How a blast and a fire sent state into meltdown – but lights are back on for now

Queenslanders shouldn’t expect any further power outages after a fire at a major plant cut power to almost half a million customers, the state government says.

May 26, 2021, updated May 26, 2021
CS Energy was hit with a string of problems at the Callide plant (Photo: Energy Supply and Distribution)

CS Energy was hit with a string of problems at the Callide plant (Photo: Energy Supply and Distribution)

The blaze broke out the coal-fired Callide C power station in central Queensland, on Tuesday afternoon, knocking out about 1540 megawatts, or 10 per cent, of the state’s power capacity.

About 477,000 customers were plunged into blackout, but the restoration was quick and almost everyone who lost power was back online within two hours.

Energy Minister Mick de Brenni says the fire was unprecedented and luckily no workers were injured.

He’s confident the situation is now under control and Queenslanders won’t experience any more outages linked to the plant fire.

“We don’t expect to see any blackouts as a result of this incident,” de Brenni told Nine’s Today program on Wednesday.

“Going forward we will need to ensure that we get it back up and operational as soon as possible.”

The Australian Energy Market Operator issued a “lack of reserve” notice to the national market to import power to Queensland on Tuesday night.

Later, it was telling households to avoid using heavy appliances to “minimise stress on the system” until at least 9.30pm to mitigate the risk of further brownouts or blackouts.

The minister said the situation had improved thanks to Queensland’s diverse mix of electricity assets including wind, solar, pumped hydro and biomass generators.

However, Queensland was also buying electricity from NSW for dispatch prices as high as $14,000 per megawatt hour on Wednesday morning.

de Brenni said prices would fall and the state would return to exporting electricity to southern states as renewable solar and wind generation came online during the day.

“The long-term impact of this is that it underscored that the system works,” he told ABC radio.

“So all of the emergency procedures that we had in place, all the agencies pulled together to make sure that we’re able to restore power and then stabilise the grid.”

The minister said the cause of the blaze and subsequent explosion of one of four turbines was under investigation.

Built in 2001, Callide C is one of the newest electricity generators in the state.

CS Energy executives will meet workers on Wednesday morning to discuss the situation, including the time frame for restoring the damaged turbine.

The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union has warned it could take months or even years to repair.

“The message that we have sent to them is that we’ll support them through this period in the meantime of getting the power station operational,” Mr de Brenni said.

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