Age of Queensland coal “reliability” is over

First estimated to return within two weeks, it took two months for C3 to return to use after its neighbouring turbine exploded leaving nearly 500,000 people from the NSW border to north of Cairns without electricity. The delayed return of coal power unit C3 is yet another complication in what has been one of the most chaotic and dangerous periods in Queensland’s coal power history.

Queensland Conservation Council director, Dave Copeman, says that the explosion, tripping of other plants in the network and unplanned outages during the short period have demonstrated to the public that coal is an ageing and outdated technology. 

“The age of Queensland coal being thought of as “reliable” is over. The likelihood of these kinds of events happening again will only increase, and if we do not bolster our energy system with renewable energy and storage, which is reliable, then Queenslanders will bear the brunt of future outages,” Mr Copeman said.

As well as Callide C4 exploding, taking out all four units at Callide Power Station, Kogan Creek and a unit at Gladstone Power Station were also offline in unplanned outages on 25 May. Together, these units represent nearly 30% of Queensland’s coal fired power stations. 

“A system where 30% of generators can simultaneously fail is not reliable or future proof. Spending $200 million to rebuild something that is not only a danger to workers, but a danger to our climate, is throwing good money after bad and would be better spent investing in the jobs and reliable energy infrastructure of batteries and renewable power”, Mr Copeman said. 

Kogan Creek was confirmed to be suffering a tube leak on 25 May in the Australian Energy Regulators (AER) recent report on high prices after the Callide explosion[1]. On 25 May this reduced Kogan Creek’s availability by more than 500 MW, around 75% of its nameplate capacity. To fix it, Kogan Creek had to come completely offline from 31 May to 16 June. Kogan Creek is the newest power station in the National Energy Market (NEM) but was the least reliable from 2017 - 2019[2].

A Gladstone Unit had been offline from 7 May after failing to return from planned maintenance. The Australian Conservation Foundation noted that visible air pollution from Gladstone Power Station has recently spiked. The Gladstone power station operators, NRG, blamed this on briefly delaying maintenance due to higher energy prices and demand. The failure of a unit to return after maintenance combined with visible pollution caused by “briefly” delaying maintenance calls into question the longevity of Queensland’s oldest coal fired power station. 

“Queensland coal fired power stations are already unprofitable. The Queensland Government itself admits there will be no dividends from its coal fired generation after 2021-22. The Queensland Government owes its workers and consumers a secure, reliable system and clear plan about how to get there,” Mr Copeman said.