Another coal unit falls over, leaving Victoria power supply at risk

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Failure of another coal power unit in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley has prompted the market operator to warn of supply shortages – and it’s not even summer yet.

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The fragility of Australia’s National Energy Market was highlighted again over the weekend, when unit one of Victoria’s Yallourn coal-fired power plant tripped on Saturday afternoon.

The unscheduled outage took nearly 400MW of generation capacity out of the mix and leaves the state a total 940MW short, with 560MW of capacity still missing from AGL Energy’s Loy Yang A plant, which tripped unexpectedly in October.

YallournNov(1) copy

The combination of the coal power outages has prompted the market operator to issue a Forecast Lack Of Reserve Level 1 (LOR1) in the state for Tuesday and Wednesday – AEMO’s first step towards warning of a potential supply shortage – with temperatures forecast to reach 32°C in the state and stay there for most of the week.

LOR1 are not considered a threat to supplies – that doesn’t happen until an LOR3 – but it is unusual for this time of year.

unit 1 at yallourn tripped yesterday. sudden loss of ~380MW — huge.#CoalBeingReliable

The events underline that the biggest risk to energy supplies this summer are not variable renewable energy generation, but the failure of country’s ageing fossil fuel generators in the mid-summer heat.

Considering we are technically still in Spring, the current situation does not bode well.

AEMO is still yet to be advised on when AGL’s Loy Yang A generator will be back in the mix.

The unit went offline unexpectedly two days before a planned 40-day unit maintenance outage, after it experienced a unit trip due to a generator fault. There are fears that the problem with the generator could run deep.

Update: The LOR1 was later cancelled by AEMO after a market response to the potential shortfall, as is usually the case. LOR2 and LOR3 events signal more urgent responses are needed.

Update 2: On Tuesday AEMO issued a next level LOR2 advice, seeking a market response and warning of possible intervention if the shortfall was not met.

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  1. trackdaze 3 years ago

    Guaranteed to fail.

  2. Ken Dyer 3 years ago

    Well what do you expect? These fossil fuel clunkers are over 40 years old. If the Liddell power staiton is going to cost $3.6 billion dollars to run over 5 years, imagine what these junk heaps are costing. It is time to bite the bullet and go all out on renewables.

  3. Joe 3 years ago

    Doesn’t get any worse than ‘intermittent brown coalers’ packing it in. Where is Two Tongues Turnbull and his hand puppet Joshie giving a public spray to unreliable baseload coal??????

    • Barri Mundee 3 years ago

      I want to see the end of coal fired stations Joe and brown coal most of all but to be fair the stations generating units often run for months at a time before faults such as boiler tube leaks necessitate a shut-down as a leak tends to worsen until the stage is reached that boiler efficiency deteriorates below acceptable levels.

      The problem with large FF generating sets is that whenever there is a unit trip for any reason the loss of power to the grid is quite large.

      As others have noted, the brown and black coal stations are nearly all relatively old and the maintenance required to keep them running tends to make them become less and less viable over time. Hazelwood and Liddell illustrate that scenario.

      • Greg Hudson 3 years ago

        IMO the failures are not really a problem. We here in Vic can simply import the excess wind power from SA (if allowed) over the SA-Vic interconnector.

    • trackdaze 3 years ago

      You cany rely on it…….to fail.

    • solarguy 3 years ago

      They will be working out how to convince the weak heads how solar and wind is to blame.

  4. Barri Mundee 3 years ago

    This has happened at Loy Yang quite a few years ago and as a result the owners decided to buy another generator as a spare. So this spare could be swapped out if the fault (eg winding shorts) is serious. Even then its not a quick job to swap it out.

    • Joe 3 years ago

      Just swap out the whole joint in favour of a solar/ wind farm with storage.

      • mick 3 years ago

        send it up to canavan

      • Martin Stawo 3 years ago

        It has been done in SA after the Northern closure in May 16. This was followed by a statewide blackout in Sep. The problem with renew sources is the (un)availability factor which for the wind farms is in reality 10%, also the cost of renew energy and its unreliability is the reason the power bill went up by 1000% in the last 10yrs. Most closed fossil plants being replaced with inefficient diesel and open cycle gas plants, emitting huge amont of CO2 and costing around $1k/MWh, this is sending jobs overseas as the economics are better .

        • Mike Shackleton 3 years ago

          Martin – wind farms are achieving around 40% capacity factor nowadays. Higher in SA. Funny you claim that wind farms are “unreliable” when the whole crux of this article is that centralised coal generation isn’t reliable and we are having units fall over in periods of moderate demand.

        • Mike Westerman 3 years ago

          Get your basic facts right b4 embarrassing yourself with posts like this.

          • Martin Stawo 3 years ago

            Can you pls elaborate which facts are you referring to?

            The wind asset i manage achieved 7.77% capacity factor ytd. Simply we had little wind ytd, maybe u can install some blowers to help us out?
            AEMO historical data shows 29% annual capacity factor for SA.
            Spot price is 187% higher than avarage of 10yrs.
            With Northern closure net capacity decreased 11%, import from Vic is 40%.
            AEMO frequently caping wind generation due to lack of spinning reserve from fossil generators.
            AEMO frequently directs fossil fuel generators to stay online due to security of supply concerns.
            FCAS pricing is through the roof due to lack of freq control.
            AER & AEMO&government have no policies to improve the situation post Sep 16.
            In the anti fossil fuel climate none of major generators spends any money on assets, facing closure in the near future, and why would you if you are making killing on the spot market. Supply – demand ratio.
            Have you been to any of the coal stations recently? Hazelwood was one of the better one due to worksafe & media scrutiny. Yallourn has been reducing maintenance spending for years due to anti fossil climate in Aus.
            You wouldnt fix an unroadwroadworthy vehicle would you? You would drive it to the end and take to the tip! Its called return on investment.

          • Barri Mundee 3 years ago

            Hazelwood closed because the plant was old and required more maintenance than the owners were willing to do.

            Cuts to maintenance are due to the short-term thinking of the owners: make as much profit as possible, run the plant into the ground and then walk away- oh and blame it on renewables!

            I live in the area, worked in the industry for 40+ years and know what went on.

          • Martin Stawo 3 years ago

            Not quite, the issue is political and related to Hazelwood’s owners global strategy, nothing to do with the maintenance of the plant. Same as selling LYB in the peak earning times.

            Well if you worked in the industry for 40+ yrs you should make it to the senior mgmt level in the valley, i dont recognise you, so you obviously didn’t, so you wouldnt have a clue what the deals were.

          • Barri Mundee 3 years ago

            Well you would not as I do not use my real name on this site.

          • Martin Stawo 3 years ago

            Ha ha makes two of us.

          • Barri Mundee 3 years ago

            Very dismissive. If the SECV had not been privatised Hazelwood would have been closed years ago as the oldest, most polluting and least reliable of the brown coal stations.

          • Martin Stawo 3 years ago

            Sure, and LYA would close in 2012 and we would have Dryfield and Tyres power stations going.
            Also potentially nuke station in Portland or French Island. Wouldn’t that be nice?

          • Alex Hromas 3 years ago

            Find me a reactor manufacturer who is not either bankrupt or on the verge there of

          • Steve 3 years ago
          • BushAxe 3 years ago

            SA wind capacity factors have decreased as more generation has come online and AEMO curtailing them for system security. Spot prices and FCAS are at the whim of the three gentailers especially when there’s limits on the Heywood interconnector. It’s the whole reason why part of the Hornsdale battery in contracted to the State government to provide FCAS.

          • Martin Stawo 3 years ago

            Supporters of Jay “dark knight” Wetherill are joining in. What is the cost per MW for the battery, about $3M/MW. It would be cheaper and more proven to install high efficiency fossil fuel generators instead. Battery is ok for storage but won’t improve generation shortages.
            Welcome to SA energy utopia.
            Now VIC is joining in lead by Dan “Joseph Goebbels” Andrews. Firstly lets suppress AEMO energy shortages reports on a basis of terrorist atack risk!

          • Alex Hromas 3 years ago

            You forget that we need to get out of fossil fuels to avoid dangerous climate change. The latest Finkell report indicates that even with very high penetration rates of RE we will need very little storage. Please stop sounding like a Lib party web site after all their NBN has been such a roaring success. Typical of what happens when technically illiterate lawyers get into the frame

          • Alex Hromas 3 years ago

            What wind asset is that at 7.77% CF a turbine in your back yard. The rest of your article is all twisted logic

        • Barri Mundee 3 years ago

          Now you are making ridiculous. Wind has far higher availability factors (over 40% in some wind farms).

          Most of power price rises in Australia have more to do with network “gold plating” than renewables.

          • Joe 3 years ago

            Didn’t Rod Sims recently bring out a report / results of an investigation into the reasons for power price rises. And didn’t he find that RE was at the end of the queue, being the least responsible reason for the power price rises.

          • Martin Stawo 3 years ago

            True, the increased renew penetration is a result of high forward price caused by tight supply and removal of cheap power sources.
            You know if ford holden and kia get together n charges $100k for a car, then buying $100k bmw is an atractive option.

          • Alex Hromas 3 years ago

            Please refer to my earlier comment you assumptions are way off track

          • Martin Stawo 3 years ago

            Historical data is published at aemo site:
            2017 report gives number of 29% capacity factor for wind assets in SA. Don’t need to make shoot up, just google.

          • Steve 3 years ago

            29% is 2.9 times the 10% you seem to have made up for wind. In addition, new wind generators are generally better at running longer (capapctiy is improving).

            Should we test the 1000%. SA grid prices are an (exhorbitant 45c kwH) and 86c grid per day accroding to a quick look at energy watch. Was it 4.5 c kW/h in late 2007?

        • Alex Hromas 3 years ago

          The SA northern stations closed because SA ran out of brown coal at Leigh Creek. Their age meant that conversion to gas was uneconomic. The big price rise in SA was due to its dependence of gas a primary energy source especially when it is burnt in the Torrens Island power stations which are based on coal firing with gas being used in lieu.
          Wind energy helps in keeping the price down.
          By the way Torrens Island A & B stations have efficiencies of 25%. The combined cycle plant at Pellican Point is about 54% and large gas fired diesel engines are about 42%. The open cycle gas turbine plant would have an efficiency of about 20% but was intended to black start Torrens Island A or B. It was used only as a peaking station in other situations. The long black out was mainly due to the fact that the OCGT plant failed to start.

        • Greg Hudson 3 years ago

          Troll feeder. Everyone on this site knows the blackout was caused by a tornado.

    • David leitch 3 years ago

      Very helpful info Barri. Thanks for posting. Do you know how long the swap would take?

      • Barri Mundee 3 years ago

        I was in IT rather than engineering with LYA but I recall it was a few weeks but that may not be accurate.

      • Martin Stawo 3 years ago

        This will take min 3-4 weeks plus commission and time consuming AEMO approval.

    • Alex Hromas 3 years ago

      Swapping over an alternator is relatively straight forward as the stations have the heavy lifting gear. Alignment, balancing and commissioning take time say 6 weeks to several months depending on site factors. Vales point in NSW had end winding problems about 15 years ago that were sorted out quite fast on the original alternator. One problem is that ” efficiency ” drives have stripped these generators of expertise and hence the ham-fisted approach of buy another alternator. The real problem is boiler failure you have to wait a few weeks before you can even get into the beast

      • Barri Mundee 3 years ago

        Thanks Alex for more detail on generator swap out.

        But I don’t believe its a few weeks before the boiler cools down enough enough to allow crews to enter the boiler. As I recall its a matter of days.

        • Alex Hromas 3 years ago

          I don’t have experience with large boilers but even small ones take a few days with current OH&S. The size of modern power station boilers means that you have to scaffold up inside before you attempt any inspection or repair

          • Barri Mundee 3 years ago

            The LV brown coal-fired boilers are huge (comparable to multi-storey buildings) to supply enough superheated steam to run the 540MW turbo-gen sets at LYA.

            They used to scaffold up but and this was very time-consuming so over the last 15+ years some clever, laterak-thinking people have devised a “dance floor”, a pre-built contraption that can be raised and lowered with relative ease inside the boiler and has very much cut the time taken to inspect, remove boiler fouling, identify leaking steam pipes lining the boiler, weld in new sections and use hi-tech to check the welds.

            However the maintenance that is needed to keep the system running, from the mining of that plentiful but poor quality, dirty brown coal to getting it into the power station and then dealing with the innumerable faults that crop up all the time plus wear and tear that is inevitable in the operation of such a huge, centralised plant is staggering and costly.

            But these plants are dinosaurs and the cost of running them rises as the plant ages. T

            The ever-decreasing cost in renewables will render them increasingly redundant as the years go by. I don’t; think many of the local understand that and still hope for someone to come along and build a “modern” brown coal station.

            To me the real issue is how a “just transition” to a different LV economy can be “engineered”.

          • Alex Hromas 3 years ago

            Barri, thanks for the information its a long time since I had much to do with large centralized power stations scaffolding was the go then. The transition is already under way despite the best intentions of the Lib/Nat government. This is one area where we can leave the market to sort things out. Storage will be developed on an as needs basis and if you look at the latest Finkel report it will not be a big deal. Once we can get rid of the uncertainty and get some concentrated solar with storage into the system. One worry on the horizon is Snowy 2. Turnbull’s expensive thought bubble it is probably un-necessary, in the wrong place, too expensive and will be built too late

          • Steve 3 years ago

            Personally I am a bit of a fan of Snowy 2. As the bank robber says, you build where the water is and Snowy 2 is placed nicely to support NSW and Vic. Hydro (pumped hydro) like Kidston and Snowy are potentially REALLY long lived assetsand are terrific for that daily / two day energy demand cycle.

            I was on the Vermont / Canadian border about 15 years ago, and stumbled on a hydro generator operating. Dated from the late 1800’s I understand.

          • Alex Hromas 3 years ago

            Steve, I have no problem with hydro power pumped, intermittent or run of river. As an electrical engineer i have been associated with several plants overseas one in Italy was built at about the same time as your one on its 3 set of turbines and alternators and still going well. My argument with Snow 2 is that its a politicians thought bubble. Snowy Hydro are happy to build and run it but is it the best option. The Snowy system already has a huge capacity to meet short and medium term power requirements of the east coast grid. Most of its power stations are run for short periods only as we do not have enough water to run them as run of river. The pumped storage is small only 70MW, Eucumbeen to Whites River. This is the only plank in the Lib/Nat government’s renewables option and will be a long way from large solar power stations my other comments are valid. I still have to be convinced that this is an efficient investment. The Lib/Nats have run the Abbot argument when the wind don’t blow and the sun don’t shine as a scare campaign. Recent report on energy storage by Finkell indicates that even with very high renewable penetration we will not need much and now-days it can be in batteries close to load centers or old mine pits close to generators. Pollies thought bubbles are not good energy policy

          • Greg Hudson 3 years ago

            I thought Tumut B was also a pumping station. Maybe I’m misinformed?

          • Alex Hromas 3 years ago

            You are right Tumut 3 is a pumping station used for pumped storage

          • Mike Westerman 3 years ago

            Half right – 3 of 6 machines have underslung pumps

        • Martin Stawo 3 years ago

          You push the sprays in and use id&fd fans to cool it down.
          You can access boiles 12hrs after desync.

    • Martin Stawo 3 years ago

      This wasnt an engineering decision. It was forced by the insurers.
      In reality it is easier to fix insitu, unless serious core damage.

      • Barri Mundee 3 years ago

        Thanks for clearing that up.

      • Alex Hromas 3 years ago

        Relay protection on alternators with capacities as low as 2 MW includes features to protect against core damage and these have been very effective. Most of the problems occur in the end winding structure here the coils turn through 180deg and re-enter the stator core. They are subject to high magnetic forces and the picture is complicated by the cooling plumbing as these alternators use stator water cooling

        • Martin Stawo 3 years ago

          Yea, sure yet it still happens, overexcitation is a totally different mechanism to end winding deterioration.
          Most recent issues are related to human error ie forgot to reinstate excitation vt fuses after the outage. Unfortunately in VIC newest power station is almost 30yrs old. As there is no climate to invest in new technologies, and we are going backward with the power supply reliability.
          BTW, Not sure what your point is and how this relates to the article?

          • Alex Hromas 3 years ago

            Earlier comments mentioned that most alternator repairs can be done in situ if there is no stator core damage. I merely pointed out that this is unlikely with current protection systems

  5. phred01 3 years ago

    Plan is to run the plant until it falls over…….bonus price hike

  6. George Darroch 3 years ago

    The good news is that Victoria should have about 200MW more domestic and small commercial solar to fill some of the gap this summer. It’s distributed so cannot fail all at once.

    • Martin Stawo 3 years ago

      This will help a lot on a hot summer ebening when the sun is down and aircons are going on a double👍

      • nakedChimp 3 years ago

        Smart people will use it WHILE the sun is up to cool the hut down and have some thermal buffer for the evening to heat up again.
        Having properly insulated houses (walls, windows, ceilings) naturally helps with that.
        It’s not rocket science.

        • Martin Stawo 3 years ago

          Not many of them around. As the demand in SA hit 2300MW yesterday evening, and this is spring time.
          We are not in Zimbabwe, this is Australia, we should do better, especially at that price level! I want do enjoy my aircon wherever i want.

      • Greg Hudson 3 years ago

        Troll comment

  7. Hettie 3 years ago

    Oh dear. How dreadful. Yippee!
    Of course, only coal is reliable.

    • Joe 3 years ago

      Its Coal, Its …Brown Coal, Its even better… Baseload Brown Coal…Its just Beautiful that a Baseload Brown Coaler has fallen over. Bring on the 100% RE and bring it…Now.

  8. George Darroch 3 years ago

    We’re at risk of a brown out brownout.

  9. Robert Westinghouse 3 years ago

    Snowy 2 will save us all…in 2030-something….what a joke. I wrote to all the state ministers saying “the feds are doing nothing so you have to step up”… NSW guy Harwin said it was a “federal matter needing federal action”. So we wait for another political event before they act….I am mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. I have ordered more batteries and when I save up more PV….

    • Joe 3 years ago

      Robert, go well with your expansion.

      • Robert Westinghouse 3 years ago

        Thank you….But we ALL need to make a better world. The government only makes it worse.!!!

    • neroden 3 years ago

      Good work. Get off the grid, tell the government to **** off.

  10. Robert Comerford 3 years ago

    And why would I not think that any headline from this failure in the Murdoch Press, Channel 9 etc would not be ” Renewables cause failure of supply in Victoria”

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