Dig­ging in over lights out fears

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - News - JA­SON TIN

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.

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