By ERWIN CHLANDA
The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) wants two senior Territory Generation managers to get the sack following the system black in Alice Springs on Sunday, according to a union source.
The definition of frustration: Rain falling but not reaching the ground.
They are CEO Tim Duignan and Grant Chorvat, General Manager Assets and Operations.
And the union source says the union has a bone to pick also with Essential Services Minister Dale Wakefield: “She has been kept informed by the union about the operational crisis in TGen over a long period.
“But she has chosen to ignore the issues that have been identified to her and she and her staff have persistently taken the side of management.
“Ms Wakefiekd has been the mouthpiece for TGen’s spin,” says the source, pointing to a clipping (pictured) from TGen’s Connect newsletter.
But of course Ms Wakefield doesn’t have it easy: A fellow Minister, Treasurer Nicole Manison, is the only shareholder of the NT Government’s electricity business. Ms Wakefield yesterday called for an independent report into the system black. The Alice Springs News has asked Ms Manison to comment.
Former Chief Minister Adam Giles spent $75m on the new Owen Springs power station some 25 km south of Alice Springs. This is said to be blowing out to $100m with exact costs unknown and shrouded in secrecy.
He bought 10 Jenbacher gas-burning generators. That was in 2016 and became a major issue for the elections in August that year.
Of course the engines had been ordered well before that but this had been kept a secret until the News broke the story ahead of the usual fanfare of a Mr Giles announcement.
So, TGen has had well over three years to become accustomed to these news assets – how come the debacle on Sunday?
The events cast a glaring light on the choice of the former Chief Minister.
“The day was saved by operations and maintenance personnel based at the Ron Goodin Power Station,” says the source – not the new generators, but in the old powerhouse slated for closure years ago.
“Staff were called in to repair equipment failing due to TGen senior management deciding not to perform critical maintenance tasks which have been getting highlighted for months in some cases.”
The expensive Jenbachers, all the way from Austria, are currently last in line to be fired up although the contract entered by Mr Giles, and taken over by the Gunner Government, had “a date for commercial operation of 2017”.
The new engines are now under a 30% output restriction and running in a “block load mode” meaning they are only able to run at a set output and will not respond to load changes.
Previously the engines had been touted as being capable of short-term performance variations, of fast adaption to demand changes. This is proving to not be the case.
The equipment also needs to be calibrated to respond by load shedding, not by shut-downs. This means some people will lose power for a short time, not the whole region for a long time, as was the case on Sunday.
BESS, the battery (at left) introduced with fanfare in June last year, kept the town going for less than a minute, says the source.
Trouble is, the new Remote Operating Centre (ROC) in Darwin hasn’t got the on-the-ground experience of the people working the system in Alice for decades: Computer modelling isn’t a replacement for that, says the source.
Again, it wwer the Alice Springs workers at the Ron Goodin Power Station who dealt with the crisis calmly and efficiently: “It was like poetry in motion,” says one of them. “People working together, relying on their years of experience.”
Another problem is that the relationship with the Austrian suppliers is on the rocks and the after-sales responsibilities of the manufacturers are in the courts.
Of course, Sunday was a big day for demand fluctuations, but not unexpected: Cloud cover reduced the contribution from solar installations, private as well as commercial.
It was hot and humid, not a good time for swampies (evaporative air conditioners) but requiring reverse-cycle ones which need a lot more power.
But surely, that isn’t a surprise: That’s our climate, and it’s going to be hotter in a few weeks, and the spikes will be higher and lower.
We will probably hear a lot about being an “island grid system” which means we’re not getting power from external sources.
But that is also no surprise: It was well known when Mr Giles spent $75m of taxpayer’s money at Owen Springs.
The last black station occurred on November 9, 2017.
It was not as long as Sunday’s, Ron Goodin was still running and it took only four and a half hours to get the power back from Owen Springs, according to our source.
Statement from Minister Wakefield
The Territory Labor Government is investing in the stability of the Alice Springs power grid and we take into consideration the future of Territory Generation employees.
We have facilitated discussions between Territory Generation and the Electrical Trade Union on concerns raised with the transition from Ron Goodin Power Station to the Owen Springs Power Station.
An independent consultant, chosen by ETU, was appointed for the ETU and Territory Generation to utilise where clarity is required in relation to the transition and to act as the umpire.
The ETU and Territory Generation have agreed to use this process and I encourage them to continue to work through this process on concerns raised.
UPDATE Oct 16, 1.20pm
Statement from TGen’s CEO Tim Duignan:
Territory Generation’s Owen Springs Power Station (OSPS) expansion project, including the substation expansion, was completed well under the CLP’s original approved budget of $74.6 million. The total spend for the works was $72.9 million.
We will continue to work with Ron Goodin Power Station (RGPS) employees and the independent consultant chosen by the Electrical Trades Union to minimise impacts of the transition from RGPS to OSPS.