One of the nation’s largest coal-fired power stations has had six failures of one of its units in the past three weeks, placing added strain on the power grid and prompting a call for fossil fuel plants to be set the same reliability standards being considered for renewable energy suppliers.
Loy Yang A station, owned by AGL, had its latest “trips” late on Tuesday evening and then two hours later at 1.10am on Wednesday, instantly shedding 230 megawatts and 161 megawatts of output respectively.
AGL said Unit One of the Latrobe Valley plant returned to service on 22 December following “a planned major maintenance outage”, and had had difficulties since.
“Load may fluctuate due to minor maintenance issues that are addressed as part of normal plant operations,” an AGL spokesman said. “Our key focus is on ensuring that Loy Yang continues to be a safe and reliable provider of generation to the National Electricity Market.”
The Loy Yang unit was reported in October to have “blown up”, triggering the initial maintenance.
Dylan McConnell, a researcher at Melbourne University’s Climate & Energy College, said it was “reasonable” for authorities to ask the operator to explain the number of outages from the unit, given it has just returned to service.
“It is these instantaneous losses of large amounts of capacity that would be causing [the Australian Energy Market Operator] most concern about power system security as we move through summer,” Mr McConnell said.
He likened it to AGL’s more notorious Liddell power plant in the Hunter Valley that the company has vowed to close in 2022 despite pressure from the Turnbull government to extend its life a further five years.
“Liddel has been well behaved lately,” Mr McConnell said. “In recent months, Loy Yang’s reliability has been worse than Liddell’s.”
Lily D’Ambrosio, Victoria’s Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, said AGL as Loy Yang’s private operator, was “required to comply with the relevant state and federal legislation to ensure the safety and viability of the plant”.
A spokesman for AEMO said it was aware of the tripping, and had managed the power system accordingly.
“We are working closely with the owners of the generation plant to understand any potential ongoing issue,” he said.
The federal government has been pushing for a requirement of all new renewable energy plants to have a proportion of back-up supplies for when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun shining.
The repeated failures of fossil fuel plants – such as during last February’s heatwave in NSW – suggests authorities might need to consider extending the proposal to all generators, Mr McConnell said.
“Any new reliability measures or policies should be technologically agnostic,” he said. “That is, after all, a key part of the coalition’s position on their energy policy.”
Added to the concerns about Loy Yang A was a fire that broke out not far from the plant on January 6 during a heatwave, .
At least nine fire vehicles attended to ensure there was no repeat of the blaze that burned for 45 days in the Hazelwood coal mine in 2014.
AGL said its internal emergency services were able to extinguish the “smoulder” within 13 minutes of its detection that afternoon.
“Due to severe weather conditions and protocols the Country Fire Authority was called as a precaution,” the AGL spokesman said. “The smoulder was out when it arrived [and] the area was continuously monitored.”
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