Digging in over lights out fears
NSW faces the severe risk of blackouts, along with higher power bills, this summer if one of the state’s key coal mines is shut too early.
EnergyAustralia will also argue in court that a fracas over the fate of Centennial Coal’s Springvale mine is already affecting the state’s electricity market.
The Land and Environment Court will soon decide when the mine will have to cease operating, after an earlier NSW Court of Appeal decision that cast doubt over its future. The mine is the sole provider of coal to the Mt Piper plant, which generates 15 per cent of the state’s power supply, keeping airconditioners and lights on in more than 1.2 million homes.
“We are deeply concerned about the potential for interruption to Mt Piper’s operations,” EnergyAustralia’s Mark Collette said. “The plant is the newest and one of the most efficient coal-fired power stations in the state.”
A 2015 challenge, mounted by green group 4Nature through the partially taxpayer-funded Environmental Defenders’ Office, put in doubt a planning consent that was to add more than a decade to Springvale’s life.
The challenge, which initially failed in the LEC but was ultimately successful in the Court of Appeal, was based on concerns about the mine’s possible impact on drinking water catchments.
The matter is now back in the LEC, which will decide when operations should stop.
Submissions from both sides will be considered as the matter continues today. It is understood Centennial Coal will push for time to seek a new planning consent to keep the mine going.
EnergyAustralia, which runs Mt Piper, and Centennial Coal are also jointly constructing a $100 million water treatment plant. But both argue that the current lack of certainty around the mine puts the facility at risk.
EnergyAustralia is particularly concerned about how the court decision may affect Mt Piper’s ability to contribute power over the summer, especially if there is a repeat of February’s heatwave-related power woes.
Mr Collette said the Mt Piper plant was “critical” to energy reliability, saying the closure of Springvale and its impact on Mt Piper would affect power prices, as well as costing hundreds of jobs.
“Mt Piper’s uncertain coal supply is affecting the electricity market today,” he said.
“But with a secure source of fuel Mt Piper can move from rationing coal to more freely generating electricity, adding more supply, which can only help ease the pressure on electricity prices.”
EnergyAustralia is expected to tell the court NSW is at risk of rising power bills and a battle to keep the lights on if the Springvale mine is shut.
Energy Minister Don Harwin’s spokesman said the state was “monitoring the ... case closely”. “Keeping the lights on and keeping power prices down is a priority of our government,” he said.
The Liddell power station in the Hunter Valley.