Basslink break, severe drought out of the blue

17 March 2016

Tasmania is facing an unprecedented set of circumstances that are providing significant challenges for Hydro Tasmania in the provision of energy supply to the State.

But this is a challenge we are facing head on.

There was no prior warning of two events with extremely low likelihood.

At the end of August 2015 our storages were at 32.8 %, well within our normal operating range.

The low rainfall that has affected Tasmania since the start of Spring last year was less than half the level of the previous worst result for this period over the past 30 years. Despite clearly signalled indications of dry conditions on the east coast of Australia, there were no predictions of the particular climatic conditions that led to the severe and rapid onset of the dry period that affected inflows to hydro storages.

Similarly, nobody foresaw that the Basslink cable, which had provided ten years of reliable service, would be out of action for what is now nearly three months. The latest advice from Basslink is that this outage will continue through May.

Hydro Tasmania takes seriously its responsibility for prudent management of the water we use across the state for energy generation. Our storage management decisions are based on the best available advice and modelling. This modelling takes account of a range of credible inflow and outage scenarios that might affect our asset base and our water storages, and we had allowed for lower than usual inflows and another large adverse event. The probability of the unprecedented low inflows and such a protracted outage occurring at the same time is extremely low. And yet this is the situation in which we find ourselves.

Hydro Tasmania’s focus is on responding to this challenge. The Energy Supply Plan we are jointly implementing with the state government involves a range of measures that will allow us to effectively manage the situation we face and mimimise adverse impact on the Tasmanian community.

Some of these measures are not popular, but have not been implemented lightly. Our immediate priority must be ensuring that energy supply continues, through the means at our disposal. And that means generating using gas and diesel, to limit the impact on storages until Basslink is returned to service and the winter rains arrive.

We are doing everything within our power to ensure that Tasmanian energy demand is met. We continue to adjust our planning and will consider further measures as the situation unfolds.

We will manage our storages such that energy demand will be met through to the winter rains, even if there is lower than average rainfall in the next two months, even if there is a further delay in Basslink being repaired and so that we are able to cope with another substantial event, such as the loss of a major power station.

It is inevitable that concerns will be raised as to the state’s capability to meet the community’s current and future power needs. Much has been said and written about in recent months as to the reasons for our current situation and what or who is to blame. It is also inevitable that these questions will be asked of the very people charged with managing the situation.

As a government business we expect to have our actions questioned and scrutinised. While we will continue to respond to inquiries and keep the community abreast of the situation with regular updates, it is important that this challenge facing the state be approached in a calm manner. There are many people at Hydro Tasmania, TasNetworks and within government who are totally focused on ensuring energy security is met in these challenging conditions. Unnecessary and ill-informed commentary and speculation is a distraction to this effort, and could harm local confidence.

There will be a time for scrutinising the decisions and activities that led us to our current situation. And at that time Hydro Tasmania will cooperate willingly, and participate fully in any inquiry.

Our focus now is resolutely and absolutely on continuing to put in place measures to ensure that Tasmanian homes and businesses continue to have their energy needs met, now and into the future.

Steve Davy

Hydro Tasmania Chief Executive Officer

*This article was published in The Mercury newspaper on 18 March 2016

Further information about Hydro Tasmania’s response to the current energy situation is available on this website.

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