Cowies Hill and a deviation on Tarneit Road

The western suburbs of Melbourne lie on flat and otherwise featureless volcanic plains, covered by a grid of main roads. But out at Tarneit there is something to break the monotony – Cowies Hill, and a curious road deviation.

Water tower atop Cowies Hill in Tarneit

Cowies Hill is located between Sayers Road and Leakes Road, with Tarneit Road skirting the edge – but this isn’t an original feature.

Early years

Once upon a time the only feature atop Cowies Hill was a pair of Melbourne Water storage tanks.

Google Earth, March 2004

Surrounded empty paddocks.

Google Street View, December 2009

With Tarneit Road climbing straight up and over the hill.

Melway map 202 (1999)

Development commences

In 2000, Wyndham City Council received an application for the development of the land bordered by Sayers Road, Derrimut Road, Leakes Road and Davis Road, with the Cowies Hill Outline Development Plan prepared to guide the development and subdivision of this area.

Developer Peet purchased 65 hectares of land on Cowies Hill for $7.23 million in 2002, with the $83.4 million residential development ‘Tarneit Rise’ featuring 627 residential lots, a child-care centre site and a school site commenced in 2006, with views across the plains featuring strongly in promotional material from the developer.

Get in on the ground floor…

Can you see it? A safe place to bring up kids amongst new friends with every amenity. For those with a little imagination and a desire for a better life, The Rise, Tarneit could be the opportunity of a lifetime.

Rise above it all

Aspiring families now have the chance to own some of the best land in the fast-growing City of Wyndham. The Rise, Tarneit has the most elevated land in Wyndham with sweeping views of the surrounding hinterland. From the apex of The Rise, you can see the CBD skyline, Mount Macedon and the You Yangs.

Houses soon starting to creep north towards the hill.

Google Earth, February 2006

By 2009 the hill was surrounded.

Google Earth, December 2009

Tarneit Road still running due north.

Google Street View, February 2010

But a road deviation had appeared in the Melway.

Melway map 202 (unknown date)

Matching concept plans created by Peet for the ‘Tarneit Gardens‘ estate.

By 2012 the realignment of Tarneit Road around Cowies Hill was complete.

Google Earth, September 2012

Kulana Lane, Tableland Road and Thwaites Road taking over the old alignment.

Google Street View, April 2014

But the water tower was still visible.

Google Street View, February 2014

Until the last houses were built along the former Tarneit Road alignment in 2019.

Google Street View, August 2019

So when was the deviation completed?

I figured that finding the date for the realignment of a main road would be easy to find in the Government Gazette, but I came up blank.

The reason being the land was never rezoned – the old Tarneit Road alignment is still designated as ‘Road Zone Category 2’.

But I eventually found my answer.

Victoria Government Gazette
28 July 2011

Geographic Place Names Act 1998
Notice of Registration of Geographic Names

The Registrar of Geographic Names hereby gives notice of the registration of the undermentioned place names

Thwaites Road
Wyndham City Council

Formerly known as part of Tarneit Road (between Leakes Road and Sayers Road).

Footnote on the water tanks

The water tanks atop Cowies Hill are connected to the Melbourne Water network by a 17-kilometre long pipeline from St Albans, with $30 million spent in 2015 to upgrade the main to supply up to 200 million litres of water a day. Cowies Hill is also where the Geelong and Melbourne water networks meet, following the completion of a 59 kilometre long pipeline to Lovely Banks in 2012.

And Tarneit Gardens Shopping Centre

In December 2011 Matthew Guy, Minister for Planning used Section 20(4) of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 to rezone six hectares of land on Tarneit Road at Cowies Hill from Residential 1 to Business 1 following a request for intervention by Peet Tarneit Gardens Syndicate Limited, developer of the site.

His reasoning at the time included:

Benefits of exemption

The main benefit of the exemption is that it will enable a prompt decision to be made on the adoption and approval of the amendment. The amendment will contribute to the fair and orderly development of land in accordance with section 4 of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 by providing residents in Tarneit and Tarneit West with proximate access to local retail, commercial/office and community facilities. This will not only provide neighbouring residents with conveniently located retail and community services but the provision of office floor space will also provide for local business and employment opportunities.

Effects of Exemption on Third Parties

The effects of the exemption will be that third parties will not have the opportunity to make a formal submission to the planning authority and to have this considered by an independent panel.
Wyndham City Council has provided written support for the rezoning.

I have considered the potential effects of the Amendment on the Council. Consultation with Council officers occurred during the preparation of the Development Plan which has since been approved by Council. The Council will also retain responsibility for considering and approving any planning permits associated with the further development of the site.
Given the proposal’s high level of compatibility with State and Local planning policy, and the existing development plan approval it is likely that, even were submissions to be considered, the amendment would be approved generally in accordance with this approved amendment.

An Addendum to the Development Plan outlining the layout of a town centre at Tarneit Gardens has been approved by Council. A Masterplan for the site indicating the future location for the Neighbourhood Activity Centre was provided to adjoining land owners with their Contract of Sale.

Assessment as to whether benefits of exemptions outweigh effects on third parties

I have determined that any potential impact would not outweigh the benefits of expediting this amendment. The amendment will facilitate development in an area lacking access to retail services with the nearest retail provision currently over three kilometres from the site. Accordingly I consider that the benefits of exempting myself from sections 17, 18 and 19 of the Act outweigh any effects of the exemption on third parties.

The end result was Amendment C153, permitting a maximum combined leasable shop floor area of 8,000 m2 and office floor area of 4,000 m2 – one of many planning interventions Matthew Guy made for favoured property developers across Melbourne.

Solar powered bus stops in Melbourne

Did you know many bus stops in Melbourne are solar powered?

Bus stop shelter with solar powered LED lighting

They have LED lights at roof level.

Solar powered LED lighting in a bus shelter

And a battery box beneath the seat.

Batteries and electronics for the solar powered LED lighting, in a box beneath the seat

Which is recharged by solar panels on the roof.

Solar panels on the top of a bus shelter

Quite a nifty design that removes the need for extending mains power to each bus stop.

Insulated fences beside electrified railways

On my travels outside Victoria I’ve noticed something curious whenever I see an electrified railways – insulated fences.

Set K82 arrives into Circular Quay on the City Inner track

I’ve spotted them up in Queensland, where they use the 25 kV AC electrification system.

'Isolation gap' notice on a platform fence at Gympie North station

I’ve spotted them over in Adelaide, which also adopted the same voltage for their new electric trains.

Timber poles provide an insulated gap in the metal fencing around the electrified Seaford line rail corridor

And I’ve noticed them in Sydney, which uses the same 1500 volt DC system as Melbourne.

Insulated fence panel beside the railway at Bowenfels

And curiously, on the Sydney Light Rail, which uses 750 volt DC power for traction.

Insulated fence panel at the Arlington light rail stop

The reason for these insulation gaps is safety – if the overhead lines that power trains fall to the ground, the last thing you want to happen is the entire railway station become live, and electrocute any passengers who happen to be touching a metal object! By providing insulated gaps in metal fences between the ‘trackside’ and ‘station’ sections, this risk is reduced.

Back in Melbourne, I’ve never seen an insulated gap in our station fences – only jumper cables between the overhead stanchions and the running rails.

Grounding jumper between stanchion and running rails

And grounding connections between the tram fences and the tram tracks.

Electrical grounding connection between a platform stop fence and the tram tracks

It makes me wonder – why doesn’t Melbourne have insulated gaps in the metal fences around out railway lines?

Some recent developments

About five years ago Melbourne started adding some new.

Plastic shrouds installed to insulate overhead stanchions at East Camberwell station

Insulating plastic shrouds around overhead stanchions on station platforms.

Plastic insulating cover on an overhead stanchion at Bonbeach

I wonder what the driver for their rollout was?

Further reading

The Transport for NSW Asset Standards Authority (ASA) has published Guideline on Earthing and Bonding at Railway Stations that explains the safety issues further.

At railway stations, three main types of risks may exist:

1. Risks associated with 1500V DC stray leakage or fault current.
2. Electric shock risk due to 1500V DC touch & step potential rise under fault condition
3. Electric shock risk due to high voltage/low voltage distribution systems’ touch & step potential rise under fault condition

There is a possibility that overhead wiring structures may rise to a potential above earth. The risk of persons receiving an electric shock when standing beside an overhead wiring structure and touching the structure is present and is of concern.

Other hazardous situations where persons could receive an electric shock is when physical contact is made by touching overhead wiring structures at the same time as they touch lighting poles, metallic parts of canopies or awnings, steel troughing, metal fences or rolling stock.

In order to minimise these risks, methods have been developed and deployed for the overhead wiring system.

As well as a document detailing the specifications for insulation panels found in their fences.

Insulation Panels

Insulation panels, a minimum of 2200mm in length, are required in metallic fencing in the electrified area to break the fence up into short electrically isolated sections. The panels consist of the fence material with supporting posts that are non-metallic. The panels are installed where ‘continuous’ fencing:

  • would otherwise approach within 2.0 metres of an OHW structure (including any metallic attachments to the OHW structure such as switch handles, back anchor guy rods etc)
  • would otherwise approach within 2.0 metres of station fences, foot bridges, rail bridges, entrance fences and metallic buildings
  • runs parallel to, and within 2.0 metres of, above ground metallic signalling/cable troughing or air lines. The insulating panels must be located directly adjacent to the insulated joint in the signalling/cable troughing or air lines
  • meets any high voltage substation fence (either RailCorp or local electricity distributor). Where the substation earth mat extends outside the substation fence, ‘continuous fencing must not enter the area of the earth mat.
  • meets any pole mounted or pad mounted substation (either RailCorp or local electricity distributor). The ‘continuous’ fencing must not enter the area of the earth mat. The continuous fencing must also not be closer than 2.0 metres from exposed substation metal fittings.

Insulation panels are to be installed:

  • to ensure that persons cannot contact ‘continuous’ fencing and any other metallic service such as OHW structures, station fences (associated with the station low voltage earthing system and water pipes) and footbridges that extend outside RailCorp property,
  • at approximately 300 metre intervals in the ‘continuous’ fencing (with a maximum spacing of 800m in areas away from above ground signal troughing).

The non-metallic posts shall have a clearance of minimum 50 mm and maximum 100 mm from the adjacent metallic post of the ‘continuous’ fencing. Each non-metallic post must have a warning sign attached as shown on the drawing.

The bottom rail shall be installed so as to remain 80 mm clear of the ground.

Security and High Security Fences

When installing security and high security fencing, the fence shall be designed and positioned so to reduce or eliminate the requirement for insulation panels. Where insulation panels are required and can not be avoided, they shall be of a design that complements the high security performance of these fence types.

A history of gas fired power generation in Victoria

The dinosaurs in the Australian fossil fuel industry have been fighting the rise of renewable solar and wind power, with a recent tactic being the promotion of natural gas as a ‘clean’ fuel for the transition from coal. This is the story of how Victoria has used natural gas for the generation of electricity.

Laverton North Power Station from across the grasslands

In the beginning

The very first power stations in Victoria were small affairs, operated by an multitude of private companies, burning black coal imported from New South Wales.

City of Melbourne Art and Heritage Collection – image 1088291

But as the reliable supply of electricity grew more important, this reliance on imported fuel became untenable, so the State Electricity Commission of Victoria was established to exploit the brown coal reserves of the Latrobe Valley for base load power generation.

Yallourn Power Station, 1969
Photo via Yallourn Association

With additional peak load capacity provided by hydro-electric generation – first from Kiewa and Eildon, and later the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme.

Tumut 3 hydroelectric power station

While at the same time, the scale of brown coal fired power stations also grew, leading to bigger and bigger holes in the Latrobe Valley.

Hazelwood Power Station - 1960s chic

Hunting hydrocarbons in Bass Strait

The hunt for offshore oil in Australia commenced in 1960, when BHP started exploring the waters of Bass Strait, but it was natural gas they found in February 1965. Development of the offshore platforms commenced.

Yolla gas platform on Bass Strait

And by March 1969 the first gas arrived at the onshore gas processing plant

BassGas processing plant at Lang Lang

Minister for Fuel and Power, George Oswald Reid, was excited about the new fuel.

The discovery of natural gas opens up far-reaching possibilities for Victoria, but it would be premature for me to forecast its precise effect at this stage. Natural gas is a very attractive fuel for power generation because it is clean and convenient to use. Natural gas could be used by burning the fuel in gas turbines in which the turbine is turned by hot gases instead of steam in the same way as in a jet aircraft engine. This type of machine is particularly suitable for quick starting and short period running.

And saw it’s limits.

I have already explained its possible use for peak load generation, and it will suffice here for me to mention the tremendous quantity of gas which needs to be proved before it can be effective for base load use. To supply a station of 600 to 700 megawatts capacity, it would be necessary to have available reserves of 150 million cubic feet a day for 30 years or 1.5 million million cubic feet in all. This represents about five times the present consumption of manufactured gas in Victoria and is more than the total capacity for the first Gippsland shelf field.

But the State Electric Commission of Victoria was facing a different problem – peak load capacity.

For the past ten years and up to 1974, most increments to peak load capacity have been provided by hydro-electric generation, first from Kiewa and Eildon, and more recently from the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme.

The planned development of the Snowy project is due to be completed in 1974 and, as there is limited scope for further hydro development in Victoria and at Snowy, except perhaps for pumped storage type schemes, it will be necessary to consider installing thermal plant to meet this section of the demand.

So the discovery of natural gas had come at an opportune time.

Enter Newport Power Station

With an existing briquette fired power station at Newport reaching the end of its economic life, and abundant natural gas now available, the State Electricity Commission had a plan – build a 1,000 MW gas fired power station on the site, flexible enough to follow the load curve compared to the brown coal fired power stations, and adaptable from peaking to near base loads.

Authorisation was given in 1971, with completion expected by 1976 for the first 500 MW unit, and 1978 for the second.

SECV artists impression

But the usage of ‘premium’ natural gas to generate electricity was attacked by many, including Val Doube, Member for Albert Park.

Many examples show that human beings are inclined to rush into situations and then find that they must take the most expensive steps to repair the damage they have done. In Victoria we have a new toy – natural gas – and we propose to burn it in the most wasteful fashion to manufacture electricity.

In this power station it is proposed to burn more of this precious resource than is burnt in all the factories and homes in Victoria. This is a most wasteful proposition. It is not as though the sources of energy available to use were inexhaustible. Many countries are confronted with severe problems because of the obvious limits to the energy available from fossil fuel. Even though we appear to be rich in resources for the moment, it is our duty to use them carefully.

If natural gas were properly used, there would be a much better return from its energy. Only 38 per cent of the potential energy of natural gas will be available as electricity from Newport. Much of the rest will be wasted in that it will be used for cooling and similar purposes.

If natural gas were used directly in homes and factories, 70 per cent of its potential energy could be used. There is a potential shortage of fuel in the world, and the energy and heat potential of natural gas should be used in the way I have suggested. That would extend the life of the existing wells.

But the State Electricity Commission had a bigger problem with their Newport project – an emerging green movement opposed the construction of a power station in the middle of Melbourne, and sympathetic trade unions placed green bans on the project, stopping construction.

To resolve the deadlock, in 1973 state government tasked the newly-formed Environmental Protection Authority to conduct a public inquiry into the project. After a number of public hearings and appeals, in April 1977 the Newport Review Panel submitted a final report, concluded that only one of the two 500 MW units should be built.

Work on the power station was restarted by union workers, despite the work bans still being in place, with the project completed by mid-1980, and delivering power later that year.

High voltage transmission lines cross the Yarra River

Emergency generation at Jeeralang

With construction of Newport Power Station delayed, the supply of electricity to the growing state of Victoria was placed at risk. In mid-1977 the State Electricity Commission recommended the installation of 200 MW of gas turbines in the Latrobe Valley, with a new power station able to be imported and assembled within two or three years, despite their smaller capacity and higher fuel costs meaning they were best suited to supplying short duration peaks.

The four Siemens Industries V93.1 open-cycle gas turbines entered service in early 1979 at a cost of around $30 million.

Jeeralang A (left) and Jeeralang B power station

But with power shortfalls still forecast, in 1977 the State Government convened the Emergency Gas Turbines Inquiry, which recommended a second batch of gas turbines should be installed at the Latrobe Valley site, but equipped with water injection equipment to reduce emissions. This block of three Alstom Atlantique MS-9001 open-cycle gas turbines went into service in 1980 at a cost of around $35m

Trio of gas turbines at Jeeralang B Power Station

Today known as the Jeeralang Power Station, the gas turbine are used as a peaking facility during periods of peak demand, as well as a black start facility to restore power to the grid in the event of major system failure.

Main entrance to Jeeralang Power Station

Towards a coherent policy

In 1985 the Victorian Government released a policy statement titled ‘Victoria’s Energy: Strategy and Policy options’, which touched on the use of natural gas for electricity generation.

Victorian Government policy at present prohibits the use of natural gas for electricity generation in the new power stations. However, SECV has proposed that new gas turbine generators be considered for use as a contingency measure if electricity load growth is higher than planned for.

In considering the mid-term options for power development, the Government has re-affirmed its desire to avoid planning on the basis of commitment to new gas fired power stations. The use of additional gas turbines beyond those already installed at Jeeralang should also be unnecessary if present efforts to more flexibly program construction have the desired result. Should an unexpected surge in demand or delay in construction emerge, then the Government would re-examine this issue.

Major expansion of the usage of natural gas would have significant impacts on the lifetime of gas supply developed from reserves in Bass Strait. While it is not possible to quantify impacts, one general effect will be to provide encouragement for gas explorers to discover and prove up further deposits of natural gas. The Victorian region. generally acknowledged to have a good prospectivity for gas, but most exploration at present is concentrated on oil because the existing gas market is well supplied by known gas fields.

A position reinstated by the Natural Resources and Environment Committee in their April 1988 report “Electricity Supply and Demand Beyond the Mid-1990’s“, who examined the use of natural gas for power generation in great detail.

The supply options originally proposed by SECV for consideration by this Inquiry for the period beyond the mid-1990’s did not include gas fired developments. Present Victorian Government policy prohibits the use of natural gas for electricity generation in new power stations. The Committee wrote to SECV requesting that information on gas fired options be included in SECV evidence.

Additional gas fired generating plants could be of the open cycle combustion turbine type (like Jeeralang), or combined cycle plants where the high temperature exhaust gases from one or more combustion turbines are fed into a heat recovery boiler driving an additional steam turbo-generator. SECV evidence indicated that gas fired steam cycle plant (like Newport D) has neither cost nor efficiency advantages over the newer technology combined cycle plant, so this plant configuration was not pursued further.

The location of gas fired plant is more flexible than that of brown coal fired power stations which are normally sited close to their associated mines because of costs and difficulties associated with long distance transport of brown coal. Suitable gas turbine sites would normally be located in the vicinity of an existing gas pipeline and high voltage transmission line.

The capital cost per unit of output capacity of open cycle gas turbine driven generating plant is substantially lower than that of other forms of thermal power generating plant. SECV’s estimates indicate that the capital cost per unit of power generated for gas turbines would be about half that of a Loy Yang B or Oaklands unit and less than a third of the cost of any other brown coal fired unit.

When used for peak and intermediate load duty, gas turbines are more economic than the higher capital cost coal fired plants. The addition of further gas fired plant to the Victorian system to meet future load growth, could therefore be economically desirable, subject to the future cost and availability of natural gas.

Nevertheless, it could be expected that some reductions in the cost of electricity supply would be available from 100-200 MW of additional gas fired capacity, even at significantly higher gas prices. This possibility deserves further attention from SECV, whose evidence has concentrated on large (500 MW) blocks of gas fired plant.

A spanner in the works

In the 1980s the focus switched to the Loy Yang complex – the biggest project the State Electricity Commission ever attempted, with a total of 4,000 MW in brown coal fired generating capacity spread over four 500 MW stages, at a cost of around $5.5 billion in 1984 prices.

Overview of Loy Yang power station and and open cut mine

The first power at Loy Yang ‘A’ was generated in 1984, with the last of the units being brought online by 1988. By this time the electricity industry in Victoria had changed, and work on the next stage at Loy Yang ‘B’ stalled for a number of years, as a new focus on energy conservation reduced overall electricity demand, and questions were asked in government as to the cost efficiency of the SECV and brown coal power generation in general.

It took until 1993 for this situation to be finally resolved, when 1000 MW of the Loy Yang ‘B’ plant was cancelled, in the midst of the Kennett Government breakup of the State Electricity Commission into an array of distribution, retail, power generation and transmission companies.

David White, Shadow Minister for Energy and Minerals, attacked the disaggregation of the generating system in a 1995 debate.

Former SEC executives have said that the lack of overall planning for the expansion of the generation system would leave consumers at the mercy of the private entrepreneurs, who may or may not respond to pricing signals in the marketplace. They were referring to the major issue of security of supply. Under the government’s proposal the brown-coal fired power stations, the hydro stations and the gas-fired power stations will be broken up and sold at some stage in the future.

At some stage in the future we will need further generating capacity. For 75 years planning for the emergence of the new generation capacity has rested with the SEC. It has planned and submitted to various parliamentary committees its proposals for the expansion of the generation system. In the past the SEC submitted plans for consideration by the former Public Works Committee prior to environmental effects statements and prior to the establishment of a new brown-coal fired station.

Landing some prophetic words.

The retired SEC engineers are saying that there is no provision under the state-owned enterprise model for the emergence of the prospective brown-coal fired power station but there might be the prospect of the emergence of a natural-gas fired power station similar to Jeeralang and Newport if BHP or CRA or a similar company is so moved.

However, there is nothing intrinsic or evident in the government’s proposals to suggest how a new brown-coal fired power station might emerge, given that the gestation period from initial planning and design through to construction, completion and operation could be a period of not less than 5 and probably up to 10 years. The government is saying that the free play of market forces will see the emergence of that investment and that prospect. At the moment there is no evidence to support that proposition.

And something that only rusted on fossil fuel proponents would say today.

At some stage in the future Hazelwood will be retired – it is not far away – and there will be a need for an additional prime brown-coal capacity.

Into the new world

In 2001 the first new power station opened in Victoria under the new structure – the 300 MW Valley Power Peaking Plant. Located next door to Loy Yang power station with six 50 MW open-cycle gas turbines, the plant is now owned by Snowy Hydro.

Google Maps

The same year the 94 MW Bairnsdale Power Station opened, with two GE LM6000PD open-cycle gas turbines owned by Alinta Energy.

Pair of gas turbines at the Bairnsdale Power Station

AGL opened the 160 MW Somerton Power Station in 2003, with four 37.5MW GT-1 Frame 6B open-cycle gas turbines.

Four exhaust stacks at the gas turbine Somerton Power Station

Snowy Hydro opened the 320 MW Laverton North Power Station in 2006, equipped with two Siemens V94.2 open-cycle gas turbines.

Laverton North Power Station from across the grasslands

Origin Energy opened the 556 MW Mortlake Power Station in 2012, featuring two Siemens SGTS 4000F open-cycle gas turbines.

Origin Energy photo

And the what-ifs

In 2008 Santos proposed a 1500 MW combined-cycle gas turbine power station at Shaw River, north of Port Fairy, but cancelled the project in 2010 following the cancellation of Australia’s emissions trading scheme.

AGL proposal for a 500-600 MW open-cycle gas turbine peaking power station at Tarrone in Western Victoria was approved in 2012, but has been paused due to a lack of certainty in the electricity market.

And finally, in 2019 APA Group had their 220 MW gas turbine plant at Dandenong underwritten by the Federal Government’s Underwriting New Generation Investments (UNGI) program. Stage 1 comprises 12 fast start gas-fuelled reciprocating engines, with stage 2 proposing an additional six generating units.


Backup generators and the 1982 New South Wales power crisis

In Australia power generation has become another front in the culture wars, as backers of coal fired power stations fight the growth of renewable solar and wind power, blaming them for any minor power outage. But back in 1980s New South Wales far worse power restrictions were put into place – and failed coal fired power stations were to blame.

The story starts with the construction of Liddell Power Station in the Hunter Valley by the Electricity Commission of New South Wales (Elcom). The first of four 500 megawatt generators was completed in 1971, followed by two more in 1972, and the fourth in 1973. The complex was the first major power station in New South Wales to be built inland, and at the time of its completion was the most powerful generating station in Australia.

However a few years later all was not well at Elcom – maintenance on the generating system was being deferred, and the massive scale of new power stations left the system without reserve capacity should any of the units go off line.

This came to a head when in March 1981, when a stator winding fault at Liddell took one of the units out of service. Initially the Snowy Mountain Scheme was used to supply peak electricity load, but an ongoing drought had reduced the amount of water available, which led to the introduction of power restrictions in late June.

In November 1981 the situation worsened, when two more generators at Liddell suffered identical stator winding faults, with further power restrictions imposed for twenty days in December 1981, and twenty-six days in March-April 1982.

Canberra Times – 1 April 1982

Leaving both industry and households in the dark.

In one day of power rationing to industry it was estimated that 253,000 workers were stood down after 7,000 factories closed at a cost of $25 million to NSW industry.

Householders were restricted to half the normal lights on in a house, no air-conditioning, no radiators and, despite possible health risks, only two hours a day for filtering swimming pools.

To fill the gap, 300 MW of gas turbine generators was hurriedly acquired.

Twelve 25MW gas turbines were purchased by the Electricity Commission of New South Wales in 1982 to assist in meeting demand during the electrical energy crisis in that year resulting from the failure of alternator windings in three generating units at Liddell Power Station.

The units were connected to the State network in April, May and June, 1982. Total capital cost was $89 million. Two units are located at Bunnerong, two at Port Kembla, four at Eraring and four at Koolkhan near Grafton.

All gas turbines were used during the energy crisis in the period April to September, 1982. Operating times totalled approximately 5,000 unit hours, 85 per cent of the energy being generated using natural gas at Bunnerong and Port Kembla.

That were expensive to run.

For statistical and costing purposes a fuel consumption of 8.3 tonnes of distillate per hour is an average value recorded for each gas turbine when operating at full load.

The gas turbines at Bunnerong and Port Kembla use natural gas as fuel and for these units the gas consumption is 15.0 MJ/GWh.

In 1982 the cost of distillate was $267 to $3 10 per tonne. These values have been used to calculate a distillate fuel cost of $88 per MWh.

Under the current gas contract, fuel cost when burning natural gas is $84 per MWh for units at Bunnerong and Port Kembla.

The cost of running a gas turbine at full load (25 MW) for one hour is:
(a) natural gas fuel – $2,100 on current gas price.
(b) distillate fuel – $2,200 on 1982 fuel price. $3,875 on 1986 replacement fuel price.

With power restrictions finally averted by the commissioning of the first 660 MW unit at the coal fired Eraring Power Station in March 1982.

So what happened to the gas turbines?

After the power crisis had ended, some in parliament thought they should be sold off.

In 1982, in a panic move after the blackouts of 1981 the commission, at the Government’s insistence, purchased twelve gas turbines at a cost of $130 million. These turbines are not in use, have never been used and have no use, because they are too costly to operate.

The turbines should be sold to recoup the $130 million paid for them. The excuse that the turbines are to be used for a black start is not acceptable. It is absolute nonsense to give that excuse, and the Minister well knows it.

But Elcom did make use of the gas turbines in times of peak demand.

During autumn 1983 the natural gas turbines at Bunnerong and Port Kembla were operated due to reduced water storages in the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme as a result of a prolonged drought. Operating hours totalled approximately 1,700 unit hours.

In addition, gas turbines have been operated for brief periods, as follows:

  • Koolkhan to assist with a local supply problem in April 1984.
  • Bunnerong and Port Kembla to assist the State Electricity Commission of Victoria following plant failures in that State.
  • At all locations on one day in March 1983, as a result of loss of thermal generating plant due to switchboard flashovers.
  • At all locations for three days during February 1986, during the coalminers’ strike.
  • For one hour each month as a test on performance.

The units installed at Koolkhan have allowed deferment of some 330 kV transmission line projects in the area north of Armidale, with resultant cost savings of about $2 million.

Capable of generating at full load within 12 minutes of start-up, the turbines were seen as ideal emergency backup despite average annual maintenance costs of $3,200 per unit, which saw Elcom redeploy them to other parts of the network.

A review has been undertaken of the need to retain the gas turbine units.

Present forecasts of load growth indicate that there could be a need for the installation of additional combustion turbines towards the middle of the 1990’s and at this stage it has been decided not to sell any of the gas turbine units.

The benefit to the Commission of relocating gas turbines on the State grid would far outweigh the return obtained by selling this plant.

Action is in hand to relocate the Bunnerong units to the Upper Hunter district to provide “black start” capability for Liddell and Bayswater Power Stations, and it is proposed to relocate the Port Kembla units to Broken Hill as emergency standby supply in case of any failure in the transmission system.

The two units at Bunnerong Power Station were removed by 1984, and recommissioned between the Bayswater and Liddell Power Stations in 1988. They passed to Macquarie Generation as part of the breakup of Elcom, and remain in service today as the ‘Hunter Valley Gas Turbines’ owned by AGL Macquarie.

Google Earth 2020

The two units at Port Kembla were also relocated as planned to Broken Hill, being recommissioned in 1989.

Today it serves as a backup electricity supply to the isolated city of Broken Hill, should the single 220 kV transmission line be down for maintenance or an unplanned outage.

Google Earth 2020

Four gas turbines at Koolkhan fill a similar role, supplying to the far north coast of NSW should there be an outage on the 330 kV line from down south. Around 2000 Elcom successor Pacific Power decommissioned the gas turbines, which were sold off and exported to the USA. The site now lays empty.

Google Earth 2004

And finally, the four turbines at Eraring. They were passed to Elcom successor Eraring Energy, which operated two units as the ‘Northern Gas Turbines’ until they were decommissioned in 2001.

The site is now empty, but Eraring Energy did commissioned a 40 MW rated ‘Emergency Black Start Gas Turbine‘ in 2007 to meet the same role.

Google Earth 2020

Footnote: modern day equivalents

During the 2017-18 summer the Australian Energy Market Operator hired 105 diesel-powered generators that were setup at the Energy Brix Power Station site in Morwell, to supply up to 110 MW of electricity to Victoria in an emergency. They were never used, and did not return.

Aggreko Australia photo

In 2017 the South Australian government did something similar, purchasing nine new aero-derivative turbines to supply up to 276 MW of electricity to the state. After laying idle during the 2017-18 summer, they saw first use in January 2019, only be be sold to the private sector later that year.

South Australian government photo

Footnote: how did I get here?

The genesis of this post was a simple train photo, captioned “8119 and 8131 unloading at Eraring Power Station Coal Loop. 29 January 1994“.

To which someone replied:

Four 25mw diesel turbines just right of centre. I worked on some electrical modifications to these in about 1981.

And so I went this rabbit hole.