Perth power supply under pressure due to weather, coal shutdowns and wind farm construction delays
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Expensive and rarely used "last resort" diesel generators have been fired up for the past three evenings to maintain power to the south-west of WA due to shuttered coal-fired generators and little wind or solar energy.
More than half of Synergy's coal-fired power generation capacity is unavailable due to unplanned outages.
Synergy plans to close its Collie Power station in 2027 with Muja following two years later.Credit: Peter Milne
Greg Ruthven, a director at energy consultants Rennie, said using diesel generators was a "last resort" measure as it was the most expensive power. After diesel, the only option available to the Australian Energy Market Operator to balance supply and demand is to pay industries to reduce demand at critical times.
Ruthven said the situation could improve by early next week if Synergy restarted its shuttered facilities.
"It's quite squeezed at the moment as a result of these outages and the cold snap that has pushed demand higher," Ruthven said.
The 318-megawatt Collie power station was to restart on Tuesday 13 June, but on Friday the date was pushed back to June 23, according to the operator's website. State-owned Synergy's biggest generation unit has been out of action since early April, first for planned maintenance, and then faults were identified during a recent attempt to restart it.
A Synergy spokeswoman said carrying out critical work was required for ongoing reliability, and it is fixing an electrical problem at Collie Power station.
Synergy's 197-megawatt Muja 7 unit is scheduled to return to service on Wednesday June 14, according to AEMO.
The Synergy spokeswoman said a mechanical issue is being assessed.
"Faults or mechanical issues are rare and Synergy is working to resolve these as efficiently as possible," she said.
In total more than 1000 megawatts of generation capacity was unavailable mid-Friday due to planned and forced outages in a system where peak demand is usually less than 3000 megawatts at this time of year.
Adding to the reduced supply of power are cloudy days that caused solar panels to meet only about 1 per cent of demand on Monday and Tuesday.
Since then, solar output has picked up slightly, but wind generation has crashed from 24 per cent of supply on Monday to 2 per cent on Thursday. To compensate, power generation from gas-fired turbines went from a 43 per cent market share on Monday to 57 per cent on Thursday.
Even when windy, sunny days and Synergy's shuttered generation return, Ruthven said there were concerns about the reliability of fuel supply.
"There will be some nervous times ahead," he said.
Supply of fossil fuels used on the South West Interconnected System has been unreliable recently.
Over the summer, some industries had to reduce output as unexpected problems cut gas production from three plants run by Santos and Chevron.
Ahead of the hotter months with high demand for power from air conditioners Synergy closed its Collie power station for these last three months of 2022 to build up its stocks of coal as both coal miners in Collie struggle to maintain output.
Longer term, the challenge for the grid is to add new generation capacity, especially before the retirement of Synergy's two coal-fired power stations later this year.
Ruthven said there were ample wind farms "on the drawing board" but too few being constructed, mainly because of concerns about connecting to the network.
He said the state government had now recognised this problem with its SWIS demand assessment released in May that concluded wind farms should be located across the area of the power grid to even out the effect of local wind fluctuations.
It has budgeted $126 million on initial upgrades and planning for what will be a multibillion-dollar 20-year effort.
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