The chairman of EnergyAustralia, which own Victoria’s Yallourn coal-fired power station, has warned that the threat of a flood that could disrupt almost a quarter of the state’s power for months shows the National Electricity Market could fail if the transition to renewables were rushed. The Victorian government has declared an “energy emergency” to allow EnergyAustralia to quickly divert the flooded Morwell River away from the Yallourn coal mine and power station.
This would allow it to repair a protective wall that is at risk of collapsing “at any moment”, with the potential to disrupt power supply for months. Play Video Many of the thousands still without power in Victoria’s outer-east could be facing a three week wait for electricity to be restored as the government offers financial aid. The emergency follows severe storms that swept through the state last week; more than 7000 homes are still without power a week after they were hit, and flooding in the Latrobe Valley is affecting Yallourn.
Victoria’s acting Premier James Merlino said he asked acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack on Thursday morning to send Australian Defence Force personnel to help clean up, following the wild weather that left behind “tree debris that could fill the MCG”. EnergyAustralia said it would submit a proposal to the Victorian government on Friday that would outline the options to mitigate the situation. Temporary measures to seal cracks in the river diversion wall are under way, with geotechnical experts on site and a high-tech ground radar installed to identify any ground movement at the mine.
Advertisement EnergyAustralia chairman Graham Bradley said the weather event, coming just three weeks after the explosion and fire at the Callide generator in Queensland, demonstrated the vulnerabilities in the national energy supply. “The events at Yallourn and Callide serve to illustrate the vulnerability of the NEM to one-off events that will inevitably happen,” Mr Bradley told The Australian Financial Review. “As the number of baseload power stations are reduced, in some cases earlier than expected, it underlines the importance of state and federal government policies to ensure the reliability of the network and properly plan and co-ordinate a transition to renewables.”
An emergency has been declared for the Yallourn coal mine and power station as flood waters threaten to the facility that supplies almost a quarter of Victoria’s electricity. Jason South Mr Merlino said the state government had made an initial request for ADF support on logisitics and planning but a further request would be made. “The initial [ADF] request is for logistical and planning support but there will be further requests of the ADF for support on the ground,” Mr Merlino said. The state opposition said the government had been too slow in the request, and federal Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud said the request was for just five people as of Thursday morning.
“We got a request last night for five ADF planners who will go into the Dandenongs, Traralgon and the state planning centre,” Mr Littleproud said. “They will help in the planning, and we have made numerous attempts to encourage the Victorian government to take up the offer of ADF support. We stand ready and poised to get out there and get moving.” Flooding in the Yallourn area has reduced electricity output. RELATED Flooding hits Yallourn coal power as Callide unit returns EnergyAustralia revealed on Wednesday night that high water levels resulting from last week’s extreme weather had left visible cracks in the Morwell River diversion wall.
Yallourn’s generation capacity is up to 1480MW and it supplies about 20 per cent of Victoria’s electricity demand, or 8 per cent of the National Electricity Market. Production has stopped in much of the mine, and production at the neighbouring power plant is being kept at a minimum to conserve coal. Mr Merlino, who lives in the Dandenong Ranges, one of the regions worst hit by the state’s wild winds last week, held a press briefing in the region where he described the damage as “unprecedented”. He announced a new hardship payment of up to $1680 a week for those who had been affected, and said declaring an energy emergency would help cut red tape so that urgent work could be undertaken in Yallourn to avoid a larger power crisis for the state.
“There have been significant cracks identified in the mine as a result of the flooding, there is a risk to the mine being flooded and the impact of that would be significant,” he said. “We need to take swift action and the best way to take swift action is declaring this energy emergency. This means that remediation works in terms of dealing with the risks of flooding can happen as soon as possible,” he said. Flood threat remains Victorian Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio warned that while the state’s electricity supply was secure, Yallourn power station could be flooded at any moment, potentially taking Yallourn offline for months.
“The water, the floods from the river, could actually breach at any moment with very little notice,” she said. “We’ve been working very closely with EnergyAustralia to understand the extent of the risk here. I want to assure every Victorian the advice that we have from the Australian Energy Market Operator is that there is more than sufficient supply of power to meet our needs.” She said there had been “a significant rise” in water levels in the Morwell River. “That has presented itself into additional pressure on the walls of the mine, which, if they are breached, will mean that not just the mine but the power station would be … significantly curtailed, if not totally unavailable for months to come,” she said.
“We’ve been advised that urgent repairs need to be made to the mine, but for that to occur the water that is surrounding the mine and the additional pressure on the mine walls need to be relieved, and relieved urgently”. Environment Victoria warned the situation resembled 2012, when heavy rain caused the diversion wall to collapse and the mine was flooded with 60 billion litres of water. It took nearly two years to repair the wall, at a cost of $150 million. EnergyAustralia energy executive Liz Westcott described the situation as “dynamic”.
“Yallourn’s generation output is being maintained at an appropriate level to help conserve coal while also ensuring that demand for energy continues to be met,” Ms Westcott said on Wednesday afternoon. EnergyAustralia would submit a proposal to the state government on Friday detailing the options to mitigate the crisis, she added in an update on Thursday. “The weather has been kind to us in the past two days and this has meant that the water in the river diversion has subsided, allowing us to understand better the impact,” she said.
“Movement in the ground around the river diversion has stabilised but there is cracking, and we still need to work on actions to stop the water flow around the areas of concern.” Power distributor AusNet Services said as a result of last week’s wind and storm damage, about 3000 customers in Melbourne’s Dandenong Ranges would be without power for another three weeks. Emergency services have urged residents who live and work near Traralgon Creek in Gippsland, in Victoria’s east, to leave and travel to a safe location.
RELATED Man dies in floodwaters after wild storms lash Victoria “Customers in the worst affected areas of The Dandenongs should prepare to be without power for the next three weeks,” AusNet tweeted. “The initial estimates provided to customers were wrong. We are deeply sorry. We now understand the extent of the damage and scale of the recovery and repair ahead,” it said, giving a repair date of July 10 for some regions. In Queensland, the first unit of the fire-damaged Callide power station came back online on Wednesday afternoon and will be ramped up to full production within 48 hours.
“After a tremendous effort involving more than 300 employees and contractors, at 4.30pm, unit B1 was turned back on and is now flowing reliable and firmed energy into the grid,” Queensland Energy Minister Mick de Brenni said late on Wednesday. He said the units at the site will be progressively returned to service in a safe way without rushing. The Callide C4 unit that suffered the explosion is anticipated to require up to 12 months for repair.
The outage has helped trigger sharp swings in wholesale prices, typically during the evening peak demand period. Patrick Durkin is Melbourne bureau chief and BOSS deputy editor. He writes on news, business and leadership. Connect with Patrick on Twitter. Email Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org Angela Macdonald-Smith writes on the resources industry with a focus on energy, including gas, oil, electricity and renewables. Connect with Angela on Twitter. Email Angela at email@example.com