South Australia Pulls Plug On Power To The People

Port Augusta’s main drag was so vibrant 23 years ago that Andy Ireland had to set up his Saltbush Surf and Leisure shop around the corner.

Now Commercial Street in the South Australian regional centre, 300km north of Adelaide, is so dead Mr Ireland and other business owners are preparing for the worst over summer, bracing for inevitable power blackouts and buying extra diesel back-up generators to ensure they can keep the lights on.

“If this is what the average small business is spending on trying to maintain power, just imagine what a multinational business is thinking about when considering further investment in the region,” Mr Ireland said yesterday.

Some 270km up the remote highway is BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam mine: the biggest energy user in the state cannot guarantee power to its operation.

Six months ago, Port Augusta was home to a major coal-fired power station that employed more than 500 people and provided stable, affordable baseload power to South Australian businesses and homes.

Port Augusta council says the closure in May of the Northern Power Station by owner Alinta Energy, welcomed by a state Labor government that has declared “coal is dead”, was “virtually without notice and without a planned economic or environmental transition”.

A submission by the council to a Senate inquiry into the retirement of coal-fired power stations paints a devastating picture of the impact of premature closure.

The council said there was an immediate and ongoing loss of $430,000 in rates for 2016-17, which has seen a reduction in community services and planned expenditure on essential asset renewal and debt reduction.

The council also said there was air pollution from a large ash storage area once used by the power station that had dried out, and “frequently … plumes of ash are blown over the residential areas”.

“The resulting loss of jobs, income and disruption to the economy of the region, social and environmental problems have left the community of Port Augusta in duress,” the submission says.

The state’s power system remains dangerously unbalanced, with transmission company ElectraNet urgently looking at options to improve security of supply at a cost of up to $2.5 billion.

Port Augusta Mayor Sam Johnson said the city had no transition plan, and it was hoped there could be a move into renewable technology in the region. The council also is faced with another environmental problem, with the city’s high-profile Augusta Lakes rapidly drying out from a lack of water flows that once came from the power station.

Mr Ireland and his wife, Elana, yesterday said Port Augusta’s diversified economy and potential to attract more big business was being hampered by the unreliability of its power supply.

Port Augusta Auto Pro shop owner David Versteeg said he was installing a back-up generator: “I didn’t realise we were in a third world nation.”

Original article published in The Australian 

Footnote:
Germany has replaced their nuclear power stations with new generation brown coal fired power stations. Why brown coal? Because they have plenty of it & it provides a much lower cost per megawatt to produce than all their older nuclear power plants.

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