Australia’s biggest coal generator and biggest emitter AGL says two units at its Bayswater coal generator in the NSW Hunter Valley are out of action, but the problem-plagued unit at Loy Yang A in Victoria should be back by summer after a long outage.
The news about the two Bayswater units was revealed by AGL in an investor presentation to analysts on Wednesday, although sharp-eyed observers of the National Electricity Market would have also noted their absence.
On Wednesday only one unit from Bayswater was operating, with AGL saying that the unexpected outages at two of the units would lead to a fast-tracking of scheduled maintenance.
Bayswater is one of three coal facilities owned by AGL, with its sister plant Liddell – with which it shares infrastructure, due to close in 2023.
The Loy Yang A brown coal generator in the Latrobe Valley has an official operating life until the late 2040s, but it has been running into a series of problems and one of its units has been out for several months, although AGL said the repairs were on schedule and it should be back in operations on December 16.
That will be a relief for the Australian Energy Market Operator, which is concerned about the fate of that unit and one of the two units at the Mortlake gas generator, which is also suffering a long term outage.
To complicate matters, AEMO has also had to wind back the output at four of the state’s five large scale solar farms due to “system strength” issues in the west of the state, although it hopes that these can be rectified by adjustments to the inverter settings.
AEMO will later next month also advise on its call for emergency reserves under its RERT mechanism, including demand response initiatives, which it sees as crucial to navigate any extreme heatwaves that could in turn result in further outages of its fossil fuel fleet.
In 2018, there were more than 135 major breakdowns from coal and gas plants, according to The Australia Institute, and on a capacity basis, the brown coal generators in Victoria were the worst performing.
AGL also revealed the soaring running costs of the Liddell and Bayswater coal generators, partly due to increased maintenance and also higher coal costs as legacy and subsidised coal supplies run out.
AGL has estimated the long term cost of extending the life of Liddell would be more than $100/MWh, far more expensive than renewables and storage. Also on Wednesday AGL announced plans to contract four new large scale batteries in NSW, for total capacity of 200MW/400MWh.