Sydney residents told to cut power use to help avoid blackouts

Efforts were focused on reviving output from coal-fired generators, said Australia's Climate Change and Energy Minister. PHOTO: REUTERS

MELBOURNE (REUTERS) - Sydney residents were urged on Thursday (June 16) to conserve power in the evening as much as possible to avert blackouts, one day after Australia suspended its spot electricity market due to unscheduled outages at ageing coal-fired utilities.

The Australian Energy Market Operator said it was still too early to say when the market would resume normal operations but added that power capacity reserves had improved in New South Wales.

Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen told households in the state to save power without sacrificing essentials such as heating.

"We are confident we can avoid blackouts," Mr Bowen said at a televised media conference in Canberra.

"If you have a choice about when to run certain items, don't run them from 6pm to 8pm," he said.

Power crunches are more likely to occur in the evenings when output from solar and wind farms falls and people head home from work and switch on their appliances.

The country's energy market operator suspended the electricity spot market on Wednesday in an unprecedented move to secure power supplies, its latest drastic step to tackle an energy crisis that began in May.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said energy will be on the agenda at a dinner with state leaders on Thursday and a meeting Friday – their first formal gatherings since the new Labor government was elected in May.

A slew of coal-fired units have gone offline due to scheduled maintenance and unexpected faults, and all efforts are focused on restoring units to normal operations, Mr Bowen said.

Mr Bowen said the main problem behind the power crunch was unscheduled outages at ageing coal-fired power stations.

"Everybody is working to fix that," he said.

Australia's top power producer AGL Energy said on Thursday that one of three crippled units at its Bayswater coal-fired plant in New South Wales would be back online on Thursday and another by Saturday.

"We're continuing to work cooperatively with the Australian Energy Market Operator to help ensure continuity of supply," an AGL spokesman said.

EnergyAustralia, owned by CLP Holdings, which lost output from two units at its Yallourn coal-fired plant in Victoria this week, said it had brought one unit back online on Thursday and the other would return to service late next week.

“Right now we are exploring all options to continue to increase our fuel and generation supply into the electricity market,” Managing Director Mark Collette said in a statement.

The company’s gas-fired plants have helped bolster power supply, he said, noting its Tallawarra plant in New South Wales had been working at close to 75 per cent of its capacity since the beginning of May compared to its typical run rate of around 20 per cent.

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