August 30, 2018
by Anne Miller
The confusion in Canberra has created confusion in the power industry, and this frustration was apparent on Thursday morning at Stanwell’s regular community update held at Tarong Power Station.
“If somebody here knows what the energy future looks like, please come and talk with me afterwards because I have absolutely no idea,” Stanwell Corporation CEO Richard Van Breda told the audience, only half-jokingly.
“After the events of last week … we thought we had a reasonable energy and climate policy which then resulted in the downfall of another Prime Minister. It just makes life very interesting for us.”
Mr Van Breda said energy prices had been having a huge impact on households and business across Australia.
He said power bills had gone up by at least 50 per cent since 2008, and at least doubled since 2001.
There was a whole range of reasons but “policy uncertainty” wasn’t helping the situation.
“When we’ve had three or four Prime Ministers kicked out of office off the back of climate and energy policy, it really doesn’t help us as an industry,” Mr Van Breda said.
“What we need is certainty of policy and we need bipartisanship so that we can make decisions around investments.”
It was really hard to make investment decisions – 40 to 50-year investment decisions – when the policy settings kept changing.
Mr Van Breda said Stanwell had to play a part in the transition to a new, lower-carbon future.
“We know that when we turn this plant on, the electricity is going to be there, the generation is going to be there. It’s a little bit harder with wind and solar,” he said.
“It really is important that we keep our plant operating efficiently as it’s going to have to support renewable energy in the future.”
Over the next five years Stanwell will be investing more than $500 million in Meandu Mine and Tarong Power Station.
“That’s about keeping the lights on and making sure that energy is affordable for the people of Queensland and Australia,” Mr Van Breda said.
But that with kind of investment, it was absolutely essential that Stanwell be at Tarong for the long term.
“We want to be here for the long term. It’s absolutely essential that we are. We play a huge part in this community. We love this community, it’s part of us,” he said.
“It absolutely essential that we’re here for the next 15-20 years, as long as we possibly can.”
He emphasised that Stanwell’s power generating equipment was the most reliable in the national electricity market.
“Over summer, we had a plant availability of 97 per cent. The rest of the national electricity market sat at 84 per cent,” he said.
“But we’re not gold-plating. We’re making sure we’re investing in the right things, and we’re spending our money appropriately.
“That really is important because it is easy to over-spend and over-capitalise.
“That’s not what this business is about and it’s really important that we not only keep electricity affordable but also secure and reliable.”
Stanwell’s plant had also operated harder over the past 12 months than it has for a decade.
“The last time we saw generation at these levels was in 2008,” Mr Van Breda said.
“Our coal-fired plant contributed roughly 85 per cent of Queensland’s electricity needs which is exceptional.”
He said Stanwell’s plant was low-cost, so the harder it ran hopefully it could put downward pressure on electricity prices.
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Other highlights from the Stanwell update:
- Stanwell has just enjoyed its safest year on record, with a 25 per cent reduction in injuries across all the corporation’s sites. There were 88 injuries in total, but a lot of these were first aid reports for relatively minor injuries.
- Tarong Power Station is working on “flexibility” as part of the industry’s transition to renewable energy, including testing the plant at low loads and improving the ability to “ramp up” and “ramp down” generation as needed.
- Dropping levels at Tarong’s primary water source are a concern and are being monitored daily. Boondooma Dam levels on Thursday were at 34.5 per cent. Tarong is currently taking water from Wivenhoe Dam to supplement the Boondooma supply and is also drawing water from Meandu Dam. The Wivenhoe pipeline was reinstated in September 2017, however Wivenhoe water is up to three times as expensive as the Boondooma supply. Water is the second-highest cost in running Tarong Power Station.
- Summer readiness maintenance program: Unit 4 will return to service on September 5; Unit 3 will be shut down from September 25 to the end of November.
- More than 6.4m tonnes of coal were delivered from Meandu mine to the Tarong power stations in the past financial year.
- Drone technology has been introduced at the mine to monitor blasting.
- Expressions of interest for a future operator of the Meandu mine close this week. A more formal tender will be released at the end of the year. The current contract with Downer finishes in June 2020. An announcement about the successful operator is expected to be made in early 2020.
[UPDATED with correction]