State has power to grab gas


THE Western Australian Government could consider taking control of the Dampier to Bunbury Natural Gas Pipeline and allocating extra gas to Western Power if the State’s electricity network comes under threat.

With concerns about the threat to power supplies in Perth next month because of planned maintenance on the pipeline, Office of Energy director Richard Harris said the Government had the emergency powers to step in if something went wrong.

“The coordinator of energy can step in and run the pipeline and direct where the gas should go,” he said.

“That’s only under emergency conditions.”

However, Mr Harris said the legislation allowing the Government to take control of the pipeline did not define what constituted an emergency.

Energy Minister Eric Ripper said the Government did not consider that its emergency powers would be needed.

However, he said the Government would “continue to monitor the situation”.

Mr Ripper said Western Power had contractual arrangements with some customers that would allow it to shift power away from them if needed.

Gas transmission through the pipeline will be restricted for about 12 days when compressor station CS9 – the station closest to Perth – is taken off line on August 3 so its engine can be replaced.

As a result of the reduced gas transmission Western Power will be forced to rely on its coal generating assets, run some of its gas-fuelled generators on other fuels and buy power from independent power producers.

It may also have to ask Alcoa to burn diesel in its Kwinana power station, allowing Western Power to use its gas.

Western Power has already asked Alcoa to do this twice in the past month – first on June 3 when Epic was forced to do some maintenance on CS9 and again on June 28 and 29 when a different compressor station suffered difficulties.

Epic Energy manager WA commercial Mark Cooper said he thought it highly unlikely that the Government would enact its emergency powers.

“We see no basis for the Government to enact its emergency powers as all contracts, including the Western Power contract, are being honoured,” he said.

Epic supplies gas on two types of contracts – firm and interruptible.

Mr Cooper said Epic would be able to meet its firm customers’ needs but would not be able to supply gas contracted on an interruptible basis while CS9 was shut down. 

Alinta is one of the major customers on a firm contract. It is understood that Alcoa is another.

Western Power, however, opted to buy the bulk of its gas on the cheaper interruptible rates. It also has a firm contract for a small amount of its gas.

Western Power spokesman Peter Winner said the electricity utility should cope with the lack of gas.

He said Western Power should be able to cope while CS9 was shut down.

“But if one of the coal plants falls over on a particularly cold day we could go into power restrictions,” Mr Winner said.

The shutdown of compressor station CS9 has been on the cards since Epic did some scheduled maintenance on the plant in January.

It was told by the compressor station’s manufacturer that the gas turbine engine that compresses the gas would have to be replaced.

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