Leigh Creek Coal Train - The End Is Nigh

 
  LancedDendrite Chief Commissioner

Location: Gheringhap Loop Autonomous Zone
As reported today in the SMH:
Alinta Energy has decided to close its two coal-fired power stations in Port Augusta in South Australia with the loss of about 440 jobs after suffering about $100 million of operating losses amid a glut in power supply exacerbated by growth in renewable energy.

The Northern and Playford B power plants, as well as the Leigh Creek coal mine that supplies them, will close by March 2018 and possibly earlier, Alinta said on Thursday, noting the plants had become "increasingly uneconomic".
Sydney Morning Herald
Looks like you've got until early 2018 to go out and grab your snaps of the Leigh Creek Coal Train, folks!

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  justapassenger Minister for Railways

Also being reported by ABC and News Ltd.
  x31 Chief Commissioner

Location: gallifrey
Also being reported by ABC and News Ltd.
"justapassenger"


Heard this today.  

https://www.railpage.com.au/news/s/alinta-energy-to-close-power-stations-at-port-augusta-and-coal-mine-at-leigh-creek

Looks like it is the end for the power plants but may not be the end for the rail line if exports are canvassed?

How many trains per day are on this line north from Stirling North?
  LancedDendrite Chief Commissioner

Location: Gheringhap Loop Autonomous Zone
Trust me, it's the end of the whole shebang. The mine at Leigh Creek is slated for closure too, otherwise they'd announce that they're going to keep it running and build a loader at Port Augusta.

Leigh Creek coal is quite low-grade (high moisture + ash content compared to NSW + QLD coal) and there is only about 11 years of economically-recoverable supply left. It's never made sense as an export proposition - only as an investment in domestic energy security for SA.

If memory serves me right, they usually run 1 train a day or so.
  bingley hall Minister for Railways

Location: Last train to Skaville
Only one train a day carrying approx 10,000t nett.

Train only runs sporadically in winter months when power plant is on stand by.

As Lance says, no export market for low grade coal.
  mm42 Chief Train Controller

This is the second coal-fired power plant closure announced in the last few weeks, following an announcement that the Anglesea coal-fired power plant in Victoria is to close.  Both are relatively small plants. So much for the "profitability" of coal, and "Coal is good for humanity".

The Northern plant has a capacity of 2 x 260 MW (of which usually only one unit is running), and Anglesea 1 x 150 MW.  The costs of the 440 workers at Northern and about 200 at Leigh Creek need to be spread over a relatively small amount of power production, plus there are the costs of transporting the coal by rail which adds to the costs relative to mine-side power stations such as Loy Yang and Hazelwood in Victoria.

Some other considerations
- the short remaining life-span of the mine means that the extracted coal would be of progressively lower quality. By 2018 there would be only 8 years of coal supplies left in the ground.
- to compensate for lower quality some higher-quality coal may have been required for blending from the nearest source of high-quality coal (the Ulan mine in NSW)
- eventually another source of coal would need to be developed, which would require further investment
- Alinta were hoping for a increase in the costs of their gas-based competitors as the LNG export plants compete for east coast gas, but this doesn't seem to be happening because of a glut of seaborne LNG.
  nm39 Chief Commissioner

Location: By a road taking pictures
Leigh Creek coal is quite low-grade (high moisture + ash content compared to NSW + QLD coal) and there is only about 11 years of economically-recoverable supply left. It's never made sense as an export proposition - only as an investment in domestic energy security for SA.
LancedDendrite

Yes, the saying among steam drivers and firemen was "Half of it is dirt and the other half don't burn".
  Pressman Spirit of the Vine

Location: Wherever the Tin Chook or Qantas takes me
Heard this today.  

https://www.railpage.com.au/news/s/alinta-energy-to-close-power-stations-at-port-augusta-and-coal-mine-at-leigh-creek

Looks like it is the end for the power plants but may not be the end for the rail line if exports are canvassed?

How many trains per day are on this line north from Stirling North?
x31
Leigh Creek mine exclusively supplies the Port Augusta stations. When Sir Thomas Playford (state premier at the time), decided to build the first power station, he refused to pay the high prices NSW wanted to transport their black coal to SA, so the power station's boilers were specially designed to burn Leigh Creek coal.
The Mine, the power stations and the town of Leigh Creek were all owned by the state run Electricity Trust.

The power stations close, the mine closes, Leigh Creek township closes!
  greasyrhys Chief Commissioner

Location: MacDonald Park, SA
Sad that there's going to be more job losses for SA. Sad

As for the train itself, I might make the effort to drive north for a few shots/clips. Shame that the 82 class locos are 'silenced' Mad
  LancedDendrite Chief Commissioner

Location: Gheringhap Loop Autonomous Zone
This is the second coal-fired power plant closure announced in the last few weeks, following an announcement that the Anglesea coal-fired power plant in Victoria is to close.  Both are relatively small plants. So much for the "profitability" of coal, and "Coal is good for humanity".
mm42

It's the market. You have a privileged competitor (wind) and plummeting demand (efficiency + solar + industry closure). All of the plants in Victoria and SA are at least 30 years old, some double that so it's a matter of who blinks first. Interestingly, AGL announced that Torrens A power station in Adelaide would be mothballed in 2017 - Flinders closing could inspire a possible revival if power (and gas) prices prove favourable come 2018.


Some other considerations
- the short remaining life-span of the mine means that the extracted coal would be of progressively lower quality. By 2018 there would be only 8 years of coal supplies left in the ground.
- to compensate for lower quality some higher-quality coal may have been required for blending from the nearest source of high-quality coal (the Ulan mine in NSW)
- eventually another source of coal would need to be developed, which would require further investment
- Alinta were hoping for a increase in the costs of their gas-based competitors as the LNG export plants compete for east coast gas, but this doesn't seem to be happening because of a glut of seaborne LNG.
mm42
Might've made sense to co-fire with gas instead of blending 'imported' coal in the twilight years of Northern, but I'll defer to your prognostications on the matter.
  apw5910 Deputy Commissioner

Location: Location: Location.
It's the market. You have a privileged competitor (wind) and plummeting demand (efficiency + solar + industry closure). All of the plants in Victoria and SA are at least 30 years old, some double that so it's a matter of who blinks first. Interestingly, AGL announced that Torrens A power station in Adelaide would be mothballed in 2017 - Flinders closing could inspire a possible revival if power (and gas) prices prove favourable come 2018.
LancedDendrite
It's interesting that when I worried about this stuff for a living, ten years ago South Australia was being projected by NEMCO (then) to be becoming a "basket case" by now, with highly unreliable electricity without new power stations being built. And now AEMO's latest Report is saying they can happily shut down 500MW's of SA generation that is excess to requirements!
  x31 Chief Commissioner

Location: gallifrey
Sad that there's going to be more job losses for SA. Sad

As for the train itself, I might make the effort to drive north for a few shots/clips. Shame that the 82 class locos are 'silenced' Mad
"greasyrhys"


What locos are on the trains these days?
  K-Class Chief Train Controller

Location: Melbourne
What locos are on the trains these days?
x31
Since the failure of the V and the mothballing of the XRN's about a year ago the train has been running with 3x 82 class locos. I think I remember reading the once or twice during the last year or so a DL has replaced one of the 82's.

Not sure which 82's are currently being used. Someone more local will hopefully be able to help out with this info.

Matt
  bingley hall Minister for Railways

Location: Last train to Skaville
Since the failure of the V and the mothballing of the XRN's about a year ago the train has been running with 3x 82 class locos. I think I remember reading the once or twice during the last year or so a DL has replaced one of the 82's.

Not sure which 82's are currently being used. Someone more local will hopefully be able to help out with this info.

Matt
K-Class

Back when I saw it in February it was 8252/8201/8229.

My spies tell me today it is 8252/DL39/8229.
  ARG706 Chief Commissioner

Location: SA
Yes, the saying among steam drivers and firemen was "Half of it is dirt and the other half don't burn".
nm39
This makes think of the concept of T182 hauling a slightly overloaded freight train up the Belalie bank whilst operating on Leigh Creek coal. Anyone remember this engine? I don't think I've ever heard anything positive about it.....
  justapassenger Minister for Railways

It's the market. You have a privileged competitor (wind) and plummeting demand (efficiency + solar + industry closure). All of the plants in Victoria and SA are at least 30 years old, some double that so it's a matter of who blinks first. Interestingly, AGL announced that Torrens A power station in Adelaide would be mothballed in 2017 - Flinders closing could inspire a possible revival if power (and gas) prices prove favourable come 2018.
LancedDendrite
I don't think gas prices will be as low as they are currently by the time Alinta close the Flinders power stations, at some point OPEC will want to stop punishing the American frackers and get back to making money.

Might've made sense to co-fire with gas instead of blending 'imported' coal in the twilight years of Northern, but I'll defer to your prognostications on the matter.
LancedDendrite
When the Flinders power stations are already losing heaps of money, making a gas conversion so close to life expiry would be a classic case of throwing good money after bad.
  RTT_Rules Oliver Bullied, CME

Location: Dubai UAE
It's the market. You have a privileged competitor (wind) and plummeting demand (efficiency + solar + industry closure). All of the plants in Victoria and SA are at least 30 years old, some double that so it's a matter of who blinks first. Interestingly, AGL announced that Torrens A power station in Adelaide would be mothballed in 2017 - Flinders closing could inspire a possible revival if power (and gas) prices prove favourable come 2018.


Might've made sense to co-fire with gas instead of blending 'imported' coal in the twilight years of Northern, but I'll defer to your prognostications on the matter.
LancedDendrite
Going to gas may allow it to operate more as a peaking power station.

World gas prices are diving and you can sign up some long term very favourable deals.
  LancedDendrite Chief Commissioner

Location: Gheringhap Loop Autonomous Zone
I don't think gas prices will be as low as they are currently by the time Alinta close the Flinders power stations, at some point OPEC will want to stop punishing the American frackers and get back to making money.

When the Flinders power stations are already losing heaps of money, making a gas conversion so close to life expiry would be a classic case of throwing good money after bad.
justapassenger
Natural gas prices used to be 'pegged' to world crude oil prices, as oil fields were the only major source of natural gas and thus provided a good benchmark for negotiating prices. Now the rise of unconventional gas fields (shale fracking, CSG etc) is allowing for a decoupling from that benchmark - gas supply is growing faster than crude oil. LNG demand is not skyrocketing, unlike supply, so prices won't go up as much as earlier predicted.

There is a nearby pipeline for Alinta to tap at Port Augusta, if they haven't already. Plus, if they get the government support to build a Concentrated Solar Thermal power station as a replacement, they can reuse some of the infrastructure to enable gas co-firing (gas co-firing is part of the specification that Alinta has used in its studies of a Port Augusta CST plant).
  mm42 Chief Train Controller

It's the market. You have a privileged competitor (wind) and plummeting demand (efficiency + solar + industry closure). All of the plants in Victoria and SA are at least 30 years old, some double that so it's a matter of who blinks first. Interestingly, AGL announced that Torrens A power station in Adelaide would be mothballed in 2017 - Flinders closing could inspire a possible revival if power (and gas) prices prove favourable come 2018.
LancedDendrite


Another consideration is that the SA-Vic interconnector will soon have an additional 190 MW of capacity through an additional transformer at Heywood.  So at times of low demand there could be an additional 190 MW of cheaper Victorian brown coal power into the SA market, just as it also flows into the NSW and Tasmanian markets.  When operational the Northern plant would typically be contributing only about 190 MW, so its closure would be offset by more Vic power.

A friend who established a large coal mine in Indonesia told me that about one third of the cost of internationally traded coal is mining it, one third transporting it to the coast, and one third the shipping cost.  So the Northern power station pays 2 of these thirds, whereas mine-side stations in Vic only pay one of the thirds.  Furthermore, the Vic coal seams are thick and cheap to mine, and the power stations large (~1500 MW) so the fixed costs such as management and compliance overheads can be spread over a large amount of power.  Gas power stations employ relatively few staff, have fewer moving parts (such as coal conveyors), and lower compliance costs.  Closure of the Northern power station is not just a story of wind having a privileged position, it is one of lack of scale. The SA market is already relatively small scale of 1000 MW at base load to 2000 MW at peak, so with the advent of gas and wind there simply isn't room for a large coal-fired power station.
  Sojourner Train Controller

The power plant will not be replaced with a solar thermal plant for the sheer cost and inefficiency of the set up costs. If it were cost effective private companies would be lining up to build them. A nuclear plant based on our own uranium mine would be another option, yet will be downed also due to the fact that the ALP has to pay the piper for political preferencing.

More likely is that we will simply continue to import power from interstate and those plants will either expand with workers or stay at the same employment levels with increased efficiencies.

Maybe they could get Masters to open up a hardware store in Port Augusta...
  Alco_Haulic Chief Commissioner

Location: Eating out...
I suspect the explosion earlier this week sealed the fate much sooner than anticipated. While an early closure was almost assured, damage done would have helped management make a firm decision. As for replacement, perhaps Australia's first nuclear plant would be an idea. Not like it'd matter if something happened at Pt. Agusta anyway...
  bingley hall Minister for Railways

Location: Last train to Skaville
The power plant will not be replaced with a solar thermal plant for the sheer cost and inefficiency of the set up costs. If it were cost effective private companies would be lining up to build them. A nuclear plant based on our own uranium mine would be another option, yet will be downed also due to the fact that the ALP has to pay the piper for political preferencing.

More likely is that we will simply continue to import power from interstate and those plants will either expand with workers or stay at the same employment levels with increased efficiencies.

Maybe they could get Masters to open up a hardware store in Port Augusta...
Sojourner

Typical 21st century caveman thinking Razz
  LancedDendrite Chief Commissioner

Location: Gheringhap Loop Autonomous Zone
The power plant will not be replaced with a solar thermal plant for the sheer cost and inefficiency of the set up costs. If it were cost effective private companies would be lining up to build them. A nuclear plant based on our own uranium mine would be another option, yet will be downed also due to the fact that the ALP has to pay the piper for political preferencing.
Sojourner
Oh gee, I wonder which government is currently holding a royal commission into the future of the nuclear fuel cycle in its state...
  mm42 Chief Train Controller

There is absolutely no chance of SA building a commercial-scale nuclear power station because the market is simply too small. Nearly all nuclear power stations in Japan and China are between 2000 and 8000 MW, because this level of scale is required to spread the management and compliance overheads. The SA market ranges from 1000 MW at times of low demand to 2000 MW at peak, and interconnection capacity to Victoria is only 880 MW (or it will be after the Heywood inter-connector is upgraded), so even if the inter-connector were operating at full capacity there would only just be the required scale.  Additional inter-connector upgrades would cost big money.

Furthermore, there is about a 10-year period between the start of construction and when the nuclear power station opens (in China, probably longer here).  With the current uptake of solar, declining cost of solar panels, unexpectedly low prices for gas, and declining electricity demand, it would be a brave investor to embark on a nuclear investment.
  Sojourner Train Controller

Oh gee, I wonder which government is currently holding a royal commission into the future of the nuclear fuel cycle in its state...
LancedDendrite
Clearly not the Federal ALP nor any of the other State ALP groups who all have a say in releasing ALP policy..

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