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Lower risk for summer blackouts: report

The risk of summer blackouts across eastern Australia has fallen significantly, as extra power generation comes online.

An extra 4300 megawatts of energy capacity is expected to operate this summer compared to last summer, according to a new report by the Australian Energy Market Operator.

This means the extra demand as people switch on their air-conditioners and run their pools is not expected to outstrip supply in any region of the national electricity market.

“It is great to see how industry’s investment in new resources improves the reliability outlook for this summer,” AEMO chief Audrey Zibelman said, in issuing the latest Electricity Statement of Opportunities.

She said in future years the declining reliability of the aging coal fleet and scheduled plant closures will put pressure on the system, particularly in NSW.

A spokesman for Energy Minister Angus Taylor said work was under way to address this, with the task force dealing with planned closure of the Liddell coal-fired power station in 2023 still consulting with relevant parties.

Investment in transmission projects identified in AEMO’s latest Integrated System Plan will help address the risk.

And AEMO has access to supply through its short-notice Reliability and Emergency Reserve Trader program to ensure can deal with challenges if they arise, she said.

The key developments since last summer have been 1900MW of new capacity in Victoria and investment in South Australia including generator upgrades and battery storage expansions.

The report said there were some risks including fire damage impacting on transfer capability between Victoria and SA, potential delays in the commissioning of Victorian renewable power and uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the virus outbreak had cut peak demand and energy consumption expectations for this summer, it also created a significant new uncertainty, the report said.

“The current forecast would require an update if recently observed sector impacts change prior to or during next summer. Furthermore, COVID-19 could cause delays in the return to service of generators on forced outages or defer maintenance required for summer readiness.”

Beyond this summer, NSW is expected to benefit from the upgrade to the Queensland-NSW interconnector and 900MW in local new renewable generation.

Mr Taylor said the government was committed to improving reliability through its $1 billion grid fund and the underwriting new generation investment program.

As well, the Snowy 2.0 hydro project would help alleviate supply risks.

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