Yallourn outage to continue amid national energy crisis

Yallourn Power Station.

Michelle Slater

An outage at the Yallourn Power Station is expected to continue into late next week after two units went offline on Monday, amid a crisis in the national electricity market.

Yallourn operator EnergyAustralia issued a statement today saying three of the four units at were back online, with the fourth planned to return to service late next week.

The company said it was continuing to focus on all options to increase fuel and generation supply into the National Electricity Market.

The company is purchasing gas and diesel on spot markets to fire up both its Jeeralang and Newport gas plants in Victoria.

It comes after the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) suspended the National Energy Market yesterday, as the market “become impossible to continue operating” to ensure a reliable supply of energy.

AEMO chief executive officer Daniel Westerman warned New South Wales energy users faced “tight periods” this week with energy shortfalls and the possibility of imposed blackouts.

Mr Westerman blamed factors including higher generating costs, planned and unplanned generator outages, increased energy demand in winter and international issues.

“Right now we see the market is not able to deal with all the factors thrown at it. Frankly, those factors are quite extreme,” Mr Westerman said.

“We are creating a simple process where AEMO has true visibility of which generators are available and when in advance, rather than relying on last minute interventions.”

In Victoria, three units were offline this week, including two at Yallourn and a prolonged outage at Loy Yang A that is expected to last until late September.

EnergyAustralia managing director Mark Collette said he supported the AEMO suspension as the situation in recent days posed challenges to the entire energy industry.

“Right now we are exploring all options to continue to increase our fuel and generation supply into the electricity market,” Collette said.

“Our teams across Australia are working 24 hours a day to get more energy into the system.

“Three of our four units at Yallourn are now online, which is good for the system, our customers and we thank our people for their hard work.

“Yallourn’s maintenance teams are working tirelessly to bring the fourth unit back online, planned for late next week.”

Monash University energy institute director Ariel Liebman said Victoria was still producing more energy than demand, despite the Latrobe Valley coal outages.

“New South Wales is in a lot more pain than we are, there’s no reason why people in Victoria should be worried, but there are still risks,” Dr Liebman said.

“The confluence of events starting from unexpectedly long outages – both planned and unplanned – unexpectedly long extended cold periods is already quite problematic and leads to risk of sustained power uncertainties.

“I don’t think things will be this bad for a while, but we do need to build more capacity – particularly in renewables and storage with opportunities for offshore wind in Gippsland.”

Dr Liebman said the situation highlighted the need for government climate policy including a proper price on carbon or similar regulations.

He said this was particularly important in the Latrobe Valley as it was facing a transition away from coal and operators could be less likely to invest in maintaining their coal generators.

“That would have incentivised the investment in infrastructure such as storage and transmission to both underpin a faster transition to renewables and fortify the grid against external shocks,” Dr Liebman said.

“Without these incentives, it could happen again, I don’t think it will be this bad for a while, but I think this is a wake up call.”