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Green generators are powerless over access

INDEPENDENT renewable energy generators claim Western Power’s energy access rules prevent them from competing for customers in the electricity market.

Their complaints have forced a rethink of WA Government policy, just months after the January 1 introduction of rules which allowed green electricity producers to sell to customers drawing a six kilowatt hour load – about what a suburban delicatessen uses.

The green energy providers say Western Power has created a number of barriers to entry – from restrictive caps to impossible load constraints.

For instance, they claim that a requirement to load balance every half-hour to ensure their output matches customer demand makes the small commercial customer base unobtainable.

Industry players sent a letter to the Office of Energy on May 2, outlining how they believe the access regime should work.

Landfill Gas and Power director Brian O’Donnell said Western Power’s access regime was preventing his company from competing.

Operating waste-sourced methane-fired power plants since 1993, the company’s four generators sell on a wholesale basis to Western Power, with its Kalamunda plant selling directly to customers.

Mr O’Donnell said the company’s power plants relied on a stream of methane from the refuse piles.

“We have bacteria munching away on the rubbish and that gives off methane. We can’t tell the bacteria to eat quicker or slower to match our customers’ demands. Storing the gas is far too costly,” Mr O’Donnell said.

“I don’t believe what we have is a fair system if the Government wants renewable energy.”

Sustainable Energy Industry Association chairman Matthew Rosser said the industry had been working with Government for two years to create a workable access regime and had been making good progress.

“But at the end of last year Western Power threw a whole new access regime on the table,” Mr Rosser said. “Western Power tried to change the regulations within the Electricity Act that required all energy balancing to be done through a special agreement with Western Power.

“It’s like giving Dracula control of the blood bank.

“This effectively said fossil-fuel generation was protected by law but renewable sources relied on the whim of Western Power. That bill was blocked by the Greens.”

Western Power energy trading manager Tony Perrin said a workable renewable energy access regime had followed two years of hard negotiation.

However, that regime was being held up in the Legislative Council.

“It appears a small group of disaffected renewable industry players is behind the delay,” Mr Perrin said.

“A number of renewable energy projects cannot proceed without the access regime in place.

“All participants should work together and put aside self interest to introduce workable agreements.”

Mr Perrin said as part of the access negotiations Western Power had provided significant concessions to some renewable generators.

One complaint from some green energy players is that Western Power has capped the amount of independent renewable generation allowed onto the grid at 35 megawatts – less than 1 per cent of the grid’s capacity. The Federal Government requires all States to draw at least 2 per cent of their power from green sources by 2010.

WA has a number of players keen to enter the market largely based on using sun and wind energy. However, gaining finance for renewable projects appears to be a big problem without any guarantee of access to the grid.

Western Power has also put a 10 Megawatt cap on individual generating plants, another source of complaints, which is exacerbated by the scale of the State Corporation’s own green generator, a 21 megawatt Albany-based wind farm.

Green energy providers claimed that wind farm was not required to meet the same load balancing requirements as they were.

However, a Western Power spokesman said the wind farm had to meet stricter load balancing require-ments than those required of indepen-dent green producers.

Green energy providers believe their output and their customers’ consum-ption would balance out over a one-month period.

Added to their woes are the charges Western Power wants to impose if a green energy provider needs to top-up its power delivery to a customer from the South West Interconnected System – the grid that delivers electricity to the Perth metropolitan area.

Some industry players say there is no guarantee that Western Power will pay them for any excess power they supply to the grid.

Energy Minister Eric Ripper told WA Business News the industry’s views were being considered and a new plan developed.

Mr Ripper said he was keen for green electricity generators to be given preferential access to the grid.

“But we have to balance a fair deal for renewable generators against Western Power providing a subsidy to them,” he said.

“Matters such as this would be resolved with less heat and suspicion if we were dealing with a disaggregated Western Power. You get suspicion where the access controller is also the competitor.”

Mr Ripper said the Office of Energy and Western Power had appeared to have come up with a workable plan last year but conceded that some industry players were not happy.

“The Office of Energy and Western Power are working on a new plan,” he said.

Greens WA energy spokesman Robin Chapple said Western Power was putting major impediments in front of the green energy industry.

“I recently had a one-on-one with a company that is keen to enter the green electricity market, but the costs that Western Power applied to it made its project unviable,” Mr Chapple said.

He said if green players were not allowed into the marketplace soon, the Government would eventually be forced to pay bigger subsidies to meet the Federal green energy target.

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