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Power plant outages contributed to overloading scare during NSW heatwave, report finds

By David Marchese, Wednesday February 22, 2017 - 18:22 EDT
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There were concerns of rolling blackouts during a heatwave in NSW earlier this month. - ABC

Australia's energy operator has found power plant failures contributed to the unprecedented pressure on the New South Wales electricity grid during this month's heatwave.

The Australian Energy Market Operator report confirmed outages at three thermal energy power plants were a factor in the power reserve shortfall, which prompted warnings to residents to conserve electricity to prevent rolling blackouts between February 10 and 12.

A fault in a gas turbine forced an outage at the Illawarra's Tallawarra plant, while low gas pressure stopped production at the Snowy Hydro's Colongra plant.

The report also said a "number of thermal generators" reduced output.

The outages combined to overload the NSW power interconnectors with Queensland and Victoria, creating an insecure operating state.

The record-high electricity demands forced AGL Energy to cut power at its Tomago Aluminium smelter near Newcastle, which consumes 10 per cent of the state's power.

"AEMO has found generally that all actions and responses of facilities and services were adequate," the report stated.

Tomago Aluminium's chief executive Matt Howell said the findings were not surprising.

"The way it played out, it was dysfunctional," he said.

"It's pretty clear that there was a system security risk and the market operator had to intervene."

The report revealed that at one stage on February 10 the spot price for electricity spiked to $14,000/MWh.

Mr Howell said those prices were unacceptable.

"$14,000/MWh is equivalent to paying close to $400 a litre for fuel," he said.

"If we had to pay that amount for fuel there would certainly be a community backlash, so why do we allow the electricity market to get that far out of kilter?"

The AEMO report also said the body intends to look further into plant capabilities during extreme conditions.


© ABC 2017

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