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Queensland Coal-Fired Power Stations Vulnerable to Flood, Drought

January 13, 2011

Today, the Queensland Government has made a statement to assure the State and the markets that electricity production is not at risk due to the current extensive floods, which have persisted for several weeks already.  It is understood that stockpiles in place at main power stations are sufficient for close to a month.

These floods have both inundated mines which supply main State-owned coal-fired electricity generation assets, but also cut freight transport routes which enable coal to reach power station stockpiles.  These power stations are the mainstay of electricity production in Queensland. 

Stanwell power station, near Rockhampton, is owned by the Queensland Government and has been unable to receive new shipments from Curragh mine from QR National (rail freight) due to track inundation.  Wesfarmers has issued force majeure for Curragh.  Gladstone (1.6 GW) and Tarong (1.4 GW) are other badly affected power stations.

An update yesterday from QR National does not specify likely future availability of their closed routes.  It is understood that several inundated networks have suffered structural damage.

Reduced ability to mine and transport thermal and coking coal has adverse economic and energy security ramifications for Australia’s export markets, as Australia is the largest exporter of coking coal, and second largest exporter of thermal coal.

However, from these Government comments, it is clear that the current supply threats also have energy security implications for Australia.  Wholesale contract power prices have risen (slightly) and generators have met with Government to examine electricity supply availability.

Coal is often touted by its supporters as a dependable, base-load, high-btu power source.

However it is obvious that, irrespective of detrimental direct environmental pollution issues associated with burning coal for electricity production – including airborne particulate emissions and greenhouse gas emissions – the power source itsself is vulnerable to environmental hazards which may themselves be exacerbated by the burning of coal for power production (think: climate change driving extreme weather events).

A few years ago, drought in Queensland mean that electricity production from Queensland coal-fired electricity generators was substantially reduced due to lack of fresh coolant water availability.

Now, it is another extreme condition – too much water – which is the cause for concern.

System sustainability and resilience demands diversification of power generation sources – both to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also to improve energy security.  This must involve serious investment in alternative and renewable energy technology.

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