WA to Upgrade Pilbara’s Piecemeal Power System

Friday, January 16th, 2015
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The Pilbara’s fragmented power infrastructure is set to undergo a major overhaul in order to foster the future development of Australia’s biggest mining hub.

The Western Australian state government plans to dramatically increase the quality of the Pilbara’s electricity infrastructure following decades of ad-hoc development of the existing system.

Western Australia is situated beyond the purview of Australia’s National Electricity Market, and its mineral rich Pilbara region is powered by the North West Interconnected System (NWIS), which is owned and operated by a five-party consortium of public and private companies including Horizon Power, ATCO Australia, Alinta Energy and BHP Billiton.

The NWIS has its origins in the early 1970’s, when iron ore companies began to install their own generation and transmission systems to supply power to their operations.

These disparate, stand alone systems were eventually stitched together by the State Energy Commission of WA in 1985, with the goal of better serving the needs of residential communities and commercial clients.

According to WA energy minister Mike Nahan, however, the piecemeal nature of the system suffers from the drawbacks of fragmented interconnection points and a lack of standardization, with a variety of different voltages and multiple transformation points.This in turn results in constraints to power capacity in multiple parts of the system.

Mike Nahan

Mike Nahan

Problems with electricity supply could significantly stymie the future development of greenfield projects in the Pilbara, given that power generation is one of the most important and costly aspects of mining developments in remote areas.

Nahan said that the WA government plans to put in place an electricity system which remedies the shortcomings of the NWIS, shoring up both efficiency levels and energy security in the region.

“The Pilbara Energy Infrastructure Project will facilitate an interconnected electricity system with a governance model to facilitate efficient construction and use of infrastructure, and encourage further private sector investment,” said Nahan.

“This is necessary to ensure a sustainable and efficient energy sector in the region, for the longer-term security of electricity supplies and development of the Pilbara region.”

Lyndon Rowe, chairman of Western Australian state-owned power utility Synergy, will be responsible for leading the Pilbara Energy Infrastructure Project.

The team for the project will consist of a mixture of members of the public and private sector, including senior representatives from the departments of State Development and Treasury as well as the Public Utilities Office, and senior executives from industry that have existing or proposed investments in the region.

The first stage of the project will involve the creation of a feasibility study for a new infrastructure model in the Pilbara, which will be implemented during the second stage.

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