Australian Politicians Confuse Wind Power And Powerful Winds

wind vs wind power

Which of our elected politicians can tell the difference? Read on to find out…

Yesterday all of South Australia was blacked out and parts of the state are still without grid power today. This occurred because a powerful storm damaged transmission lines and the entire state grid automatically shut down as a safety precaution to prevent more damage.

Restarting a grid after a complete shutdown is complex and requires several hours. And it took several hours for grid power to start to be restored.

There is no mystery to what happened. It is very simple:

1. There was a really big storm.
2. Transmission lines were damaged.
3. The grid shut down automatically as a safety precaution, like it should have.

If you don’t believe power lines were damaged by strong winds, here is a picture of high voltage, steel girder, transmission towers near Port Augusta.  The wind bent them over so their tops touch the ground.

This picture shows how unusual the situation was. Transmission towers do not normally lie down on the ground to take a rest.

In addition to gale force winds there were also so many lightning strikes they would have been countless if someone hadn’t counted them and tornadoes. As more detailed information is reported we will probably learn if it was lightning strikes, gale force winds, or a big willy willy that provided the straw that safety precautioned the camel’s back.

Why Our Power Lines Failed

The state’s transmission infrastructure was not built to withstand yesterday’s extreme weather conditions and it didn’t. The reason why it was not built stronger is because it is cheaper to build a system that gets knocked out by powerful storms and then repair it, than it is to build one that doesn’t break. To build specially reinforced transmission towers or put transmission lines underground would cost a fortune. To avoid yesterday’s black out would have required either higher electricity prices, or if the funds had come from general revenue, higher taxes.

State Premier, Jay Weatherill, Explained Things Sensibly


The cause of the blackout was very simple and some politicians, or at least a politician, the appropriately named State Premier Jay Weather-ill, explained the situation quite clearly and sensibly:

“Essentially what happened is a massive set of power was removed and when that happens it trips the system.  It appears there was a weather event that damaged infrastructure in the Port Augusta area. Energy generation assets remain intact. At this stage there does not seem to be any damage to the interconnector with Victoria.”

Other politicians have not been so sensible. In fact, they’ve said some really stupid things.

SA Liberal Leader Steven Marshall Said Stupid Stuff


Steven Marshall, leader of the South Australian Liberal Party, said:

“An independent investigation into this crisis must commence immediately.”

That is bizarre. Doesn’t he believe the obvious explanation that a storm blew down power lines? Does he think the storm was a hoax?  Is he some sort of 28/09 truther?  Is he going to start saying things like, “Wind can’t bend steel!” and, “Lightning is electricity, so how can adding electricity to an electrical substation cause electricity to stop? Wake up sheeple!”

Maybe he just wants to know why the power lines weren’t strong enough to resist the gale force winds, but we already know the answer to that. It’s because it would have cost a shitload of money.

If Marshall was being more useful than big nuns on a bull, he could start a sensible discussion on whether or not we should reinforce our transmission infrastructure, given it appears climate change is making extreme weather events more common.

But I doubt he will do that.

Nick Xenophon Opened Mouth And Stupid Came Out


Australian Senator Nick Xenophon has not covered himself in glory. He has instead covered himself in an entirely different substance.

Xenophon said to reporters:

“This is a disgrace. How did this happen? How is an entire state blacked out?”

Someone probably should have told him there was a big storm yesterday. Maybe shown him a picture of transmission towers that had their steel girders bent by the force of the wind so their tops are now lying on the ground and told him they don’t work very well when they’re like that.

And of course, nothing can ever go wrong in South Australia without a politician trying to bring wind power into it:

“The generators don’t work when the wind is blowing too hard. This is one of the great paradoxes in relation to this.”

Nick Xenophon does not appear to understand the blackout wasn’t caused by a lack of electricity being generated, but by transmission capacity being damaged. The wholesale electricity price was only around 4.7 cents a kilowatt-hour when the grid was shut down. That is not the price we see when generators are struggling to provide enough electricity.

While it is technically true that wind power, as in gale force winds, blew down power lines and transmission towers.  Wind power, as in generating electricity from wind, had nothing to do with it.

Xenophon also wants an inquiry. Doesn’t this guy have any children who can teach him how to use the internet so he can look at the pictures of downed transmission towers and see what caused the blackout and save the Australian public the expense of an inquiry?

Barnaby Joyce Says Something Stupid And Misleading


Since I’m on the topic of politicians saying stupid things, I will of course include Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce. He said wind power wasn’t working too well last night because of the blackout.

First, I will point out that generating electricity from wind had nothing to do with the blackout. And secondly, if wind power wasn’t working well because there was a blackout, then that would mean fossil fuel power wasn’t working very well either. Because fossil fuels still supply the majority of the state’s power, perhaps we could say they were working even less well?

I Am Not Saying These Politicians Are Stupid

I want to be very clear I am not saying that Marshall, Xenophon, and Joyce are stupid. I am only stating they are saying very stupid things. Just because a person says stupid things doesn’t mean they’re not intelligent. For all I know they are fully aware that what they are saying is stupid and it is all part of a calculated, Machiavellian, evil plan designed to mislead people.

Or they could actually be stupid. That also fits the evidence. I’ll let you decide.

About Ronald Brakels

Joining SolarQuotes in 2015, Ronald has a knack for reading those tediously long documents put out by solar manufacturers and translating their contents into something consumers might find interesting. Master of heavily researched deep-dive blog posts, his relentless consumer advocacy has ruffled more than a few manufacturer's feathers over the years. Read Ronald's full bio.


  1. Chris Ullman on ABC 24 this morning started with. “It is not known what caused yesterday’s blackout BUT..” and proceeded to rave on about the SA reliance on wind power.
    Clearly Chris is now a government captive and has to pretend to be completely stupid also.

  2. I’m waiting for the AEMO autopsy. One tripped transmission line should not have blacked out an entire state. Wind lacks black start capacity so Port Lincoln and Quarantine OCGTs were called upon to perform this function. Interestingly Snowtown was still generating shortly after black start procedures commenced.

    No wind power didn’t cause the event (unless you count the storm!). I’m confident that transmission findings will be mentioned in the report. Queensland frequently has cyclonic winds over transmission assets with minimal damage. The TNSP is looking more accountable than any wind farm.

    One thing we need to educate people on is wind in these situations. Most people aren’t aware wind shuts down in extreme conditions and can’t perform FCAS or black start duties.

  3. These guys are dumb.Why dont we bury these lines in the ground???????

    • Some transmission lines are (Murraylink for example). It’s more feasible to bury DC rather than AC ones. Downside is increased time to fault find – you need to use reflectometry on a long length to narrow down the fault to a smaller area and excavate. With above ground you usually can eyeball the problem.

  4. Good news is a few addition morons have been identified.

  5. Dear Ron

    I don’t know if your aware that other States and Territories in Australia have extreme weather events as well, particularly those with areas in the tropics. The difference betweent them and South Australia is that they have not had the total State/Territory blacked out. You really need to keep an open mind about whether the South Australian State Government has failed to provide suitable redundancy.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Davyd, my father put my sister and I under the kitchen table when I was 4 to protect us from fist sized chunks of ice smashing through the ceiling of our Queensland home, so I am pretty familiar with wild and woolly weather.

      But it is hard to take out the Queensland grid. The thing spans one thousand five hundred kilometers from north to south. Protected from more than a section being destroyed by cyclones at a time until they learn the cheat code that lets them move north and south. Of the population, only 48% lives in one city.

      South Australia is so very puny in comparison. A much smaller grid. One population center, Adelaide, with 1.3 million people. The next largest city, Mount Gambier has 2% of Adelaide’s population with 29,000 people. Around 78% of the state’s population lives in Adelaide and the place is flat. No protective mountains like Tassie. One powerful storm is capable of trashing the SA grid and it did.

      Note the state government isn’t directly involved with grid resilience. They could legislate to increase its durability, or they could lower standards to cut costs, but as far as I am aware they have done neither. However, as I mentioned in the article, it may be worth discussing if we should raise standards to handle the potential effects of climate change. Mind you, planners are already onto this. We’re not silly in Australia. All our new coal terminals have been built to withstand high sea level rises.

      It was certainly unfortunate we lost grid power yesterday, but if we hadn’t after a storm like that it could indicate we had wasted money by spending too much on grid resilience.

  6. Dudley Marks says

    It is very unusual for HV transmission towers to fail. The winds must have been in excess of the design parameters but I haven’t heard what speeds were recorded. Once one tower fails for whatever reason, the stress on adjacent towers will be greater.
    In the April storm in Newcastle 2 years ago, the wind gusts were in excess of 150 Km/hr and no tower failures occurred to my knowledge.
    A great deal of damage was done to the lower voltage distribution network and our house was without electricity for several days.
    I agree with Davyd Lewis. We will await the considered responses from the experts with interest

    • Spot on. It’s very rare for a TNSP to fail to that degree. As you mentioned it’s normally the DNSP that wears the brunt of the damage. Hopefully the report clarifies things.

  7. Anyone remember CFCs? No one talks about it anymore because the science is settled. There was a lot of pushback 30 to 40 years ago against the science of CFCs. Lead petrol was another. Now we have the same thing with Climate Science. Humans seem to have short memories.

    Same excrement, different topic. There will always be vested interests that will push back. We can only hope reason will win before it is too late. Things are changing, albeit slowly – but I feel the snowball is gathering momentum.

    Even if you don’t believe the climate science:
    – How about just breathing cleaner air? Imagine walking through a city and not being bombarded with diesel fumes.
    – How about energy security? Rather than relying on oil rich countries in the unstable middle east.
    – How about food security? A lot of fertilizer is made from oils and such. Rather than burning the stuff in our cars, why not keep it for food production?

    There are more reasons than just the Climate Science. But no one seems to talk about other reasons why moving away from fossil fuels is a good thing.

    We need more scientific minded people in senior political positions.

  8. Christian Morales says

    I think 2 possible why they said. First us lack of knowledge in wind turbine, they need to re-educated. Second is they are covering their asses because they do nothing.

  9. Barry McKinless says

    Did anyone notice the editorial by Leo Simpson in the latest (Nov 2016) Silicon Chip magazine ?

    According to Leo it was because the wind was blowing too hard the turbines had to switch off, which lead to excess power being drawn on the interconnector that then caused the outage, and it was only after SA went off the air the towers fell over. So it appears if you believe Leo it was the wind turbines, i.e. SA reliance on renewable power, that was the route cause of the outage.

    I always thought SC as a fairly reputable and reliable magazine. However it seems Leo (a) has got his timeline and events out of sequence, and (b) is not all that in favor of renewable power generation (or may have shares in open cut coal mines).

  10. OK, a little late to the discussion here. But I assume you’ve all ready the reports so far:-

    So after analysing all that I can provide some interesting details.

    Yeah the wind was seriously strong. Seven tornadoes developed during the storm, some crossing paths with the transmission lines. Possibly as high as 260kmh. Little wonder some pylons blew over.

    Yes some of the wind turbines reduced output or disconnected altogether.

    There is a few things going on here.

    Wind turbines need about a 30kmh breeze to generate at full capacity. They can keep generating at full capacity up to around 90kmh at which point they have to reduce to be able to not over-stress the pylon structure it stands on. This likely occurred at some units but it’s not been publicised yet just which ones or by just how much they reduced due to high speed speeds.

    They can tolerate wind gusts over 200kmh, so they’re pretty tough. And in fact none of them suffered any structural damage as a result of the storm.
    Almost all of the wind turbines detected disturbances on the grid (voltage sags/surges) and went into a ‘fault ride-through’ mode. When they do this they also reduce output to keep a buffer up in case of any further irregularities, but soon build back to normal generation if it senses the grid being ok.
    Unfortunately, many of them were also programmed to disconnect altogether if they go into this ride-through mode a number of times. Many only after just two occasions. Others 6 or more.

    So every time there was a fault in the transmission lines, either shorting, disconnecting or even re-closing after a trip, a disturbance occurs that the wind turbines detected.

    Also not made very clear is which wind turbines (if any) had to disconnect because there was no active grid to feed-in to due to failed transmission lines. Just like a home solar inverter, if they’re islanded they can’t operate.

    So yes, a fair chunk of wind capacity was lost due to this. But not due to excessive wind velocity!

    The reports say that the synchronous generation (Torrens Island and Ladbroke Grove), and the Murraylink HVDC transmission line all did what they were supposed to do and weren’t damaged at any time. What it does not say though is whether they were called upon to increase capacity as a result of some of the wind generation dropping off. Because it appears all of the shortfall was being brought in via the Heywood interconnector.

    Now this is the bit the reports don’t cover but if you analyse the graph on page 12 of the first report, you can see the disturbance caused by the 2nd trip of the Davenport-Belalie line at 16:18:09, and the loss of the first group of wind turbines (their 3rd detected fault). Then for 4 seconds after there’s a nice wavy line in the graph. This is due to the synchronous generation in Victoria and Torrens Island nearly losing synchronism. They were starting to fight each other and that puts huge extra loads on the transmission lines connecting them (Heywood). But it recovers after 4-5 seconds. Had that been all the disturbances it would have been all ok despite the Heywood line running more than 100MW over its rated capacity. It was coping.

    But then the Davenport-Mt.Lock line is tripped, and more wind generation is lost, creating another major disturbance which also messed with synchronisation. The system had not recovered from this (needing 4-5 seconds) when an attempt to re-close that line is made, totally screwing up synchronism, this time causing the load through Heywood to spike over 850MW which causes it to trip, disconnecting it from Victoria. Without all that energy coming from Victoria, the remaining generation could not supply demand, voltage and frequency plummeted which tripped all other generation off-line. Black system.

    The ONE thing that could have prevented the black system, was to not attempt re-closing that Davenport-Mt.Lock line. Just when the system urgently needed to be shedding some load, it tried to connect more. The Heywood interconnector was already running over-capacity and the system was struggling to stay synchronised.

    The irony here is that all grid connected inverters, whether that be your home solar system or the big wind turbines, have to by design specified in Australian Standards regulations, check for the presence and quality of the grid before feeding-in any energy.
    I don’t think it is too much to expect that the national grid operators should have to check beforehand whether conditions are safe and capable of connecting transmission lines and other elements before doing so. This would appear to be a monstrous gaping hole in safe operating procedures that need remedial action to ensure a more reliable network. These re-closers need to be centrally controlled and not independent units so that the network monitoring and control computers can manage them.

    AEMO seemed to not be aware of some of the software settings built into the wind turbines. In particular, the ‘number of fault ride-through events before disconnecting’ one.
    The wind turbine operators have all since adjusted them to 20 events.
    Significant generators like these are depended upon and every effort needs to be made to prevent any sudden unexpected losses in generation. It’s fine to ramp up and down at a reasonable rate that allows enough time for other generators to be able to adjust to. If the grid is live, let them generate at any time voltage and frequency is within operating limits. Inverters are capable of operating safely over a much wider voltage and frequency range than synchronous generators. Need to take advantage of that.

    Furthermore, I don’t know whether they already are or not, but they ought to comply with the latest AS4777 standard that requires they have reactive power control. This would see them providing leading phase energy when frequency/voltage on the grid is reduced, and vice-versa. This would provide some active grid support when synchronous generation is struggling. This may be achieved with a software upgrade, or may require a retrofitted control board from the manufacturer. Either way it should not be too difficult to implement, but the benefits very significant. The same also applies to the inverters at each end of the Murraylink HVDC. It too technically could provide the same support.

    So there you have it. Some insights you may not see elsewhere.
    It will be interesting to see if AEMO recognises these issues too.
    We’ll await their final report later this month.

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