Tasmanian power crisis reveals urgent need for more renewable energy

With Tasmania’s hydropower plants idle due to low rainfall, and a faulty cable connecting the state to the mainland grid, it’s clear a better long-term solution is needed

The timing couldn’t have been any worse. On 20 December 2015, the undersea cable connecting Tasmania with mainland Australia malfunctioned, leaving the island state’s energy infrastructure stranded without help – just when it was needed most.

The bulk of Tasmania’s internal energy capacity comes from its extensive hydroelectric network but, with 2015 delivering the driest spring on record, water levels in the state’s dams were catastrophically low. More than ever, the Apple Isle was counting on electricity imported via the Basslink cable so that the hydroelectric dams could be given time to replenish.

Obscured by the Bass Strait’s silty seabed, the fault in the cable is yet to be identified, let alone repaired, and things are getting desperate.

Dam water levels are at 16.8% and falling, low enough that aquatic ecosystems are being put under strain. State-owned energy provider Hydro Tasmania had in December already reassembled and rebooted the old Tamar Valley gas-fired generators to ease the burden on the dams and is now spending $44m on importing temporary diesel generators with 200MW of capacity to help keep the lights on while the state waits for cables to be fixed or the rain to arrive.

Perversely, it is weather patterns consistent with climate change forecasts forcing Tasmania to return to the fossil fuels that likely helped generate the crisis in the first place. That would be the case even once the Basslink cable is repaired, as it will be Victoria’s brown coal-fired power stations providing Tasmanians with energy.

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