I wrote in January about Tasmania’s farcical power situation. It was bad then but even worse now. Our Hydro dam levels continue to reduce at the rate of about 1% a month and are now (at 7 March) down to just 15.5%. The previous low, recorded during the drought ten years ago, was 16.5%. Forecast heavier than normal late Summer and Autumn rains have yet to eventuate. As a result, Hydro announced last week they are about to start cloud seeding in West Coast catchment areas a month earlier than normal, something that will not please friends who live on that side of the state.
Five major industrial operations use around 60% of Tasmania’s power output, with domestic and commercial users taking the rest. Most of the majors are showing restraint by reducing overall power consumption. This can only be managed through lower production levels and reduced sales, a factor that is forecast to cost, individually, as much as $22m (aluminium producer, Rio Tinto).
The Basslink cable between Tasmania and Gippsland failed on 20 December. A specialist ship and crew attempted to find the cause of the failure but this, to date, has been unsuccessful. Because of the uncertainty of reconnection, the government has imported 200 x 1MW Diesel generators to help make up the shortfall caused by our inability to draw on dirty mainland power. This is going to create an even dirtier and considerably more expensive situation, with millions of litres of Diesel fuel to be burnt, thus polluting the atmosphere. The generators have cost the state $44m, an amount that will at least double in four months’ use at an expected $11m per month.
How has this come to pass? There are many factors, including lack of rainfall and the loss of Basslink, but these are not the whole story. I would like to know how much power was generated and sold into the mainland grid – Basslink is a two-way street – even though el Nino was forecast and our water storage levels were none too brilliant, anyway? Were we generating additional power for sale simply to top up state coffers and were we, especially, selling the surplus power to shore up the perennial basket case Forestry Tasmania (it’s been done before, with at least one payment of $30m from Hydro used to support it)?
I don’t know, but there are hard questions to be asked and I, as I am sure is the case with most Tasmanians, would like to know the answers.