THE Gallop Government’s decision to opt for the gas-fired option to supply Western Power with 320 megawatts under the utility’s power procurement program does not spell the death knell for coal.Currently coal is responsible for generating 70 per cent of Western Power’s electricity output, with the remaining 30 per cent generated by gas-fired units.And even after Wambo Power Venture’s Kwinana-based gas unit comes on stream in 2008 the ratios will be 62 per cent coal to 38 per cent gas, a slippage of eight points by coal, which cannot be seen as disastrous. Coal is Western Power’s base-load fuel, whereas gas has to date only been resorted to in times of peak demand, that is, for evening and high summer time demand. Base-load stations run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year while gas-fired units, because they can be quickly turned off and on, meet peak demand periods. Interestingly, Western Power’s generation fuel mix rose in favour of coal usage, from 67 per cent in 1998-99 to 75 per cent in the year 2002-03. According to Wambo’s managing director, Trevor St Baker, Western Australia’s gas industry directly employs about 2,500 people whereas coal is responsible for just 640 direct jobs.
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