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Blackouts unlikely

WESTERN Power’s head office on Wellington Street, Perth, will be running on half power during the 12 days the Dampier to Bunbury Natural Gas Pipeline is expected to be operating at diminished capacity.

However, this does not mean the possibility of rolling blackouts is imminent.

Western Power spokesman Peter Winner said there was a 2 per cent chance that there would be blackouts.

“We’re just doing our bit to conserve power,” he said.

Pipeline operator Epic started work to replace the compressor engine at CS-9, the DBNGP pumping station closest to Perth, on August 3. This work will reduce the amount of gas Western Power has to fire its gas turbine power stations, which are used to provide peak electricity load.

With those stations out of action, Western Power’s generation capacity will be reduced from about 3,000 megawatts to 2,500 megawatts.

The highest  winter peak power use ever experienced on the South West Interconnected System – the main power grid around Perth – was about 2,300 megawatts.

On August 4, the first real test of the system, the peak load recorded was about 2,100 megawatts.

The real risk of blackouts will come if one of Western Power’s coal-fired power plants experiences difficulties.

Western Power also has several options at its disposal to top up the amount of power it can supply to the grid. These include buying power from independent power producers such as Alcoa, Worsley Alumina and Trans Alta, and enacting an arrangement it has with Alcoa to burn diesel in the alumina producer’s gas turbines at Kwinana.

Western Power can also reduce the amount of electricity supplied to customers who have elected to buy power on an interruptable basis.

Some customers have bought power on this basis because it is sold at a lower price. That is why Western Power has had its gas supply down the DBNGP reduced. It opted to buy the bulk of its gas on an interruptable basis.

There are also some regulatory means the WA Government can use. It can use its emergency powers to take control of the DBNGP and redirect gas to Western Power.

The Government can also, through the Electricity Act, force domestic consumers to reduce their electricity consumption.

A spokesman for Electricity Minister Eric Ripper said it was unlikely either option would be used.

Epic Energy manager WA commercial Mark Cooper told WA Business News in July that Epic would still be able to provide gas to customers that were buying it on a “firm” basis, but would be unable to provide gas to customers who bought on an interruptable basis while CS-9 was shut down for repairs.

Alinta has buys its gas on a “firm” basis, so will not be affected.

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