Gas power station taken to court over SA summer blackouts
The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) has launched legal action against the operator of a gas power plant in Adelaide, alleging it failed to notify authorities it had spare generator capacity which could have helped South Australia avoid widespread blackouts in 2017.
- SA suffered blackouts in February 2017 during a heatwave
- The blackouts were caused by load shedding when electricity demand outstripped supply
- The energy regulator says the owner of the Pelican Point Power Station failed to let it know it had spare capacity
The Federal Court proceedings come just weeks after the AER launched similar legal action against the operators of South Australian wind farms over the events leading to a separate statewide blackout in 2016.
The 2017 blackouts, which occurred during heatwave conditions on the afternoon of February 8, left 90,000 homes and businesses without power.
The outages were the result of “load shedding”, which occurs when electricity demand outstrips available supply.
AER: Owner did not reveal capacity
The AER alleges that for several months before the blackouts, the owner of the Pelican Point Power Station failed to provide accurate information to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) about the availability of its generators.
“The AER alleges that Pelican Point did not disclose to AEMO … that one of the generators at its Pelican Point Power Station was capable of being made available on 24 hours’ notice,” AER chairwoman Paula Conboy said.
“We allege that until late in the afternoon of February 8, 2017, AEMO was unaware it had the ability to issue a direction to Pelican Point to make the full capacity of Pelican Point Power Station available.
“As a result, AEMO’s ability to manage power system security was impaired.”
The AER is seeking declarations, penalties and costs from Pelican Point Power Limited, which is owned jointly by Engie and Mitsui & Co.
“Accurate generator capacity information is critical for AEMO to manage power system security including, if necessary, by issuing directions,” Ms Conboy said.
“As we head into summer, it is important that generators provide AEMO with timely and accurate information about their capability to ensure that AEMO can manage system security and keep the lights on for Australian consumers and businesses.”
An Engie spokesman said the company “rejects these allegations and will defend the claims”.
“We will not be making further comment while the matter is subject to legal proceedings,” he said.
AEMO says there was not enough time to act
The Pelican Point Power Station at Outer Harbor is made up of two separate generating units, which together are rated to produce 479 megawatts of power.
One of the 240 megawatt units was mothballed from service in April 2015, meaning it was only available to dispatch into the market if formally directed by the market operator.
At the time of the 2017 blackout, then South Australian energy minister Tom Koutsantonis slammed AEMO for failing to direct Pelican Point to switch on its second unit.
However, AEMO executive general manager of stakeholders Joe Adamo said there was not enough time.
“When we were talking to Pelican Point, it was decided that the lead time for Pelican Point to actually bid into the market was too short a timeframe and as such we had to take the load shedding action,” he said.