Labor pushes ahead with a controversial capacity market

What is the goal of a capacity electricity market?

You may be forgiven for not sitting through the full press conference last Thursday, where the Albanese government stated Australia would be strengthening their 2030 targets to 43% under the Paris Agreement. However, if you had, around 30 minutes in you would have heard Chris Bowen, the newly appointed Minister for Climate Change and Energy state, “in relation to the short term, State and Territory Ministers agreed with me last week, that we should proceed at haste, at pace, with the capacity mechanism. I asked, on behalf of all Energy Ministers, the Energy Security Board to proceed with that work, at speed, and they are doing that. I am very confident I will be able to get agreement of State and Territory Ministers for a comprehensive capacity mechanism and I’ll have more to say when that work is ready.”

Well that work dropped this morning (20th June) at 7am. They have given those who wish to respond until (25th July) to submit their views on this paper so at pace it shall be. However; given the response following the ESB Post 2025 paper I am not sure that any amount of noise and lobbying from the industry is going to stop this juggernaut from achieving its goal, especially since it is being backed by those generators who have the most to gain from this market. Not only that, but unless there is a big bump in the road, a first look Capacity Mechanism will be in place by 1st July 2025.

What is the goal of this market? – Well in my opinion there is only one reason that this would be encouraged and that is to subsidise coal-fired power stations which have had their financial viability severely questioned by the growing penetration of lower cost renewables within the system. Don’t get me wrong, the longer-term markets have the potential to encourage other faster starting generators onto the market, but this hasn’t really been the case in other capacity markets i.e. Great Britain (GB).

This argument is only further strengthened when looking at how the GB Market ended up achieving their stability, in their high renewable penetrated market, which is from nuclear power which has been guaranteed a strike price of £92.50/MWH or ~$163/MWh. Thus, making any capacity market payment minuscule in comparison to the underpinning of the generation at that rate.

The ESB are arguing, and convincing themselves and the government in the process, that this mechanism is the answer to AEMO’s ISP step change scenario, in which demand increases and coal exits the system. If that is indeed their argument, then they are ultimately stating they cannot efficiently run a system in which coal is not part of the generation mix and unless this is financially managed there will be a ‘disorderly transition.’

The question therefore isn’t will there be a capacity mechanism from July 25, but how centralised or decentralised will the final design be? Will it sit as a Physical Retailer Reliability Obligation – PRRO design, one in which the market determines for itself the level of the required capacity, or do we go wholly down the regulated route with AEMO determining in long term auctions (similar to the GB model which has several T-year auctions) and they forecast demand and supply to determine the required level of capacity and sell these capacity certificates to retailers to meet their requirements.

There is no grey area for the ESB, they have stated openly in the paper they wish for the forecasting and determination of the capacity requirements to be centralised and for AEMO to manage these purchases on behalf of market participants. In essence they would moderate the capacity of these generators, for a cost, at certain times of day or periods of high system stress to allow them to ensure capacity is available to the market operator when needed. End users would then pay for that management of the system and their portion of that capacity.

The other point to note, keenly hidden within the paper is the four yearly review of the Reliability Standard and Settings Review (RSSR) that is about to be undertaken, with significant interest been taken in the Market Cap, especially given the gas price cap is equating to a marginal cost of generation higher than the electricity price cap (Presuming a normal heat rate of 8-12). If the caps are risen for both the caps $300/MWh and spot $15,100/MWh markets as expected, could the requirement of ‘capacity’ in the market become a moot point? Surely the exacerbation of the current situation could be avoided if the gas generators were certain of meeting the cost of generation and you cannot truly believe that a market cannot efficiently run with enough capacity if they are achieving $15,100/MWh or possibly more?

The real key argument which has not been addressed by the paper however, is the idea that aging coal plants are unlikely to be able to ramp in time to fill the gaps between this growing renewable penetration. Therefore, the question really needs to be asked is this the right investment if you really want to transition this grid or should this be put into different technology rather than prolonging the life of unsuitable assets?

Ultimately however the bottom line remains ‘user pays.’ As such any one of the options being floated will be passed through to end users through retailer or network tariffs.

I will let the retailers and generators pick apart the nuances of the paper, but needless to say the government will be pushing ahead with this in some form, the only question will be how much say we will have in the centralisation of the market or not, and therefore how much control retailers will have on the costs of this capacity.

Written by Kate Turner, Senior Manager – Markets, Analytics, and Sustainability

AEMO Suspends the Market

Below is the media release from AEMO after it suspended the National Electricity market at 14:05 today.

AEMO today announced that it has suspended the spot market in all regions of the National Electricity Market (NEM) from 14:05 AEST, under the National Electricity Rules (NER).

AEMO has taken this step because it has become impossible to continue operating the spot market while ensuring a secure and reliable supply of electricity for consumers in accordance with the NER.

The market operator will apply a pre-determined suspension pricing schedule for each NEM region. A compensation regime applies for eligible generators who bid into the market during suspension price periods.

In making the announcement AEMO CEO, Daniel Westerman, said the market operator was forced to direct five gigawatts of generation through direct interventions yesterday, and it was no longer possible to reliably operate the spot market or the power system this way.

“In the current situation suspending the market is the best way to ensure a reliable supply of electricity for Australian homes and businesses,” he said.

“The situation in recent days has posed challenges to the entire energy industry, and suspending the market would simplify operations during the significant outages across the energy supply chain.”

Edge wish to reiterate, this is not a physical supply issue. AEMO directed 5GWhs of physical generation into the market. If generators can operate when under direction, they do not have a physical reason to not generate (such as maintenance, overhaul etc), so the reduced availability we are seeing has to be a commercial trading decision to either price volume into higher price bands or to remove availability in the maximum availability bands of their bids. The availability is there, the generators are just not offering it via the spot market.

The market suspension is temporary, and will be reviewed daily for each NEM region. When conditions change, and AEMO is able to resume operating the market under normal rules, it will do so as soon as practical.

Mr Westerman said price caps coupled with significant unplanned outages and supply chain challenges for coal and gas, were leading to generators removing capacity from the market.

He said this was understandable, but with the high number of units that were out of service and the early onset of winter, the reliance on directions has made it impossible to continue normal operation.

The current energy challenge in eastern Australia is the result of several factors – across the interconnected gas and electricity markets. In recent weeks in the electricity market, we have seen:

  • A large number of generation units out of action for planned maintenance – a typical situation in the shoulder seasons.
  • Planned transmission outages.
  • Periods of low wind and solar output.
  • Around 3000 MW of coal fired generation out of action through unplanned events.
  • An early onset of winter – increasing demand for both electricity and gas.

“We are confident today’s actions will deliver the best outcomes for Australian consumers, and as we return to normal conditions, the market based system will once again deliver value to homes and businesses,” he said.

What does it mean for generators and end users.

  • Bidding and dispatch will continue as usual under the market rules.
  • Dispatch instructions will be issued electronically via the automatic generation control system as usual
  • If required AEMO may issue dispatch instructions in any other form that is practical in the circumstances.
  • Spot prices and FCAS prices in a suspended region continue to be set in accordance with NEM rules or under the Market Suspension Pricing Schedule.

The Market Suspension Pricing Schedule is published weekly by AEMO and contains prices 14 days ahead.

The market will continue to operate under the Market Suspension Pricing Schedule until the Market operator determines the market is able to return to normal conditions and the suspension is revoked.

Article by Alex Driscoll, Senior Manager – Markets, Trading, and Advisory

LGC prices slide

Yesterday we considered the possibility of large-scale generation certificate (LGCs) prices reducing due to the federal review. Prices have slid $4/certificate this week.

In recent news reports, ERM founder, Trevor St Baker said the government would need to adjust the renewable energy target (RET) to 20,000 gigawatt hours to fall in line with infrastructure expectations.

“There is no way we are going to make the 33,000 target. It’s impossible to get there.” Mr St Baker said.

We concur, and have for quite some time.  Fundamentally, in a politically stable environment, we can only see LGC prices trending to and sitting at the full tax adjusted penalty of around $93/LGC. There aren’t enough certificates in the market to fulfil obligations without a sharp increase in the number of new renewable generation projects coming online over the next two years. We still forecast an LGC deficit during 2018.

However, we do not live in a politically stable environment. Abbott and Turnbull went head to head last week over the future of the RET. This combined with 2016 liabilities being squared away, has seen $4/certificate shaved off spot LGC prices this week. This is a reduction of approximately 5 percent. The movement shows how quickly environmental markets can change when politicians weigh-in.

After almost guaranteed price increases following the bipartisan agreement in 2015, trade for 2017 just got interesting.

LGC prices since 2016

References: http://www.afr.com/news/politics/renewables-target-will-not-be-met-says-erm-founder-20170126-gtyyvo

If you need to buy or sell LGCs and need advice on timing to market, please contact us here or on 07 3232 1115.