“This time last year we were dealing with 45 degree heat and frequent interruptions; [this year] we’ve not had an interruption since mid-December,” said Matt Howell, chief executive of Tomago Aluminium near Newcastle, which was forced to disrupt operations several times earlier in the summer when wholesale power prices spiked toward their maximum of about $15,000 a megawatt-hour.
“We’ve had 16 [interruptions] since the beginning of November but none since mid-December so that’s a really pleasant change compared to this time last year,” he said.
“Certainly our operations and maintenance people that have to keep the plant running in the heat are very, very grateful for the weather.”
But with industrial power demand still to fully ramp up after the festive break, the peak summer month of February still to come and the Liddell unit 3 set to be out of action throughout that period, the risk is far from over.
Dylan McConnell at the University of Melbourne’s Climate & Energy College noted that according to official projections, the Liddell outage seems to have increased the probability of some “load shedding” or enforced blackouts in February. He pointed to the latest weekly analysis by the Australian Energy Market Operator, released on Tuesday, which signals a higher risk of a “loss of load” in the NEM in February compared to expectations before the Liddell outage,
Mr Howell agreed it was far too early to think that the risk of further interruptions was past.
“We’re not aware of any system concerns that may lead to interruptions, which is helpful,” he said.
“[But] if we have a hot February and if Liddell is not available through February – that one unit of Liddell – then we could imagine that there could be further interruptions.
“We’re certainly taking a cautious outlook and preparing for it in case it were to occur.”
Outside NSW, all or almost all of Victoria’s 10 coal-fired power generating units are expected to be available through the March quarter only falling to eight operational in late March with simultaneous outages at Loy Yang A and Yallourn, noted power market analyst Global-ROAM in its WattClarity report.
In Queensland, 21 of the state’s 22 coal units are due to be operational until mid-February, with an outage at the Millmerran unit scheduled for later in March, it said.
In its outlook for the power system ahead of the 2020-21 summer, AEMO voiced fewer concerns about electricity supplies than a year earlier which was plagued by generator outages heading into summer heatwaves. But it still put in place contracts for more than 1900 megawatts of emergency supplies as a “precautionary measure”.