News Summer blackout warning as latest coal-fired plant closes

Summer blackout warning as latest coal-fired plant closes

No longer needed, just like Hazelwood's former workers, safety helmets hang on the shuttered power station's fence. Photo ABC James Manolios
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The Australian Energy Market Operator must improve its management of the national grid to avoid blackouts and power shedding next summer, energy experts have said.

The shutdown of Hazelwood coal-fired power station in Victoria removed 1,600 megawatts of power from the system, or more than 20 per cent of the state’s energy supply.

Without Hazelwood, the national grid has become more vulnerable and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) said on hot days with high demand there would be a shortfall of between 200 and 500 megawatts.

Morwell is “eerily quiet” as the nation’s dirtiest coal power station Hazelwood winds down for its last day of operation, with decommissioning beginning next week and continuing for the next 12 months.

Latrobe City Council mayor Kellie O’Callaghan said the workers and families at Hazelwood had spent decades together.

“It’s a great loss. For many people, today will be very hard,” Latrobe Mayor Kellie O’Callaghanshe told ABC24 on Friday.

“It’s eerily quiet out here today. For a lot of people, it’s a big transition – not just out of the industry and the station, but out of those networks.”

The final two generators were powered down on Wednesday with crews to clock off for the last time at 7am on Saturday – ending 52 years of power production.

hazelwood power plant
The Hazelwood Power Station’s closure will lead to an increase in power prices. Photo: AAP

The plant provided nearly a quarter of Victoria’s energy needs and the state is now on power watch, with fears the closure may lead to a rise in prices.

Grattan Institute’s energy program director Tony Wood said AEMO had to learn from past mistakes.

“The way we make sure we don’t have the awful situation where people are without power and yet there are generators not running, that has to be avoided, and a lot of that rests with the way AEMO plans for the coming summer,” he said.

Last year, AEMO was criticised for failing to act quickly and turn on the Pelican Point power station as South Australia experienced a statewide blackout.

AEMO chief operating officer Mike Cleary said it hoped to prop up the system with reserves from Pelican Point, which is coming back online in July, and power stations in Swanbank, Queensland and the Tamar Valley in Tasmania.

However, he said if extra generators were not able to come online, AEMO could also look at moving some of the larger consumers’ energy load to off-peak.
Like Hazelwood, much of the existing technology is old and sometimes unreliable.

“When we look at our supply demand there is enough reserves in the system, but again we have to understand that this is a mechanical and this is an electronic system, and it is subject to breakage and faults and if they occur then there will be risks of blackouts,” Mr Cleary said.

That sentiment was echoed by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.

In an interview on ABC Radio Melbourne, Mr Andrews said in terms of supply, the state would continue to be a net exporter of power.

“We have more [power] generated than we need and we’ll continue to send power to other parts of the country as we have for decades,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean you won’t have a problem with the distribution network or a weather event.”

As more coal-fuelled power stations are closed around the nation, the grid will rely more heavily on renewable technology.

Mr Cleary said that presented new challenges and AEMO was working with market operators and governments to prepare for the new-look grid.

“There will be more intermittency in the system and… we will need to manage it going forward,” he said.

French company Engie defended its decision to close its Hazelwood plant immediately, instead of phasing it out.

Engie spokeswoman Lauren Carey conceded there was an expectation the plant would continue until 2025.

“We apologise if there has been a misunderstanding in the message, but again, it was an aspirational statement and there wasn’t a commitment by the company that that would happen,” she said.

– ABC and AAP