What’s really undermining the reliability of the national grid? Victoria’s brown coal plants.

in Medium

Victoria’s brown coal power plants are a liability for the National Electricity Market, and they’re just going to get worse.

Victoria’s brown coal power plants are a liability for the National Electricity Market.

Over the 2017–18 summer, The Australia Institute Climate & Energy Program’s Gas & Coal Watch found 16 major breakdowns at Victoria’s three brown coal plants, Loy Yang A, Loy Yang B and Yallourn. Yes, 16 major breakdowns at just three coal plants, in just three months.

All these breakdowns saw hundreds of megawatts of capacity withdrawn from the grid almost instantly. This made Victoria the top state for power plant breakdowns.

“It is a credit to the workers of these plants that they keep them running as well as they do. However they are now too old, too unreliable, too polluting and too dangerous. It’s time to replace them with up-to-date technology,”

— Ben Oquist, Executive Director of The Australia Institute.

In fact, between 15th and 21st of January — at the height of Summer — there were six breakdowns, an average of one every day.

And these breakdowns cause blowouts in electricity prices. The Loy Yang B breakdown on January 18th, at the height of heatwave peak demand, caused a spike in wholesale electricity prices, rising to $13,000 MWh and cost $168 million dollars.

Even more alarming were the two fires.

The first fire was at Loy Yang A on 6th January 2018, within just 500 metres of the coal mine.

The second fire was in the actual coal pit of Yallourn on 4th February 2018 — ominously on the anniversary of the Hazelwood fires that burned for 45 days, cost $100 million dollars, and endangered the health of 14,000 Morwell residents.

But if there’s no blackout, why does it matter if power stations break down?

Brown coal power stations may be cheap for the companies to operate, but when power plants break down in the middle of summer they cause electricity prices to skyrocket, and it’s electricity users who end up paying the price.

Coal power stations perform particularly badly in the heat, and in an era of increasing heatwaves, more breakdowns are inevitable.

The Hazelwood fire showed us the devastating costs of fires in brown coal mines. The two fire incidents this year show that the risk of more fires is high and one we shouldn’t be taking.

When it comes to reliability in our national energy grid, coal power stations are part of the problem, not the solution.

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