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Blackout fears dismissed as power station in WA taken offline amid uncertainty over coal supply

The WA government is talking down fears of blackouts this summer after a power station was switched off to conserve the state's coal supplies. 

State-owned utility Synergy confirmed it made a strategic move to take Collie Power Station offline for three months "to further build its coal stockpiles".

It comes amid growing fears about the security of WA coal supplies after receivers were appointed to Griffin Coal, one of the state's main coal mines.

Energy Minister Bill Johnston stressed the Australian Energy Market Operator requested the power station be taken offline as a precautionary measure.

"West Australians shouldn't be any more worried about blackouts this summer than any previous summer," he said. 

The Collie Power Station generates about 7 per cent of the power for the state's main power grid.

Mr Johnston said Premier Coal had not been able to dig enough coal during Western Australia's wet winter.

"So you have a wet winter, that naturally reduces the volume of coal," he said. 

He said taking the power station offline had not affected electricity supply. 

"It's clear that, currently, we've got plenty of excess capacity," he said.

Seeking to reassure

A Synergy spokeswoman said the power station could be brought back online quickly if requested, even before January. 

"Synergy has strategically and temporarily taken Collie Power Station offline to assist in further building its coal stockpiles," a spokeswoman stated.

"Synergy has a fleet of gas and coal generation assets across the South West Interconnected System that allow for flexibility. These assets often run below capacity and can increase their generation output if needed," she said.

She said she was confident the demand for power over summer would be met.

"Synergy has a fleet of renewable assets including wind farms and a solar farm through its investment vehicle, Bright Energy Investments," she said.

"Synergy is very experienced in managing supply and demand across its assets and is confident it can  ... [meet] demand over the summer period."

She said she could not comment on the arrangements with coal suppliers due to commercial sensitivities.

Coal future

The move comes amid escalating anxieties over the security of WA's coal supplies, well before the state is due to exit the coal-powered energy market in 2030.

Last month, receivers were appointed to Griffin — one of WA's two main coal mines — after reports of disrupted coal supplies to the privately owned Bluewater Power Station.

Mining giant South32 revealed it was looking to import coal, to shore up supplies for its Worsley Alumina refinery near Collie. 

Opposition concern 

Opposition leader David Honey called for further information about Synergy's coal supplier Premier Coal's contract with the state-owned utility. 

"The real question is how has the government let those stockpiles run down and not taken action sooner to ensure that we have adequate coal supplies?" he said.

"If we have the hot weather that we had last December then we're getting to a stage where there could be a threat to the power supply for the whole of south-west of Western Australia."

South West MP Steve Thomas said it was a further sign that the power generation industry in WA was in trouble and said he remained concerned about baseload power supplies.

"We have been talking about the crisis in coal since 2007," he said.

"I think the WA government is incredibly ambitious in its aim to shut the coal industry down by 2030.

"The biggest problem they have is being able to store energy from the renewable sector.

"[The closure] is an indication of an industry in crisis."

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