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Australia Returns To Cheap Coal As Natural Gas Price Soars

Eric Tlozek, ABC News

The rising international price of natural gas is causing electricity providers to return to coal-fired power, with Queensland among the first to make the move. “Coal, at the end of the day, is the cheapest way of producing energy.”

Power companies are taking advantage of the export gas price, making more money by selling their gas rather than burning it.

Stanwell, one of Queensland’s government-owned electricity companies, will bring a coal-fired generator at its Tarong power station back into service this month, after taking it offline in 2012.

It will bring another back online next year, returning the Tarong complex, near Nanango, to its former position as the state’s largest power station.

“It’s the first time anyone’s ever returned a unit like ours from cold storage,” site manager Dennis Franklin said.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever done a weld repair on a turbine the way we have and it really is a first for this site with anything of this ilk.

“I’d like to think it’s the last time we do it, but as you know, we’re in a very interesting market with the way we’re influenced by the overseas demand for gas.”

The unique recommissioning task has taken 20,000 hours and required an Australian-first in the repair of the unit’s 50-tonne turbine rotor – the part that heated steam spins to generate electricity.

“We’re using cameras, video cameras, to put down pipework. We also have visual inspections, ultrasonic thickness measuring much like you might have a pregnant lady undergo,” Tarong’s services manager David Barram said.

“Things like that that are certainly new for us and in new areas.”

Stanwell announced the move earlier this year, when it foreshadowed the mothballing of its Swanbank E gas generator at Ipswich, with the loss of about 30 jobs.

University of Queensland energy analyst Dr Liam Wagner says the rising price will push other power companies to make similar decisions.

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