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Last coal-fired power generator in South Australia switched off

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The 520MW Northern brown coal power generator, the last coal-fired power station in South Australia, was switched off for the last time on Monday morning, setting the state on a new path to a decarbonised grid.

The facility in Port Augusta was switched off by its owner, Alinta Energy, ending more than 31 years of generation. Its smaller and older adjoining facility at Playford was switched off last year, due to falling wholesale power prices caused by the influx of renewable energy such as wind and solar.

south australia no coal

This graph above, from RenewEconomy’s Live Generation widget, shows the absence of coal soon after the power station was closed down just after 9.40am local time.

The local community at Port Augusta hopes that the coal-fired generator can be replaced by solar power, with strong community support for a 110MW solar tower and storage facility to be built just north of the town.

Both the Coalition and Labor has indicated their interest in supporting solar tower technology, but may not do it any time soon, despite a growing need to dispatchable generation as the share of wind and solar PV rise above 50 per cent – a level that is expected to be reached later this year.

Port Augusta Mayor Sam Johnson told the Adelaide Advertiser that, in light of the election being called, it was time for both major parties to “put their money where their mouth is”.

“It’s a sad day to see the end of this,” Johnson said. “It’s no secret that the Upper Spencer Gulf wants to transform into a renewable resource centre. We are now in election mode and we ask that the governments put their money where their mouth is … the time has come.”

Another opportunity is a tender being held by the South Australian government for “low-carbon” technology. The solar tower is thought to have a good chance at this, although awarding a contract to existing gas-fired generation has also been discussed.

The withdrawal of the last coal-fired generator has raised fears in some quarters of a loss of grid stability and soaring power prices.

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However, the Australian Energy Market Operator says there should be no increased risk to reliability as a result of the closure, and has made clear a short blackout in November was not caused by too much or too little wind energy, as many had suggested, but by equipment failure worsened by the actions of a gas-fired generator that did not follow market instructions.

Scare campaigns have also been waged on power pricing, with many businesses locking in to high-priced contracts with local retailers. However, one analyst has pointed out that these customers are paying twice what they need to pay.

south australia flow

The price of electricity on the wholesale market did jump sharply on Monday – above $200/MWh – although those jumps were replicated in most states in the National Electricity Market.

Traders said part of the reason was the season of “outages” – with some coal fired generation on maintenance and others, such as the 2,000MW Liddell coal plant in NSW, offline for two months because of boiler tube leaks.

They said South Australia pricing could be more volatile because the withrawal of Alinta market is now dominated by two major generation companies, AGL Energy and GDF Suez, with more than 60 per cent market share between them. The Australian Energy Regulator has raised concerns about this situation, and blamed “strategic bidding” for surges in spot prices in the market in 2011.

 

   

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  • Alan S

    It was turned off at 9-40 am today – a bit like turning off the life support to a particularly obnoxious relative who never looked after their health. It would be interesting to see a record of air quality in PA over the next few weeks.
    To many of us the promise of a solar thermal storage power station at PA would have been more of a vote catcher than 12 submarines – and a damn sight cheaper.

    • john

      Yes the amount of money to be expended on submarines is exceptional.
      The long term cost of the solar thermal plant’s output should be convincing evidence for pursuing this endeavor.

      • Peter Campbell

        Surely the long-term cost is negative! And that’s the kind of cost I like!

    • Brunel

      Hell, they could have got a colossal gigafactory in South AUS instead of the subs.

      And unlike the 12 subs, the factory would be a massive export earner.

  • ben

    The power doesn’t seem to have gone off here in Adelaide yet.

  • Chris Fraser

    At 1:45pm no Whyalla Wipeout yet and still going strong

  • Phil S

    Perhaps the unexpected loss of 700+MW of wind power in SA immediately following the withdrawal of Northern from the grid was partly responsible for the energy price hovering around $350 for several hours.
    This was not anticipated as the market was expecting a consistent 1100+MW of wind. This was eroded to as low as 360MW.

    • Garth Power

      So lets stop building these wind farms as they are unreliable 🙂

  • DogzOwn

    Here’s hoping for CST but, in Greg Hunt’s office in December he advised that CST has missed it’s opportunity, undermined by falling prices of PV. But how about storage? He says can add molten salt to PV. How ‘out that?

    • Brunel

      Maybe batteries are cheaper than molten salt. But government does not do auctions for either so we do not know how which storage tech is cheaper.

      • Garth Power

        There are Moltern Salt Batteries and salt is chap.

        • Brunel

          Name a brand of molten salt battery.

    • Alan S

      In a discussion many years ago when the Libs were gung-ho on CCS he told me that ‘they’ can take carbon out of coal before, during or after combustion. Clever lad our Greg.

  • Cooma Doug

    Great article Giles. What you say supports correctly the good work of AEMO in these matters.

  • Cooma Doug

    It is worth pointing out that retailers have contracts to protect them from extreme volatility.

  • Zvyozdochka

    500MW bites the dust, only 8.5GW of excess fossil generation to switch off.

  • Geoff

    Congrats to SA for setting the example that ending coal electricity generation can be done. a very good role model indeed for the rest of the states. Now we just need to get rid of that 258MW of Gas generation then we’ll be sweet!

  • ben

    I was very disappointed to watch the local ABC news last night (Monday) blaming renewable energy for the SA power prices. There was a large set piece on the Alinta closure with interviews with local council and workers. Obviously one feels sympathy for them.

  • Christine Brook

    Don’t get too excited folks – according to the graph,baseload was produced from gas (a fossil fuel)

  • Neil_Copeland

    We may not be generating electricity from brown coal any longer, but we are still importing it from Victoria. We have only moved the problem. A graph showing renewable energy as a proportion of demand per state would be interesting.

    • Not true at all – the combined share of brown coal (both local and imported) has reduced significantly over last 10 years. As more renewables are built in South Australia, the imports from Victoria will fall even further, until one day they may not be needed at all!

      • Neil_Copeland

        Don’t get me wrong Giles, I am all for renewables. You say my statement is not true, and then confirm it. All I was saying is that the NEM graphs show zero coal generation but they do not show the full picture.

        • So try this graph. The red and brown line totalled 6,000 in 2006, and now combined totalled 4,000. That’s a one third reduction, explained by growth of renewables. Yes, there is still brown coal generation, but it is not local, and when it is not needed it can be turned off, and the interconnector can take more renewables back into victoria and other states.