Queensland’s newest and most ‘modern’ coal-fired generators have ranked amongst some of Australia’s least reliable, in a new assessment that raises yet more questions around the judgement of the Morrison government, which is pushing for a new coal plant in Queensland’s north.
The Australia Institute says in a new report that there were 93 unplanned outages across Queensland gas and coal generators across 2018 and 2019, which accounted for more than 40 per cent of all unplanned outages across the entire National Electricity Market.
The report, the latest in a series of assessments that track outages at Australia’s thermal generators, found that Queensland’s worst performer in terms of reliability was the modern ‘high efficiency, low emission’ (HELE) plant at Kogan Creek, with 13 unplanned outages over the period at its single generating unit, which is the largest unit in the country.
The ageing Gladstone and Stanwell power stations recorded higher overall outages during the two year period; the Gladstone power station recorded 19 unplanned outages across its six generator units, and Stanwell recorded 18 outages across its four generator units.
In response to the report, Stanwell said that not all of the reported outages represented ‘breakdowns’ of its power station, saying that in some instances, outages related to the commissioning and testing of new control systems at the Stanwell power station.
“In reality, a number of the “breakdowns” attributed to Stanwell were controlled test activities for the commissioning of a new control system at Stanwell Power Station. When the new control system was installed, a series of planned, controlled tests were undertaken resulting in the stopping of the generator to confirm the system would operate safely and reliably,” Stanwell said in a statement.
“Stanwell puts considerable planning and effort into the reliability of its plant, and our people are proud of the results we achieve.”
Three additional ‘supercritical’ black coal generators that were all built within the last 20 years – the 850MW Millmeran power station which was completed in 2002, the 810MW Callide power station built in 2001 and the 443MW Tarong North power station, which was commissioned in 2003 – rounded out the top ten in terms of Queensland’s least reliable thermal generators, recording 17 outages between them.
The report found that while Queensland is host to around one-third of the National Electricity Market’s fossil-fuelled generation capacity, it suffered 41 per cent of all outages.
“It comes as no surprise that Queensland’s newest coal power stations are also its more unreliable, the Australia Institute’s climate and energy program director Richie Merzian said.
“These new so-called ‘high-efficiency, low-emissions’ coal power stations in Queensland are all hype and spin. Our research shows that in reality, they ought to be dubbed ‘high emissions, low reliability’ stations for their high pollution levels and high breakdown numbers.”
Outages at coal-fired power stations can cause large amounts of generation capacity to suddenly stop supplying the market. The Australia Institute’s analysis of the Kogan Creek power station found that outages could cause more than 750MW of capacity to suddenly drop out of the market, sometimes during critical summer periods.
“As the largest single generator in the NEM, and with its record of losing its full capacity instantaneously, Kogan Creek Power Station also poses a particular threat to grid frequency,” the report says.
“When sudden decreases in supply push grid frequency out of its safe range there are a number of risks, including damage to equipment on both the power generation and demand sides.”
The Australia Institute said that in light of the reliability figures for Queensland’s coal-fired generators that the Morrison government was funding a push to build a new coal-fired power station in North Queensland. The government has argued that a new plant is necessary to improve the reliability of supply, and has committed up to $4 million of taxpayer funds to pay for a feasibility study into a new plant.
“It is concerning to see federal funding used to investigate adding another one of these unreliable coal power stations at Collinsville, which will do little to reassure Queenslanders that they won’t experience more power station breakdowns,” Merzian added.
“Most coal power stations are big and when they break down in extreme heat with high electricity demand, it creates serious threats of blackouts.”
“If Governments want to bring more energy certainty to the Sunshine state, one of the safest bets is on the sunshine and investing in solar power and battery storage to help meet these peak demands.”
The Australia Institute Report found that Victoria’s coal fleet was also disproportionately unreliable, with the state suffering 35 per cent of all unplanned outages in the National Electricity Market while being home to just 20 per cent of the fossil fuel generation capacity.
Victoria’s ageing fleet of brown coal power stations continues to rank as Australia’s least reliable power stations, with the EnergyAustralia’s 1,480MW Yallourn power station reporting 37 outages over the last two years. This was followed by AGL Energy’s Loy Yang A power station, which suffered an additional 30 outages.
Loy Yang A’s unit 2 generator suffered a prolonged outage that saw it out of action for most of 2019, due to issues with its stator and rotor components, that are responsible for producing electricity within the plant. The unit was brought back online after a seven-month outage, but not before costing AGL Energy an estimated $100 million in lost revenues and repair costs.
The Liddell power station, scheduled to close within the next few years, ranked as New South Wales’ least reliable thermal generator, with 16 unplanned outages over the last two years, followed by the Eraring power station, scheduled to close by 2032, which suffered a further 11 outages.