Emergency powers not an option

THE Western Australian Government was unable to use emergency powers that allow it to order Dampier to Bunbury Natural Gas Pipeline owner Epic Energy to divert gas from other customers to Western Power.

Under legislation created when the DBNGP was sold to Epic, the Government can use these powers in a gas supply emergency.

However, there is conjecture over whether the restrictions on gas supply to Western Power can be classed as a ‘gas supply emergency’.

Epic told Western Power on February 17 it would restrict the amount of gas supplied to the utility to the figure Western Power had contracted to buy on a non-interruptable basis.

Western Power had been drawing down amounts of gas well above its firmly contracted amount – understood to be about 20 terajoules – and this was starting to threaten the integrity of the pipeline.

This fuel shortage left Western Power with a generation shortfall of 400 megawatts.

A spokesman for Energy Minister Eric Ripper said the Government was presented with news of the problem, and Western Power’s answer to it, at 5pm on February 17.

He said by that stage there was very little the Government could do.

Mr Ripper’s spokesman said the Government did not consider the gas shortage that forced the power restrictions on February 18 to be “a gas emergency”.

Former Office of Energy official turned Hawker Britton consultant Richard Harris said that, under the emergency powers, the Coordinator of Energy could direct Epic to supply gas to those that needed it.

“But I’m just not sure that the Government could have done that,” he said.

“Epic could have turned around and said there was not a gas emergency.”

An Epic spokesman said the question of whether its restrictions on Western Power could be classed as a gas emergency would have to be answered by the Government.

“From our perspective we were supplying all of the gas as per our firm contracts,” he said.

There is also doubt over whether diverting the gas to Western Power would have left the State any better off.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry director industry policy Bill Sashegyi said the option of stripping gas from the other two major DBNGP customers, Alcoa and Alinta, would probably have caused as much economic damage as the power restrictions imposed due to a lack of gas.

“If, for example, you take Alinta’s gas, how are people going to cook or have showers if they have gas hot water systems?”



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