Why solar missed out on $75m electricity contract


p2311-power-station-engineBy ERWIN CHLANDA
Territory Generation (TG) did not include “renewables” in the possible mix of energy sources to “generate 44 MW of electricity reliably while ensuring security of supply to the Alice Springs residents”.
It decided to rely solely on gas driven piston engines (not turbines as we previously reported) and build a new $75m power station at Owen Springs.
A spokesman says: “A program definition analysis identified gas fired engines as the preferred option. Solar energy was outside the criteria to deliver the additional generation.”
TG, split off from the Power Water Corporation in 2014, is 100% Territory Government owned.
The spokesman says: “Reliability, efficiency, security of supply and cost of meeting the 55 MW peak demand of Alice Springs were some of the main considerations, along with existing contracts for the supply of gas and dual fuel redundancy, from the Dingo field and the north-south pipeline.”
He says solar power’s continuity of supply is subject to cloud cover and the energy storage technology required for 24 hour supply  is still in its early days. Alice Springs has “a high penetration of solar. We’ve currently obtain 4 MW from the Uterne plant and about 13 MW of solar energy of installed capacity from private and government renewable energy facilities”.
The new powerhouse is replacing the town-based Ron Goodin power station which has reached the end of its life.
Asked if the contract has a cancellation clause, Territory Generation said it is a typical business contract, “but we are unable to elaborate as the contents are confidential”.
The spokesman says in its lead-up mid-last year, the project was well advertised, in local and national media, as well as the “NT Government Quotations and Tenders Online” website.
A 225 page report, dated August 4 last year, from Brisbane based Aurecon Australasia Pty Ltd, acting as an adviser, left no doubt that only gas must be used: “Natural gas is the only fuel source that shall be used by the Power Station (with the exception of diesel fuel for the black start / diesel generator),” it says.
p2308-Goodin-power-station“The Power Station shall be a standalone installation and shall not rely on services from the adjacent existing power station except where explicitly defined.”
And again: “The fuel source for the Project is natural gas only sourced from a number of different fields and supplied via pipeline to the Site.
“The new gas engines shall be installed in an engine hall along with the engine auxiliary systems and equipment. Engine radiators shall be installed outside at ground level.”
More than 100 firms attended an information session held by Territory Generation in Darwin mid last year. 19 of them submitted an application and these were narrowed down to three. The successful tenderer was Clarke Energy, an Australia and international wide company.
PHOTOS: Piston engines of the kind to be used. The lay-out of the generator hall is quite similar to that of the Goodin power station, soon to be shut down.


  1. Thank you Erwin for providing readers with this information and continuing to follow this important story.
    I am so very disappointed with the CLP on this one. It really does highlight how dismal the governance of the Territory is right now.
    I worry for our future. How much more damage can these guys do before the election?

  2. I find it highly offensive to fall back on the “ample consultation period”, this is yet again another business deal that doesn’t reflect the wants of actual Territorians.
    The fact that the NT Government and Territory Generation play clueless while the global energy sector is diversifying beyond fossil fuels is dishonest. It is tax payers’ money they are spending, and therefore should reflex the wants of the tax payer.

  3. $75m on gas driven generators in Alice Springs.
    $26m on gas driven generators in Tennant Creek.
    $800m on a pipeline that’s not driven by fracking, but it is.
    That’s almost a billion dollars being sunk into fossil fuels in Central Australia.
    Banks are writing down oil and gas assets across the world and here in the NT we’re propping them up with tax payer dollars. Well, the pipeline is supposed to be without government funding but Jemena will be relying on the supply by NT Government Mines and Energy Department facilitating fracking across the entire jurisdiction.
    What a joke, if only it was. In a time when the world has agreed on the need to limit global warming to two degrees, with an aspiration to save some Pacific Island nations and the world’s low-lying areas by aspiring for 1.5, we’re ramping it up.
    This morning on ABC Alice Springs, the Chief Minister said this is all about keeping electricity prices low! What a load of BS. This is about propping up the gas industry in a slow time for them globally. Is this ensuring Giles and Tollner, when the public votes them out (well, Fong Lim residents won’t get the chance to), they will have cushy jobs waiting for them in the oil and gas sector?
    I’m not a gambling person but I’d put at least $50 on that. You watch!
    We have the most reliable sunshine in the country. The decision to allocate Treasury debt (taxpayer funds) to Territory Generation without any consideration of solar is irresponsible at best but most likely reckless.
    In an era when we need to be transitioning out of fossil fuels, the Giles / Tollner duo have made a decision to make Tennant Creek and Alice Springs dependent on fossil fuels for the next 30 years.
    The same line of, it’s too expensive to use the sun’s energy to make electricity, it’s cheaper to burn gas is a rubbish argument. While the battery technology is not quite there for total roll out this year, it is coming. We need to get some skin in the game to ensure that when the time comes, we are ready and not tied down by the now skewed economics of monopoly gas generation and monopoly gas production by Central Petroleum.
    This is about fracking too. By locking our infrastructure in, the dependence on expensive and unreliable shale gas production, not to mention the climate and groundwater impacts is increased. Alice is a solar city and this decision reeks of rotten eggs.
    ALEC has applied for Freedom of Information documents related to this tender process and it will be interesting to see how transparent it will be.
    Territory Generation needs to get off the gas and talk more with its end users – us, the consumers of its gas burning and turbine turning electricity. Nine month consultation period? A meeting in Darwin? Where is the Talking about our Energy Future meetings by Territory Generation and Jacana held at the Andy McNeill room? If it happened, I didn’t get an invite. It didn’t. But it should have!
    This process demonstrates the impact that the split up of Power Water Corporation has had on the community. Once upon a time there was a community service obligation. Now it seems like it is a Community Slavery Operation where we are chained to antiquated technology dependent on the dangerous fracking of gas.
    We have been sold out for an underground river of profits for Central Petroleum. Transparent and trusted – hmmmm, time to get a social licence, Territory Generation. You’re a fair way off your vision “to be the trusted and respected employer and electricity generation business of choice”.
    Stay tuned as this issue will haunt Giles and Tollner all the way to the election. Territory Generation needs to start acting like a part of the community since we all depend on it. We the people want a solar powered future for our children, and not being locked into fracking is a good start.

  4. So … there was an information session in Darwin. No wonder no one in Alice heard about it.
    And Aurecon … what did their brief state? Write a report ensuring that the only option to power Alice is gas rather than looking at the amount of solar radiation of the town. All sounds very underhand.

  5. I am absolutely disgusted by the push for us to continue in the fossil fuel economy and the lack of transparency in this planning.
    Like we should have known and had our input previously because it was advertised as a tender process with an info meeting for tenderers in Darwin.
    The rationale of not using solar AT ALL because solar doesn’t work so well when it’s cloudy as if cloud is PREVALENT in Alic. Gosh, I had not noticed, how unobservant of me!
    The rationale that storage for solar is in early stage of development, when it’s actually been moving so fast that the planning done a year ago doesn’t stand up today.
    This stinks of vested interests. CLP leaving us stuck harnessed to the old economy with its pollution load, can’t even see our real natural advantages. Thanks for investigating, Erwin.

  6. At least you have to give NTG = NT Generation = Power Water Corporation points for consistency.
    They have always loathed solar. When I saw the SolarCities proposal in 2006 I asked ALEC (my employer): “What are you doing, this proposal enshrines escalating fossil fuel use year in year out and it has ALEC as a proponent?”
    The response was: “Solar is good, we can’t be seen as whingeing Greenies.”
    Sure enough, fuel use and emissions have grown steadily – despite stagnant population and despite the label “solar city”. This decision highlights the fossil fuel commitment of these dinosaurs.

  7. After reading about the new power station, I am disappointed that sum money is not spent on solar power. Alice Springs has lost a great opportunity here. It could have built a new factory to build solar panels and supply the world. We could have more jobs, brought in technical support from other countries, which would be a winner for the town.

  8. Any thinking government with an eye to the future and an ear to the ground would have put at least 20% of the Brewer alleged investment into looking ahead 20 years when gas generation will be obsolete.
    Look at the proposal for the Tumut 3 power station in NSW, plus Wivenhoe, and Shoalhaven where they propose to use PHES technology (Pumped Hydro Energy Storage), which constitutes 99% (more than 160Gw) of energy storage worldwide because it is cheaper than batteries currently, and with energy conversion rates of up to 80% efficiency.
    The estimate for Tumut 3 is that a twin 20 Ha storage dam system with a head (Pressure drop of 700 metres) would generate 1500 MW.
    Scale this back to what we need here and there are many sites that should be investigated – many possibly along the existing grid.
    The head may not be enough but imagine using solar to pump waste sewerage from the stink ponds during the day onto ponds on the landfill and using it at night to generate hydro. It may well be a world first and attract all sorts of investment and jobs here, but this Government is just not into that way of thinking, unless it involves eight storey buildings.
    And the same applies to other areas of Government planning.The current battery storage system technology may also be short term with the advent of flow batteries, and the rush into mining lithium, but none of this has been factored into Government planning.
    Nor do you need massive water storage capacity, with Hectare sized turkey nest dams located near transmission lines and other infrastructure and hills of which we have plenty.
    Tennant Creek is the obvious place to start, using solar to pump from Mary Anne dam on to the nearby hills and use the energy in the raised water to generate hydro at night.
    This is not new technology but as has become completely ignored by Government here as have so many other innovative things in other areas, and all in the name of pampering vested interests.

  9. Seems any forward thinking in the area of use of natural resources is to be pushed out.
    Maybe we have to run out of resources and fresh air before some of these backward thinkers learn to understand that unless we start doing something now we are doomed as a race.
    With the missed opportunity to develop solar and wind power – usually by people who can think no further than the current day – we just may end up back in the days of candles and without heating and cooling systems before too long. I wonder how these people will cope then.


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