis after losing the grid connection to the mainland, network damage from bushfires and record low hydro levels.

The government has asked two of the state’s biggest industrial facilities – the Bell Bay smelter and the TEMCO manganese alloy smelter – to reduce output by up to 70MW as dams dry up and experts struggle to reconnect the Basslink.

The Tamar Valley gas fired generator has been brought back into service, while another gas generator has been flown at great cost from the Middle East.

But analysts argue that wind and solar would provide better options. Pitt & Sherry’s Hugh Saddler says wind energy offers a cheaper option to both gas, and imports from Victoria, which were costing $90/MWh before the cable broke.

“Maintaining electricity flow through Basslink at full capacity during the latter part of 2015 resulted in the wholesale spot price in the Tasmanian NEM region increasing steadily from about $40/MWh in September to about $90/MWh in the first weeks of December,” Saddler notes.

Meanwhile, the Tasmanian Greens have proposed community solar farms, micro grids and loans to pay for the upfront costs of solar installation to help address long-term energy security.

The party wants to double the number of homes and businesses with rooftop solar to 50,000 in the next four years, by increasing the solar feed-in tariff.  Greens spokeswoman Rosalie Woodruff said the prolonged outage of Basslink and record dry conditions highlighted the need to invest in solar energy.

Jack Gilding, from the Tasmanian Renewable Energy Alliance, said a draft report from the Tasmania Economic Regulator acknowledges that solar PV can increase energy security when dams are low.

But because solar PV was only 1 per cent of Tasmanian electricity demand in 2014-15 and there is no current mechanism for rewarding this benefit, the report suggests it can be excluded from the calculation of feed-in tariffs.

“This is a self-defeating cycle,” Gilding said. “Solar PV could meet much more of Tasmania’s energy needs, but until the full benefit is recognised, there will be no incentive for solar owners to invest in feeding energy into the grid.”

© 2016 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

Giles Parkinson