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Stand-alone power reforms must be fast-tracked for bushfire recovery

The pressure will be on policy makers this year to hit the ‘fast forward’ button on regulatory reforms for microgrids and stand-alone power systems so that the safest, most reliable and most cost-effective technologies can be employed in bushfire recovery.

Use of microgrids and off-grid systems for remote areas would deliver huge savings on the investment needed for network replacement and maintenance. The Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) has spent several years considering whether it should allow this. Under the current rules, distribution network service providers (DNSPs) are prevented from using microgrids and are instead required to continue using thousands of kilometres of expensive and dangerous poles and wires, which are heavily cross-subsidised by all electricity customers.

In 2020, the CEC will push federal and state governments to urgently remove the legal barriers preventing the use of microgrids for bushfire recovery. The AEMC’s current timetable for reforms would require DNSPs to wait until mid-2021 before they are permitted to use microgrids for electricity supply. Bushfire-affected communities can’t be expected to wait more than a year for this, and bureaucratic procedures shouldn’t be allowed to stand in the way of using the best solution for replacing poles and wires in remote, bushfire-prone areas.

Western Australia is expected to lead the nation in this area of reform, because it is outside of the National Electricity Market and its energy policy is not hamstrung by the messy politics of the COAG Energy Council. Late last year, the WA Energy Minister, Bill Johnston, introduced legislation to allow the use of stand-alone power systems and energy storage devices in Western Power’s network.

The CEC has written to all state and territory energy ministers, urging them to make sure that the slow processes of the COAG Energy Council don’t stand in the way of bushfire recovery efforts. Draft amendments to the National Electricity Law to allow use of microgrids in bushfire recovery should be top of the COAG Energy Council agenda at its next meeting in March. All states and territories need to follow WA’s lead by amending legislation to remove unnecessary barriers to the use of microgrids, where they are safer, more reliable and more cost effective than traditional network infrastructure.