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Reliable? Baseload? Liddell unit broken and out for most of summer

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Liddell Power Station

Liddell Power Station

One of the four 420MW units at the Liddell coal generator in New South Wales will be out of action for most of the summer because of broken turbine blades – making supply increasingly tight in the state, and making a mockery of the Coalition’s push to keep the plant open longer in the name of “reliability”.

The number 2 unit at Liddell has not operated since early August. An AGL  spokesman said that it may not be back in service until mid February, meaning that it will largely miss the summer heatwave conditions that will push demand up to near record levels.

“The unit at Liddell is out for turbine blade repairs. We are targeting a return to service between the end of January and mid-February,” the spokesman said in an emailed statement.

The loss of the unit came as another big generator, a 700MW unit at EnergyAustralia’s Mt Piper coal generator near Lithgow, was withdrawn this week due to tube leaks, just as an early summer heatwave made its presence felt across the state.

Meanwhile, another two coal units also tripped  this week –- a 420MW unit at the Millmerran coal plant in Queensland and unit 3 at Loy Yang A in Victoria.

loy yang copy

The Loy Yang unit trip occurred at 2am on Thursday and sent wholesale prices soaring from $94/MWh to $241.MWh as emergency back-up scrambled to fill the sudden loss of 560MW.

The absence of the NSW coal units at Liddell and Mt Piper caused the Australian Energy Market Operator to declare an actual Lack of Reserve (level 1) notice on Thursday afternoon as temperatures soared, even though total demand (12,800MW) was nearly 2,000MW short of the February heatwave.

AGL this week repeated its intention to close the 1680MW Liddell plant at its scheduled use-by date of 2022, saying that keeping it open another five years would be too costly, requiring nearly $1 billion in upgrades and maintenance.

AGL says switching to renewables, backed with storage, demand management and some gas peaking plant, will be cheaper, more reliable, cleaner, smarter, and provide a long-term future for its investments.

AGL and other coal generators have been having problems with their machinery in the past months. One unit at Loy Yang A in Victoria tripped in November, just before scheduled service, and is still not back on line.

The AGL spokesman, who previously talked of an “early December return to service”, said the unit should be back on line early next week.

EnergyAustralia also had issues with two of its units at the Yallourn brown coal generator in Victoria, with one out with boiler problems and another closed for maintenance.

mt piper copy

Both units are now back on line, but the 700MW unit at Mt Piper in NSW is likely out for at least two weeks, despite numerous “lack of reserve” notices issued by the Australian Energy Market Operator as temperatures soared in recent days.

The Mt Piper unit was withdrawn on Tuesday to repair a leak in a tube returning steam to a boiler for reheating.

(The tube must cool before workers can investigate the extent of the issue and fix the leak or replace the tube. Repairs of this nature are not uncommon but usually take around a fortnight to complete, sometimes longer).

In February this year, two units at Liddell were out as the NSW government pleaded with consumers to turn down their air-conditioning, and load-shedding was enforced at the Tomago aluminium smelter amid another heatwave.

The situation was made worse when the state’s two biggest gas generators – Tallawarra and Colongra – also tripped, leaving the state perilously close to widespread blackouts.

The NSW energy minister Don Harwin has since hailed the role of solar and other renewables in keeping the lights on in a grid which relies on coal more than any other in the world (88 per cent in 2016/17).

AEMO has made it clear in its reports that the biggest risk to energy supplies in the coming summer is the unexpected outage  of a major fossil fuel unit, particularly as things melt and break in the heat.

millmerran copy

The one good thing about the Liddell outage is that at least AEMO now knows it is not going to work. It will be more concerned about the intermittency of all the other coal units, like Millmerran above.

Wind and solar output may be variable, but they are largely predictable, and AEMO can work around it.

What it struggles with are catastrophic failures like the mini-cyclone that blew down three transmission lines or the unexpected outages of large fossil fuel units in NSW and South Australia in February and March.  

  • “The NSW energy minister Don Harwin has since hailed the role of solar and other renewables in keeping the lights on in the grid…”

    It really depends on his audience on the day, in the current issue of “The Coal Face” magazine, he praises coal fired generators and coal from the Hunter Valley for avoiding the blackouts, such as seen in SA, and keeping the lights on.

    Two-faced pollies? who’d have thunk it!

    • RobertO

      Hi Gordon, just remember that some jorno’s write their own story and it not always the way, either the story told or the story given. Editors can also change the general meaning of the story (part of my history is with Wellington Newspapers reporting to the sub editors whom were doing the daily headlines and layouts it was broad sheet in my day). Even then a proof read could also change a story by mis-correcting some of the words. The jurno wrote it in short hand, translated by typist and then sent to sub editors, then off to proof readers, then back to sub editors then to linotype’s, then cast in to lead plates and on to GROSS Headliner presses to produce the newspaper..

      • I agree that can happen, quotes invented, dates changed, words changed etc since it has happened to me on a few occasions in the local rag! They even managed to spell my surname 3 different ways in a story once, on the front page.
        However, I’m pretty sure that isn’t the case here. He spoke to satisfy the particular audience at the time.

    • Alex Hromas

      Just a typical polie he has to say something to appear relevant almost anything will do

  • Ray Miller

    AEMO should be requiring (as a condition of supplying to the NEM) the owners of all plants with single units of over 100MW (or so) for expected reliability figures based on history, maintenance schedules and independently peer reviewed.
    There seems to be little incentive (or penalty) to improve reliability and no exclusion (from trading on the NEM) for plants/units below certain proven or expected reliability figures. For unreliable plants, they should not get full price of energy delivered but only a discounted price reflective of the cost they can cause the NEM if they fail. As we have seen AEMO needs to have reserves to cover unexpected tripping of large units which adds to the ongoing costs for all.
    It would seem that the expected life of many of the old plants seems to be overly overoptimistic and overvalued.
    Renewable plants are variable but predictable within 30 minute periods as opposed to large, intermittent coal or gas plants which can trip off line without warning.

    • RobertO

      Hi Ray, What make you think that the AEMC would even allow such an idea. COALition thinks and so does the AEMC that coal is king, no if, butts or maybe’s. This is despite the fact that coal is now reaching it’s second tipping point and is now almost as expensive to feed, than it is to build new Solar or new Wind. Remember the NEG will have an inpact on solar and wind as they pay for coal’s reliability(?). I am hoping the COALition misses the election tomorrow (I can only hope)

    • MaxG

      You’re absolutely right; given the national interest in reliable power, one wonders why such unreliable plants are even considered for base load. But then, the same argument can be used to subsidise these plants even more — like gold-plating the networks.

    • rob

      meanwhile we here in S.A. keep exporting our clean GREEN energy to the 3 FILTHY brown and black coal states on the Eastern seaboard……. Me thinks S.A. should leave the NEM and all of you to suffer the blackouts because of the filth you burn and your lack of commitment to GREEN energy……..come on NSW is fueled by 89% black coal and VIC is even worse burning that brown muck!

  • Joe

    Where is Two Tonguer Turnbull an his ‘Non’ Environment Minister, Joshie, in all of this. Why aren’t they out there defending ‘Intermittent, unreliable baseload Coal’. I mean they love putting the slipper into Premier Jay at every opportunity in their cheap political games in demonising RE. But when Coal or Gas fizzzes out…not a word from The COALition.

    • rob

      IT is 11.30 NEM time and once again we in the BLACK OUT state of S.A. are once again exporting to VIC! I have a great idea for their number plate logo……
      VIC THE FILTHY BROWN COAL STATE!
      same for NSW and Qld except insert BLACK for BROWN!

      • Mike Shackleton

        Were you in a blackout yesterday?

        I would have thought exporting to Victoria would have been a good thing, it shows that South Australia has enough capacity to meet its own needs and send electricity interstate. That, after all is the point of having a “National Grid.” It wasn’t that long ago that SA was importing heavily from Victoria (before Hazelwood closed). Also, when the wind production is high, it is common that SA maxes out the connections east to Victoria. That is, in effect export income to the state of SA.

        Victoria has a dependence on Brown Coal, to be sure, but that is changing. Hazelwood closed this year. The tram network is to be offset with solar generation soon and more solar is to go in up around the Murray river. A massive offshore wind farm is proposed off the Gippsland coast. There are onshore wind farms going up in the west of the state. Rooftop solar installation is continuing apace.

        • rob

          No Mike we were not in a BLACKOUT ! That was purely a reference to two tongues and his constant pillaring of S.A. and our terrible “experiment” with RE which has consistently over the last 2 months been over 60% and 50% for the rest of the year!

        • rob

          What Murray River……..we don’t get to see it here!

          • Joe

            MR….its that squiggly black line on the map…the satellites upstairs are on alert for any water that may be detected.

  • Hettie

    Solar installers are already snowed under with orders. It will be astonishing if the air con stays on in NSW this summer, given the inexorable rise in temperatures, and in the rate at which the coal and gas plants are failing.
    If blackouts are avoided, it will be the renewables that save us. And we urgently need a public education campaign about air con management. About how to manage the house so it stays as cool as possible.
    Beats head against brick wall, sobbing softly.

    • Joe

      Young Hettie, you are up there in the North of the NSW. Yesterday here in Sydney, the citizens of Western Sydney ‘enjoyed’ a 43 degree day. No doubt the air cons were pulling hard all day and night….and this is only mid December. Luckily the sun was bright all day so all those solar homes would have taken the stresses off broken down ( again! ) Liddell to keep the air con blowing.

      • Hettie

        31C here yesterday, 32 today, 31 tomorrow. Then cooling down a bit. Yes, very glad I’m in such a mild summer area. The cold winters are mostly only really cold at night, with clear sunny days. June can be pretty grim. Cold, rainy , miserable.
        I find it difficult to imagine how people cope with the constant heat, although I have lived through some hot summers in both Sydney and Melbourne.
        Temp inside chez moi maxed out at 23. No aircon. Cool nights, thermal mass, common sense.
        Other places need sterner measures. And education about how to manage.

        • Joe

          In my lifetime I have I have seen the change in the ‘living conditions’ of South Western Sydney. As a young boy living and growing up in Campbelltown we had hot summers for sure but they were not as brutal and recurring as they are nowadays. In my youth air con was very rare in homes. The regular heatwaves just get worse as the years roll on and choosing to live in the hot house outer suburbs will need some careful thought.

          • Hettie

            Do you have other options, Joe, or do family and work tie you to your current location?

          • Joe

            Hello again Young Hettie. These days I live on Sydney’s Northern Beaches where thankfully the summertime seabreeze is a regular feature. The seabreeze can knock something like 10 degrees off the temps that the South West cops on a stinking hot day.. Out west they don’t get the summertime seabreeze. When the seabreeze blows I can open the back and front of the house and it just sails through the house…it is ‘Nature’s Air Con’ if you like. On a hot summer day when the winds are North Westerly then both Coast and West are ‘ovens’ at 40 degrees plus..the man made air con then gets flicked on. My family still live in Campbelltown and swelter through each summer. They rely on the air con to survive the scorchers which can go for a quite a few days in a row.

          • Hettie

            Ah yes. I know the Northern beaches fairly well. Lovely part of the world, but a bitch to get to. Back in the 70s when I was rep for a pharmacy company, my territory stretched from Parramatta to Palm Beach, and the boyfriend of the day had friends up and down the peninsula.
            Ah! 6.20 and a cool breeze has sprung up. I had opened up as the temp was down to about 25, but this is lovely, and a bit of rain with it.
            Keep cool.

    • Steve Woots

      also public (and building industry) education about passive solar housing, or Passivhaus, which need little or no air con in summer or heating in winter.

      • Hettie

        Yes, Steve, that’s right. Existing building standards are a joke. A very bad joke.
        But even if every new house in Australia were built to Passivhaus standards, the morons who live in them would leave the windows open in summer “for the cool breeze” on 45C days, and in winter for fresh air, despite air management systems.

  • Grpfast

    Shareholders of AGL, Energy Australia and Origin must be pleased. Top dollar return for minimum purchase price for Australian govt owned power generators and spend little or no money on maintance. Just walk away!

  • solarguy

    Oh dear, are we in the shit again………..thanks to these mindless, greedy SOB’s who didn’t see this coming………a lot will feel the pain, but not I, because I had the foresight, like others, to be self sufficient against problems like this………………oh I do like my A/C when it’s over 40c. Thank you solar and thank you batteries.

    Love ya!

    • riley222

      Had the first heatwave since installing our solar, ac ticked over all day , house comfortable, solar panels covered any cost, happy, you bet.
      Got the first quarterly post solar bill a couple of days ago, very pleasing. At this stage it looks like we’re saving $400 plus a quarter, which will see our system pay for itself within 4 years.
      Didn’t think that was too bad for a first up effort, very nice not to have leccy bill shock for once. A bit hard with the recent price rise, but I’m estimating our latest bill is about a quarter of what it would have been, and its a work in progress.

      • solarguy

        Great to hear 222, bet you have a perpetual grin. Are you exporting anything and if so what FIT are you getting?

        • riley222

          Yeah, exported 1476 kWh, FIT is 12.5c , had to call them as it didn’t make it to the bill, but I’ve been assured $184 credit is on the revised bill.
          Fully expecting the supply charge to head skyward soon, and the FIT to be reduced,that’ll be their answer to falling profits.
          Lets hope battery costs fall rapidly, but what can you do about a coming $5 a day supply charge except go off grid.
          Lets hope some lateral thinking comes in before the only people buying electricity are those that literally can’t do anything about it .

  • rob

    S.A should simply leave the NEM! The FEDS have given us more that enough reason to. Leave you to your own devices with all the FILTH you burn and the BLACKOUTS you will have this summer…….meanwhile businesses will relocate to us as you fall deeper and deeper into your self made brown and black holes!

  • Wayne

    The mini-cyclone? A mini-cyclone? How did that get by the editors.
    What SA saw was an SA wide, extreme weather event and that saw embedded tornadoes flatten some 22 transmission towers, causing power wires to fall. Why not call them what they are. Tornadoes in a severe storm.
    Hard enough to get coal obsessives to accept that coal produced power in wires, works the same as renewable energy in wires and that coal electricity fails when infrastructure goes down just as much as if renewables. ‘Mini-cyclones’ makes the article less than what it is, and that is a shame.

  • mushalik

    Thanks for that information. Generation by fuel type in February 2017 can be found in my article

    14 Feb 2017
    NSW’s privatized giveaway coal plant causes load shedding in extreme weather
    http://crudeoilpeak.info/nsws-privatized-giveaway-coal-plant-causes-load-shedding-in-extreme-weather