No risk of outage despite ‘old fashioned’ power plant failure, says Queensland minister

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Queensland Energy Minister Mick de Brenni says there is no imminent risk of blackouts from the latest severe outage at the coal-fired Callide plant.

The four units of one of Queensland’s largest generators, the fault-prone Callide Power Station near Biloela, were all offline after a series of incidents last week.

At a press conference on Sunday, de Brenni addressed concerns about power shortages, which had been raised by the Mines and Energy Union (MEU) and others. These concerns were compounded by partial shutdowns and maintenance work on other generators in Queensland.

The minister said the transmission system operator, Powerlink, has indicated that the state has more than double the amount of electricity needed to meet current demand.

“We have a strong and resilient public system,” he said. “We are very confident in the future that we will have an adequate supply. There is no need for emergency intervention. »

The closure of Callide has revived the debate on the immediate future of coal-fired power plants.

Some, like the Institute of Public Affairs, said “probable blackouts and load shedding” had “exposed the consequences” of removing coal-fired power plants from the national energy market.

Related: Power outages feared in Queensland after coal-fired power station goes offline

The Queensland Conservation Council said coal was becoming increasingly unreliable and renewables supported the energy system when coal-fired plants went offline. The council said the latest issue at Callide was evidence of the need to shut down coal-fired power stations and accelerate the switch to renewables.

Callide has been operating at reduced capacity since an explosion and fire last year caused major damage to one of its four generators.

This generator was one of two from “Callide C” built in 2001 and is one of the youngest coal-fired generators in the country. In 2020, Callide C broke down eight times.

On Sunday, de Brenni said Callide was “old fashioned” and that “you wouldn’t build infrastructure like this in the future.”

“That’s why we are investing in new renewable, wind and solar energy,” he said. “The energy system of the future is not about old-fashioned, hard-to-maintain equipment, it’s about new technologies.”

The state government’s long-term energy plan, announced earlier this year, plans to turn coal-fired power plant sites like Callide into renewable energy hubs from around 2027. It also offered a job guarantee to workers in the energy sector affected by the transition.

Clare Silcock, energy strategist at the Queensland Conservation Council, said the energy grid’s reliance on coal-fired power would create problems if power stations were offline during peak demand periods.

“That puts us in a pretty intense position for this summer, because we haven’t got the investment in renewables and storage in place yet,” she said.

“We could have more than one summer like this where unreliable coal-fired power plants are offline. The only way out of this situation is to switch to renewable energy”.

MEU Queensland vice-chairman Mike Brunker issued a statement last week saying the outage at Callide confirmed workers’ “fears that this investment in power plant maintenance has been overlooked in the race to win the job”. ‘stopping coal power and switching to renewables’. .

“We need the Queensland Government to step in and ensure Callide is managed responsibly and that maintenance and repairs are prioritized – not just to get the power station back up and running, but to keep it running. safely in the years to come.

The only way out of this situation is to switch to renewable energy

Claire Silvercock

“The focus should be on investing in the existing fleet and exploring opportunities to improve them rather than reduce them.”

De Brenni said the government is supporting the state’s power generation workforce and is confident engineers will get Callide up and running safely “as soon as possible.”

“[They have] have done a great job of maintaining this plant and they will continue to do so,” he said. “We accept our responsibility to fully manage our energy assets.”

Callide is managed by CS Energy, owned by the Queensland Government. Its chief executive, Andrew Bills, said the “immediate goal is to work methodically and safely to get these units back into service as quickly as possible.”

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