Northern Power Station to operate through winter

4/06/2014
Northern Power Station to operate through winter following operational turn-around

Alinta Energy’s Northern Power Station will operate one unit through the 2014 winter period. This follows an extensive turn-around in the power station’s productivity, reliability and overall operational excellence that will provide further economic and system security for regional South Australia.

Since the 2012 announcement that the Northern Power Station would only operate from October to March, Alinta Energy has invested extensively in the power station’s infrastructure. Therefore, the six-month arrangement – which was originally announced as transitional – ended after Q3 (March 2014).

The most important improvement has been to Northern Power Station’s ability to respond reliably to market conditions. The plant’s performance now exceeds international reliability benchmarks for plants of its age and condition1, an improvement of almost 16 per cent from its low in 20122. While one unit will operate through the winter, the second will also be available on 96-hour recall, while undergoing further maintenance to prepare for summer operation.

‘Operating reliably is critical for many reasons,’ said Greg McIntyre, Manager Augusta Power Stations. ‘Importantly, there have been circumstances in the NEM over the past year – most notably in June 2013 – where system security has been dependant on Northern’s performance. We’ve achieved a level of excellence: confidently operating with minimal forced outages during scheduled operations, as well as becoming adaptable and flexible enough to respond to market conditions for security.

‘Baseload reliability becomes especially important given the increased volatility of the National Electricity Market (NEM) due to the subsidisation and capacity of wind in South Australia (currently more than 25 per cent).

The operational performance follows intensive investment – the largest in the power station’s 29-year life – through a program of projects and maintenance. Highlights of this investment include replacement of the 60,000+ sleepers on the rail line between Port Augusta and Leigh Creek and the second-ever maintenance on Northern Power Station’s 200m high chimney. Most notably, it also includes approximately a $25 million program over both years to use an innovative thermodynamic method to identify and repair stress and creep rupture points in the plant’s pressure parts and boiler tubes – the first of its kind in Australia. This project was recognised with a South Australian Engineering Excellence Award in 2013. Investment will continue this year into projects to improve fugitive dust control for community benefit, with a focus on enabling better management techniques to prevent dust lifting from the ash storage area.

In addition to the improvement in reliability, Northern Power Station has also had a 20+ per cent improvement in productivity, and has converted more than 30 members of its contract workforce to permanent employment.

All factors contribute to the long-term commercial outlook for Alinta Energy’s operations in regional South Australia. Alinta Energy’s Augusta Power Stations (Northern & Playford Power Station) have historically provided up to 40 per cent of South Australia’s baseload generation, while providing regional employment (the largest private employer in Port Augusta) and contributing ~$60 million annually to regional SA’s economy through contracts, suppliers, goods and services and employment wages. In April 2012, Alinta Energy announced that both Northern and Playford Power Stations would (for a transitional period) only operate from October to March. While Northern Power Station is now operating one unit through the winter, Playford Power Station remains on 90-day recall for system security.